A former mayor in the central Mexican state of Nayarit who is running for office again caused a stir when he told supporters at a campaign event this weekend that he stole from the treasury -- but only "poquito," he said merrily.
"Just a little, because there wasn’t a lot of money," Hilario Ramirez Villanueva said Saturday before hundreds of people in the central plaza of the San Blas municipal district. "Just a little shave."
His comments, which were recorded and posted on YouTube, were picked up by newspapers and television networks across Mexico, with many readers and viewers seeing them as a further indictment of the country's corrupt political culture.
Some commentators on blogs said Ramirez Villanueva should be arrested. Others said the only surprise was that he would admit in public to what he did.
Asked about the admission on Monday, Ramirez Villanueva told Mexico’s Milenio TV that he was joking.
"Any joke, my adversaries take it to try to burn my image,” he said. "I feel happy, I feel peaceful. They're jokes you tell the people so that they can laugh."
There is deep public distrust of the government, politicians and authority figures in Mexico. A study released this spring by the National Electoral Institute, the independent group that organizes federal elections, found that 66% of Mexicans think authorities respect the law little or not at all, and 63% think going to them with a complaint serves no purpose.
Ramirez Villanueva ran the San Blas district from 2008 to 2011. He made a splash at his inauguration by showing up on a black stallion worth $250,000 and tossing money to the crowd, according to published reports.
While in office, he was known as "el alcalde dadivoso," or the generous mayor. According to reports published by the Excelsior newspaper, he would hand out gifts at fiestas and other events organized by his office, including new cars and beer.
He took a moment during his campaign speech this weekend to invite everyone — “all my friends and also my enemies” — to his birthday party in February, for which he promised a live band.
He portrayed himself as a Robin Hood-like figure -- using earthy profanities to make his point.
“With this hand, I stole,” he says in the video, raising his right hand. “With this one, I gave to the poor,” he says, raising the left.
His opponents in the July 6 election accuse him of stealing as much as 150 million pesos in municipal funds, a sum roughly equivalent to $11.5 million.
Hogwash, he says in the video. The government didn’t have that kind of money, because it was poor, Ramirez Villanueva asserts.
“I wish there would have been 150 million,” he adds.
“Who doesn’t like money? The whole world does,” he says. “But I also like to work.”