Mexico's most unlikely mayor turfed out by political elite

Accidental leader Juanito forced from office after reneging on promises to quit

They call him "Juanito" but his real name is Rafael Acosta. He's rarely seen in public without a Rambo-style headband.

Sometimes, at rallies, he'll rip off his shirt and reveal a pale, pudgy belly; other times, he'll regale the crowds with unlikely stories about his days as a waiter, wrestler or B-movie actor. He stood for election six months ago as a novelty no-hoper, and abruptly won office, becoming the most talked-about politician in Mexico and clinging on to power for dear life amid the fury of the political establishment. And now, at last, he's been forced to resign.

Acosta, a middle-aged former street vendor from Mexico City, announced on Thursday that he's quitting as Mayor of Iztapalapa, a working-class borough of the nation's capital, after being threatened with prosecution for having falsified paperwork. The accusations made against him included presenting officials with a phoney birth certificate and lying about his family background.

The decision to "permanently leave my post," as Acosta's resignation letter put it, came five months after he swept to power on an extraordinary wave of popular support, and two months after he'd been controversially sworn in. Nine days ago, in a typically eccentric move, he'd gathered a group of supporters, broken into the town hall and staged a noisy sit-in.

His journey, from the streets to high office and back again, has gripped the nation, sparking waves of protests (for and against) and highlighting what many see as skulduggery and corruption endemic in Mexican politics.

The saga began in July, when Clara Brugada, a left-wing candidate for the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) was disqualified on a technicality from standing for election as delegado of Iztapalapa, a borough of two million residents. To ensure they kept power, the PRD decided to withdraw from the race altogether, allowing Acosta, a "joke" candidate with no background in politics, free run at the job.

Acosta promised to step down as soon as he won the election, and to appoint Ms Brugada to replace him. However things immediately started to go wrong with the scheme after he revealed a hidden talent for tapping into public support. In campaign speeches, he was openly critical of the back-scratching that lay behind his run for Mayor. In private, he began showing fondness for the trappings of high office.

Soon the "joke" candidate was on prime-time TV and magazine covers. His eccentricities included wearing a headband with the word "Juanito" scrawled on it in marker pen – a nickname he earned when he coached a youth football team in which 11 of the 15 players were called Juan.

Ordinary voters were delighted that a man who just weeks earlier was selling ice creams from a small cart could achieve power in a country where national politics is run by a cosy establishment, dominated by President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party, and riddled with corruption. He became an anti-establishment hero. After his inevitable victory, Acosta decided to renege on his original agreement to stand down. The move saw him subjected to enormous pressure from both supporters and opponents. In October, he was sworn into the 1,080,000 pesos (£51,000) a year job, in front of a vast crowd. Some onlookers chanted "Traitor!" and others implored: "Don't resign!"

Minutes later, he asked for a leave of absence, citing poor health, and appointed Brugada as his temporary replacement. He disappeared for two months, but returned last week. After spending two days camped outside the town hall of Iztapalapa, he got locksmiths to let him in, and attempted to start his term in office.

That move appears to have provoked a co-ordinated campaign by the political establishment to bring "Juanito" down by any means possible. Brugada appealed to the Mexico City legislature to get rid of him. Other opponents began trawling through his past. Eventually the problems with his birth certificate were made public, forcing him to quit.

"He has become a folkloric figure," said local writer Carlos Monsivais. "With each passing day, he's become a less picturesque and more pathetic sign of what the powerful groups in politics are capable of."

Election surprises: Oddballs in office

*Hartlepool FC mascot H'Angus the monkey – also known as Stuart Drummond, the man who wore the costume at matches – stood for election to the local mayoralty 2002, promising free bananas for children. Much to everyone's surprise, the monkey won. To further surprise, he has proved popular, winning re-election twice. But he has so far been unable to make good on his banana pledge.

*Jesse Ventura was best known as a WWF wrestler with the nickname "The Body" and the slogan: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." Then he decided to get into politics. His anti-establishment campaign won him four colourful years as the governor of Minnesota, in a shock win over the mainstream candidates.

*Porn star La Cicciolina served in the Italian parliament for five years in the 1980s, on a platform of free love. She continued to make sex films in office, and offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein if it would stop the Gulf War.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links