The Cinco de Mayo Charade

Its organizer sits in jail for raping his daughter. And the parade of his sympathizers marches on.

CECOMEX's headquarters on East 110th Street are on the damp basement level of an apartment building, and many days its doors don't open at all.

Since his incarceration, Cáceres ceded control of the organization to his 19-year-old son, Ivan (the rape victim's half-brother), and Pérez, a longtime volunteer. CECOMEX leadership admits that the organization struggles without the presence of its founder.

That said, Cinco de Mayo is rapidly approaching, and all indications are, and its leaders confirm, that CECOMEX is still responsible for organizing the parade and parties for tens of thousands of people. That's the day when 116th Street will be redolent with corn and cilantro, and vendors will sell fried poblano peppers, squash-flower quesadillas, and beef-tongue tacos.

Courtesy Ismael Nunez
Cáceres and his son, Ivan, who has grown up to take over his foundation.
Cáceres and his son, Ivan, who has grown up to take over his foundation.

These fiestas have become highly anticipated celebrations of Mexican heritage. But at least as recently as the last part of April, callers might have noticed that CECOMEX's phones seemed to ring indefinitely, if they weren't off the hook altogether. Internet-goers would have noticed that the site was down every now and then. Members of a maintenance crew working next door say they thought that the group had moved out months ago. Some residents of El Barrio say that CECOMEX had been shuttered for weeks at a time.

Despite its closed-down appearance, the group continues to operate out of the same offices where police arrested its founder and then-president.

At about 9 p.m. on January 19, 2010, police handcuffed and arrested Cáceres and also seized a digital camera, computer, hard drives, memory sticks, a cell phone, and condoms. There were Internet searches for "incest" and "swingers" on his computers, according to court documents.

The evidence against him also included a receipt for a hotel in Queens, where he's said to have had sex with his daughter. He also attacked his daughter at the CECOMEX headquarters and in their home, according to court records.

"A jury of 12 citizens found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of rape in the second degree, endangering the welfare of a child, and criminal contempt in the second degree," Joan Vollero, spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, tells the Voice. "The proof, which included significant corroboration in the form of computer records, hotel records, and additional testimony, demonstrated that the defendant repeatedly raped and molested his biological daughter from the time she was about 11 years old to when she was 14 years old."

Cáceres denies all wrongdoing. "I never had sex with her," he told police in 2010, according to court documents. "I would not do such a thing. I think my wife has gotten into her mind. We have been having marital problems. My work at CECOMEX takes up most of my time. I have bought her things such as clothing, a Wii video game, Xbox, with the help of her mother. I do not know why this is happening. I take care of my daughter while her mother is at work. I take her to school in the mornings, and on the weekends, I am alone with her in the apartment."

Shortly after his arrest, the court issued a restraining order against Cáceres, barring him from contacting his daughter or wife. Four days later, though, he called their home. "I was in shock," he tells the Voice. "I was trying to figure out what was going on. I didn't understand what was happening, why I couldn't talk to my wife and daughter."

Cáceres insists that he hasn't given up and has started to appeal the sentence.

"If I did it, why didn't I plead guilty?" he says. "They said that I could get two years if I said I was guilty, but I didn't. If I were guilty, why wouldn't I just sign the paper? Thing is, I'm not. And when I get out, I know I can talk to my daughter again one day, and my name won't be attached to a guilty [verdict]." 

Immediately after his arrest, Cáceres's supporters tried to keep the case under wraps. But not, Pérez said, to cover anything up.

"Juan asked us not to say anything about the case, and we wanted to respect his decision, because we were afraid about the private lives of his minor-aged children," she told the Voice.

But since Cáceres's conviction in March, CECOMEX has done far more than just quietly coordinate legal aid: The new defense has been an offensive against the victim and her mother. 

"His wife put his daughter up to this," Pérez tells the Voice. "She has drinking problems. She was having an affair with someone else. A few days before Juan was arrested, she came to the office and said, 'If I had a pistol, I'd kill you right now.' "

Cáceres's wife couldn't be reached for comment. Judging from numerous interviews conducted by the Voice, no one is speaking up for them.

In conversation after conversation in El Barrio, people contend that Cáceres—and not his daughter—is the victim. On the street, in offices, and even in organizations that stand up for immigrant rights, people say that Cáceres's wife is egging the daughter on. Some point out that his wife is Dominican. It's impossible to tell whether there are ethnic tensions at play here, but until recent years, most Latinos in East Harlem were of Dominican descent. Now, the Mexican community is quite large and expanding rapidly, and the majority of Mexican immigrants are Poblanos, as people from Puebla are called colloquially. Some observers say there is animosity between the various Latino nationalities in the area.

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