Dozens of people gathered in front of Sweetwater’s City Hall on Friday afternoon to ask for the return of former Mayor Manny Maroño.
Among the demonstrators was the former mayor’s mother and city commissioner, Isolina Maroño, and Commissioner Manuel Duasso, who made clear that they were there as private citizens and not representing the city’s government.
Also there to show his support to the Maroño family was the father of Christian Aguilar, a young University of Florida student murdered in Gainesville last year. Maroño traveled to Gainesville with a Sweetwater SWAT team to help find young Aguilar’s body weeks after he had disappeared.
“I don’t get involved in politics, so I don’t completely understand what happened,” said Aguilar, a Doral resident, “but I see that people in this town want the mayor back and I came to return the support he gave me when my family faced tragedy.”
Gov. Rick Scott suspended Manny Maroño on Aug. 6 after being arrested by FBI agents. Maroño is accused with lobbyist Jorge Forte of accepting about $60,000 in bribes from FBI undercover agents who posed as representatives of a company specialized in obtaining federal subsidies for small municipalities. The FBI created the fake company, Sunshine Universal, as bait to catch corrupt mayors, according to federal documents.
Also arrested for receiving bribes were former Miami Lakes mayor Michael Pizzi, lobbyist Richard Candía and Forte. They were all released after posting bail and are under FBI investigation.
The Sweetwater Commission called for a special meeting on Aug. 14 and announced that deputy mayor José Díaz was being sworn in as mayor.
Many of the demonstrators Friday said they didn’t have anything against Díaz, but that they wished Maroño’s return.
“We want our mayor back!” they chanted before City Hall. “We want our mayor back!”
Things heated up when a man taking photos and interviewing demonstrators compared Maroño with former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
“How dare you compare him to a dictator?” some shouted. “Get out of here right now!”
The man left immediately and drove away.
Isolina Maroño thanked everyone for their support to her family and said her son is innocent of the charges against him.
“He is being set up, maybe because of envy or jealousy,” she said, “but for every person criticizing him there are 99 who have good things to say about him.”
One of those persons is Haydee Cárdenas.
“I’m here to support my mayor because he is good to elderly people,” Cárdenas said. “Besides, he has mended the corruption and expelled the gangs. I feel safer now.”
Jorge Guerra questioned Scott’s decision to suspend Maroño, who was one of the governor’s strong men in South Florida.
“Where is the governor now and why doesn’t he support Maroño just like he and the people of Sweetwater helped him in his campaign?” Guerra said. “Maroño should have continued as mayor until proven innocent or guilty.”