The Cinco de Mayo Charade

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

In any case, the case really flared up into public view—only in El Barrio—after Cáceres was convicted February 3. He was sentenced on March 1, and CECOMEX's aggressive plan of action began almost immediately, when Pérez and Ivan Cáceres organized a March 4 press conference at which they "demanded justice."

"We're calling together all media to listen to the truth and demonstrate our support of our leader, Juan Cáceres," they wrote in a press release announcing the conference with the headline "JUAN CACERES ES INOCENTE!" Cáceres's supporters in the community, along with Spanish-language media outlets, came to the event. The Anglo press did not cover it.

They minced no words, saying, "On various occasions, we've seen injustices that have been committed against our community. Unfortunately, this time, an innocent person has been accused of a crime that he didn't commit . . . [a person] who always showed an impeccable reputation which, at the moment, has been tarnished by unfounded libel."

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.

"We firmly believe in the innocence of our leader," they added. Cáceres's wife, Pérez said at another time, "manipulated his daughter to implicate her own dad. She has alcohol problems and has not been a good mother."

CECOMEX and its supporters claim that they have extensive proof that this is all a giant plot against Cáceres on the part of an unhappy wife.

"The only thing I'm guilty of is being a bad husband," Cáceres tells the Voice. Ivan Cáceres echoed his father's claim almost word for word at that press conference in March.

An extensive rant on CECOMEX's website, signed only by "Evelyn," mirrors the opinions of many El Barrio residents interviewed by the Voice: Despite the evidence, Cáceres's conviction amounts to a miscarriage of justice. Evelyn concludes by saying that "any time there's a false accusation of child abuse, you have to defend yourself in an aggressive, direct manner right from the beginning."

Other community organizations are neither aggressive nor direct about the case, but they appear to either be standing behind Cáceres or simply refusing to say anything about it.

Guadalupe Cabrera, president of the Fraternidad de Inmigrantes Mexicanos, told El Diario shortly after the conviction that Cáceres always "had the capacity to rally Mexicans together, especially Poblanos. He's a good leader, and I believe in his innocence. He's always had respect for women, and I doubt that he's guilty."

A leader of the Asociación Tepeyac who repeatedly declined to give his name told the Voice that "community organizations had decided not to comment on the case." Asked whether the organizations had made this decision jointly, he paused, then said, "No, it's not that. Just the groups have decided not to comment."

Asked just what groups he was talking about, the man wouldn't elaborate, saying, "You can look them up on the consulate's website," before hanging up on this Voice reporter.

The issue is extremely touchy. Calls to Casa Puebla Nueva York and Mixteca Organization, along with calls to the Mexican consulate, were not returned. (One of the organizations' workers pleaded that they were too busy because of the upcoming parade to comment.)

In a Rikers visitors center, Juan Cáceres crouches over a plastic coffee table, kneading his hands together. Maybe it's the bad fluorescent lighting, but his unusually long fingernails, imbued with an ethereal milky-white color, seem to be his most striking characteristic. He plucks a menthol cough drop out of his gray prison jumpsuit, and sucks on it. He offers a lozenge and starts trying to piece together the last year of his life. A guard comes over and confiscates the pack.

It doesn't matter. Cáceres is on the attack. 

"She's had problems with lying—in school, and about abuse," he says of his daughter. "I tried to get help for her. I tried to get her a psychologist, but the Administration for Children's Services didn't help. It's all there, in the files, how ACS was told that the mom came at her with a hatchet. She once told me, 'Daddy, Mommy tried to kill me with scissors.' And ACS never looked into it. The reason the District Attorney's Office wanted to convict me without evidence is because I had proof that ACS didn't do its job."

As for his own role, Cáceres goes beyond just saying that he never molested his daughter. In fact, he says, it was his absence during the first few years of her life that hurt her.

The way he tells it, he and his current wife began having an affair while they were both still married to other people—his wife at the time was Ivan's mother. Both eventually divorced their spouses and married each other. But he says he didn't live with his current wife—he is still married to the girl's mother—until the child was about five. He says that any problems in the relationship with his daughter stem from the "trauma" caused by his absence. "Something happened during that time," he says, "and I couldn't fix it."

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