The Cinco de Mayo Charade

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

His son Ivan is even more blunt: "My dad is innocent. All the accusations started when my dad found [his current wife] with another guy."

Ivan tells the Voice that he is "surprised" by his half-sister's behavior in the case. He says he and his siblings always had a happy relationship and seemed like a tight-knit family, walking to the CECOMEX offices together after school, then doing homework there and volunteering at night. Ivan insists that he was very close to his half-sister. His dad, he says, would often take him and his siblings to lunch and movies on Sundays, which were family days. They acted like full-blooded brothers and sisters, and not like they had different moms, he says.

Nothing could be further from how Cáceres's wife reacted during one of the rare times she said anything at all.

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

After her husband's arrest, Cáceres's wife lay low, refusing to give interviews about the case. But at his March 1 sentencing, she is said to have called her husband an "animal." El Diario quoted her as saying in court, "I asked you to protect my daughter, and look what you did. You robbed her childhood and hurt her for life. She's never going to be the same."

After post-conviction rallies in support of him, she openly pleaded with the community and the media to leave her alone. Now, she and her daughter are out of reach.

Advocates of domestic- and sexual-violence victims who were told about the case by the Voice call the treatment of the victim reprehensible.

"This girl is being crucified in public," says Cecilia Gastón, executive director of VIP Mujeres, a Manhattan-based organization that helps victims of familial violence. "A young girl should not be treated this way in public. The adults should be behaving a different way. Something very private is being handled on the Internet and that's not right—especially because of the sexual nature of the crime."

She says that when the Voice alerted her to the case, she asked around in East Harlem and was told that even Cáceres's arrest in January 2010 wasn't widely known at the time. His absence from the community was explained as his being in Mexico.

Grace Pérez, who has worked as a victim advocate in the New York metropolitan area for some 30 years, notes that it is not uncommon for people to ignore the missteps of a leader and overtly blame the victim.

"When things like this happen, you often have a community that is supportive of the abuser," she tells the Voice. Pérez also used to be the head of VIP Mujeres. "They have an ability to manipulate, to deceive people, to portray themselves in a way that is very different from what they truly are."

Two examples come to mind for Pérez. The first is the 1999 murder of Gladys Ricart. Her ex-boyfriend, Agustín García, was known to have abused and stalked her. García, once a respected leader of the Washington Heights Dominican community, went to Ricart's home on her wedding day and shot her. The grisly slaying was caught on video, and circulated on area news channels. Pérez recalls that many people refused to find fault with García and banded together behind him. They, too, cited his record of volunteerism as proof of his good character.

Pérez also mentioned the case of Hiram Monserrate. The Queens politician was ousted from the State Senate after he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. Many people continued to stand behind him, and even now claim that the allegations of abuse, though proven in court, were unfounded.

Juan Cáceres, by most accounts an energetic back-scratcher, is now getting his own back scratched. Interviews indicate that there's a lot of quid-pro-quo support of him in El Barrio. Many cannot believe in his guilt, they say, because he has helped them in some capacity.

There are, however, some dissenters and some rumors of allegedly shady dealings by CECOMEX. The organization's openly aggressive defense against the rumors is evidence that such allegations have been made.

"I've heard different things about Juan Cáceres," a man who works in an El Barrio cell phone store tells the Voice. "Some say that he's done good work in the community, but others say that the donations he collected didn't get to Mexico. Instead, they started to show up in bodegas around here."

Cáceres and Sandra Pérez deny these allegations. They say that it's the fault of the Mexican consulate. Cáceres was too vocal an advocate for his countrymen, and his take-no-prisoners approach to activism, they say, didn't jibe well with the politicking that characterizes the Mexican government's bureaucracy and corruption. At one point, they say, consulate officials tried to "sabotage" Cáceres and CECOMEX. There's even a section on the CECOMEX website titled "Testimonies about the plot against CECOMEX" dedicated to exploring this thread.

Here, people who have been helped by CECOMEX are featured in videos in which they testify on the organization's behalf.

And many other people reason that because they think he's a Good Samaritan, Cáceres must be a good person.

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