YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Don't cry for him, Iztapalapa

Mexico City street vendor 'Juanito' finally gives up the political post he won as originally planned. But don't think he left empty handed.

October 02, 2009|Ken Ellingwood

Juanito, we hardly knew ye.

The man at the center of a quirky political drama in Mexico City agreed Thursday to give up the post he had won but was supposed to surrender as part of an election day deal.

Rafael Acosta, a headband-wearing street vendor and activist who goes by "Juanito," asked to be relieved of duties immediately after being sworn in as chief of Mexico City's most populous borough, Iztapalapa.

Acosta cleared the way for a former congresswoman, Clara Brugada, to take over managing the community of 1.8 million people. That was the plan all along, until Acosta started flirting with the idea of keeping the job he won in July elections.

By stepping aside, Acosta ended a captivating, if sometimes silly, spectacle over whether he would stay or go. Wearing a red, green and white headband, Acosta became a news staple -- mugging beneath an oversized sombrero here, peeling off his shirt for an impromptu pose-down with bodybuilders there.

He even looked celebrity-like when he arrived at the Mexico City legislature for Thursday's swearing-in, dressed in suit and headband, as security personnel pushed back the swarming photographers.

It was not supposed to be so exciting. A few months ago, Acosta agreed to be part of an electoral maneuver engineered by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2006.

Lopez Obrador was trying to block a candidate from a rival wing of his Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and to get Brugada elected as head of Iztapalapa, where his party dominates. Brugada had been ruled off the July 5 ballot by an elections tribunal after a disputed party primary.

Acosta, running under the fringe Labor Party, agreed to help. He'd accept Lopez Obrador's backing and, if elected, resign in favor of Brugada. He won.

But Acosta complained that Brugada was rejecting demands that borough jobs be given to his supporters. Soon he was threatening to keep the job, and even musing about a national political future. Last month, he said he would hold on to the post, earning the wrath of Lopez Obrador and Brugada supporters.

A new twist came this week, when Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD member, met with Acosta behind closed doors. Acosta emerged to announce that he'd step down, after all, for "health reasons." The deal included granting top jobs to some of Acosta's people. (Mexican news reports said a handsome cash allotment for Acosta also was promised.)

So Acosta was sworn in with the elected heads of 15 other delegations. Almost before the ceremony was over, officials said that they had gotten Acosta's request for a leave of absence and that he had named Brugada as his backup, ending the very brief reign of "Juanito."


Los Angeles Times Articles