Argentina, Maradona, World Cup: It’s More Than Football
The four German goals that destroyed Argentina’s dream of winning the football World Cup this year rekindled another: that of the Argentine Right and its sinister pointsman, Mauricio Macri. The real target of the Argentine Right and its allied “media generals”, as President Cristina Fernándes calls them, is Diego Maradona, revered in Argentina for his football achievements and for his political journey to the Left.
Maradona has since resigned as the team’s technical director and the Clarín, the unforgiving Right-wing rag, started ripping into him. However, the people turned up in thousands to cheer the return of the defeated team with two slogans to chill the Right's ardour. The first, 'he who does not jump is English', was a throwback to the celebrations of the 1986 victory over England in which Maradona entered Argentinean legend as a cheeky devil with his first, handball goal and as a demi-god with his second solo effort, accepted by most people as the best World Cup goal. It was seen as revenge for defeat in the Malvinas. The second rallying cry, 'uh-ah, Maradona no se va' (Maradona's not going away), was borrowed from the Venezuelan Chávez supporters, of whom Maradona is one.
The President invited the team to the presidential palace. The team led by Maradona said they were not worthy of the honour. Holding back her tears, Cristina Fernándes said they were mistaken, they were indeed worthy of it. All this might seem melodramatic to outsiders but Argentineans live and breathe the game. What Eduardo Galeano said of the Uruguayans holds true of the neighbouring Argentineans, that they are suckers for the beautiful game and are born shouting goooaaal. As it happens, Clarín's owner was away from the country when the team returned, reportedly in the USA, escaping it seems from the revelation that her sons were adopted during the military dictatorship (1976-1983), brothers whose parents were murdered by the military regime. President Fernández forced the Argentine Football Association to make sure that the World Cup matches were accessible to all rather than the pay-per-game scheme which would have translated into millions of dollars in profit for the Clarin media group. Ever since, they have had the President and the "golden kid" in their sights.
Mauricio Macri's father, who established himself as a fabulously wealthy businessman, made most of his money during the dictatorship years. Mauricio apparently decided to take to politics while he was briefly kidnapped and held for ransom by a group of policemen. His family is said to have paid a huge fortune for his release. Mauricio took over the Boca Juniors football club, where Maradona made his name as a precocious youngster and a senior player who would not go to the rival, well-heeled River Plate for more money. Mauricio stabilised the club and this paid him political dividends. He was elected Mayor of Buenos Aires with most votes coming not only from the fashionable neighbourhoods but also the poorer parts where most Boca supporters live. As the Buenos Aires Mayor, Macri has given early hint of what his rule could be like. He has unleashed violent police crackdown on demonstrations, spied on his rivals and colleagues using the capital's notorious police force, brought in ex-FBI advisors for them, stood by wealthy residents who tried to erect walls to keep out the poor from sight, and recently admitted that he made some appointments based on advice from the CIA and Mossad. Maradona’s Left turn imperils the Macri project of becoming Argentina's next President on the lines of Chile's billionaire President Piñera. Diego has defended Cristina Fernándes, who lacks her husband, the former President Nestor Kirchner's popularity.
World Cups hold bittersweet memories for Argentineans. The 1986 victory in Mexico gave them Maradona. The first time they held the Jules Rimet trophy was in 1978. The country was then ruled by a military dictatorship and dissidents were being held and killed a thousand metres away from the main stadium. The River Plate stadium was being used as a clandestine holding centre. Even today, a bad football game in the continent is known as a ‘Pinochet’, filling up a football stadium for a horror show. Argentina's Dutch rivals in the finals were advised not to go. They and the others did and the military used the victory for its counter-human rights campaign with the slogan, “Argentineans are right and human”. General Jorge Rafael Videla, the architect of the dirty war, is on trial now. His policy of making people "disappear" (the disappeared were neither dead nor living, he clarified at his first trial, they had merely dis-a-ppeared) has become a template for the coupsters of Latin America. The Dutch crown princess, born Máxima Zorreguieta in Buenos Aires, is the daughter of the Agriculture Minister during the dictatorship and holds dual Dutch-Argentinean citizenship.
In 1978, Juan then 22, was transferred together with 15 other political prisoners from the Sierra Chica jail to the concentration camp of La Perla in Córdoba as hostages to be executed if guerrillas committed any attack during the World Cup. That group of 16 was kept for the period of the championship handcuffed behind their back, blindfolded, seated on the floor against the wall but with a rare privilege: if Argentina played, their guards handcuffed them in front so they could celebrate and wave them about when the team scored (which they heard over the radio). In June 1978, Ernesto, then 23 and political prisoner in Magdelana jail, was taken out of his cell during the night, beaten to pulp with sticks, made to bath in freezing water and put through several mock executions and later thrown into a punishment cell where he stayed squatting for ten days because it was too small for him to stand up. From that cell, Ernesto heard the cheers of the hangmen each time that Mario Kempes tore through the other team. Ernesto also celebrated but sensed that each Argentine goal could prolong his captivity. It was only years later that they saw the famous photos of the military junta celebrating the title in the palace and remembered those goals that they celebrated, and suffered, in the darkness of their dungeons.
The Instituto Espacio para la Memoria (Space for Memory Institute) tried to heal the wound between the footballers who won the Cup and the victims of the military regime by hosting the "Other Final" in 2008. Among those players present were Luque, Villa and Houseman who, like a large part of Argentine society, were unaware of the magnitude of the massacres. Some of the players did not join that act, and indeed criticised it, while the then coach, Menotti, stayed away. Medals were handed over to the participants saying: “In recognition of your participation in the ‘Other Final’. The match for life and human rights.” Houseman shed tears, Luque was noticeably emotional and Villa, pioneer in recognising that horror, was at all the microphones. Joaquín, Manuel and Sebastián, children of Ernesto and Juan, had their Argentine shirts signed by the players. Before travelling to Cape Town, this Argentinean team had themselves photographed holding a huge banner saying, 'We support the Mothers of the Plaza (a group of women who stood up to the dictatorship) for the Nobel Peace Prize'. Would that have been possible without Maradona's consent?
Maradona turned to the Left during his worst personal crisis while battling a drug addiction. He travelled to a detoxification clinic in Cuba and Fidel Castro mentored him at that time. Today, Maradona sports a Che tattoo on his arm and one of Fidel in his calve. The "golden kid" was an iconic presence at the 2005 demonstrations at Mar del Plata, where he sported a George Bush war criminal tee shirt and called him human garbage. One of those present at that demonstration was a Boca Junior fan who had always dreamt of meeting Maradona -- Evo Morales, now the Bolivian President. Maradona might not be all that stands between the Argentinean Right and a presidential victory but "el diez" (the perfect one in reference to his No 10 shirt), warts and all, is part of the Argentine, Latin American and international Left. Even English socialists must feel like jumping at this.
More Latin America reports at Meeting Point (http://nuestrosricos.blogspot.com/)