Mexican political upstart takes borough office

AP News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2009 7:47 PM

A colorful street vendor-turned-politician took over the offices of Mexico City's most populous borough Monday, declaring "the only way they'll get me out is dead."

Resuming a bizarre political conflict in Iztapalapa district that some say shows the skullduggery of Mexican politics, Rafael Acosta brushed off accusations he doesn't really deserve the office even though he was elected to the post.

Known for his Rambo-style headband emblazoned with his nickname "Juanito," Acosta ran in July elections in place of leftist candidate Clara Brugada, who had been disqualified from the race. Acosta had promised to step down if he won so that Brugada could take the post, in return receiving the backing of her party electoral machinery.

But after winning he quickly went back on that promise, creating a weekslong political circus that appeared daily on newspaper front pages and evening newscasts. Many Mexicans found comfort in Acosta's openness about the political finagling that made him a celebrity, confirming their worst suspicions about how politicians operate behind closed doors.

But after being subjected to significant pressure, Acosta took office for a few minutes in October, then announced he had requested a two-month leave of absence and put the government of the borough of 1.8 million people in Brugada's hands.

The leave ran out over the weekend, and Acosta turned up with a locksmith Monday and occupied the borough headquarters.

"We are here. We are fighting for the people," he told reporters at an improvised news conference.

Brugada's supporters gathered outside demanding he leave. Despite reports that Acosta had previously agreed to give up his claim in return to the post for a quota of jobs for his friends, Acosta _ speaking about himself as he often does in the third person _ said: "Juanito doesn't sell out. Juanito is the people."

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who met with Acosta and Brugada over the weekend to try to solve the political standoff, said Monday that Iztapalapa's residents are not fully getting city services because of the political situation.

"They can't play with public services," Ebrard said.

Mexico City legislators belonging to the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, of which Brugada is a member, said they would meet late Monday to seek a way to legally remove Acosta from the post.

Observers said the situation illustrates the venality and treacherousness of Mexican politics.

"He has become a folkloric figure who, with each passing day, has become a less picturesque and more pathetic sign of what the powerful groups in politics are capable of," writer Carlos Monsivais told local media. "Something drastic could happen in Iztapalapa. That could give rise to a very big conflict for the city."

Brugada staged her own show over the weekend, parading outside borough offices on a white horse and dressed in white, urging followers to resist Acosta. She called Acosta "a traitor" who was elected only because her followers shifted their support to him in the July race after a judge ruled her nomination invalid.

She also suggested President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party might be encouraging Acosta to continue with the on-again, off-again drama, which has proved an embarrassment for the nation's left.

Some fear the dispute could bring chaos to the low income borough, where water supplies and other services are spotty and land takeovers by squatter groups are common.

Acosta has said he has received threats. "I hold Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Clara Brugada responsible for anything that might happen in Iztapalapa, anything that might happen to my family, my team or me," he said Monday.

Lopez Obrador is the former leftist presidential candidate who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election to Calderon. He was the one who came up with the idea of having Acosta _ a candidate for a minor party _ stand in for Brugada when the court ruled she couldn't run.

Lopez Obrador still controls a hard-core political following that Acosta claims has harassed him.

(This version CORRECTS spelling to Iztapalapa sted Ixtapalapa)