Compañero Fidel spoke of last weekend’s summit of EU and Latin American leaders in Lima by comparing it to one he attended nine years ago in Rio de Janeiro:
The dominant spirit among the rich representatives of Europe was one of ethnic and political superiority. All of them were the bearers of capitalist and consumerist bourgeois thinking and talked and applauded in its name. Many brought with them the businesspersons who are the pillar and support of “their democratic systems, guaranteeing freedom and human rights.” You would have to be an expert in cloud physics to understand them.
Evo Morales, a man after Fidel’s heart, apparently decided to skip the cloud physics last weekend and do something that mattered.
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Luis Hernández Navarro – La Jornada
He’s 47 years old but doesn’t miss a chance to take part in any soccer match he can. He’s played alongside crack soccer players such as Diego Armando Maradona, Héctor Chumpitaz and Diego Latorre. He’s on the Litoral team, a semi-professional team that aspires to reach the big leagues. His name is Evo Morales and he’s also the President of Bolivia.
His most recent game was last Friday, in Lima, Perú, during the Fifth Summit of Heads of State and Government for Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union. The game was organized by the People’s Summit, an alternative event held in parallel with the official meeting. Morales was aligned with a group made up of Bolivians, which faced off against legendary world players from Peru such as Héctor Chumpitaz and Julio César Uribe. Wearing the number 10, Morales made a penalty goal in the 22nd minute.
The game annoyed the local political class. Jorge del Castillo, President of the Council of Ministers said, “If a soccer game means the summit was a success, that’s excellent, good for them; but the real summit is in the meeting of the presidents, and the ministers.”
But that’s how the Bolivian president spent it. In November last year, during the Ibero-American summit held in Santiago de Chile, Morales preferred to play a friendly game instead of attending a dinner held by the host, Michelle Bachelet. Although former sports legends made up the Chilean team, the President’s group won eight goals to one.
Soccer is fundamental in the life of Evo Morales. It always has been. At 13, he founded a team called Fraternidad [Brotherhood] in his community. He was captain, member, and referee. At 16, he was chosen to be the technical director for the entire canton. He said, “I was like the owner of the team. I had to do the sheep shearing, for the llama wool; my father helped me; he was really a sportsman, we sold the wool to buy balls, uniforms.”
In the eighties, drought forced the family to move to el Chapare. The sport was the key that opened the doors of friendship in his new land, the tool to link him with his neighbors. “One day I joined a soccer game with the settlers, and scored. Later everyone wanted me to play with them.”
A photo documents those times. In it, at dusk, with an overcast sky, a young player with a mustache smiles. Look at the uniform. The shirt is sky blue, with a v-shaped neckline; the shorts, black with white stripes on the sides. He’s wearing a wristband on his right arm for the sweat. His right foot is perched on a leather ball.
Football was also the way he approached the political world. A few months after arriving in the area, he was elected as the Sports Secretary for the San Francisco union of coca growers. In 1985, he went on to be Secretary General. In 1988 he was named Secretary General of the Federación del Tropico. In 1986 he ran six federations and a year later was elected Deputy.
In 1980, during the military dictatorship of Luis García Meza, an anti-drug trafficking team burned a trade union member alive. Evo learned of the savagery when he was in a soccer stadium. He and other young players were called to an emergency meeting. They decided that they had to support the union and participate in a march in defense of human rights and protest against the barbarity committed by the government.
In January of 2008, Morales explained to the Fox News television network, the deep imprint that this passion has left on him. “Soccer” he said, “is an integrator. It doesn’t just have to do with championships, trophies or medals. It means much more than that. Soccer makes us forget the politicians who are our specific problems. Even poverty, if only for 90 minutes, gives way to this social phenomenon.”
But beyond his sporting interest and passion, Evo Morales’s recent starring role in soccer comes from his rejection of the FIFA (International Soccer Federation) decision to prohibit elimination rounds for the World Cup in stadiums situated higher than 2,500 meters above sea level. According to Joseph Blatter, FIFA President, the veto was for “medical reasons and to protect the health of the players.”
Despite what the team owners say, there is no scientific proof to show that playing at high altitude is harmful to one’s health. For years, tournaments have been held and professional leagues have palyed in Bolivia, Perú and Colombia, and nothing happened to anyone who played there.
The FIFA decision was immediately rejected by Evo Morales and many other players. The Mexican Javier Aguirre, trainer for Madrid’s Atlético team, said that Joseph Blatter, “hasn’t got a frigging clue.”
The decision was protested, on March 16, with Evo and Diego Armando Maradona playing a game in La Paz, Bolivia, at an altitude of more than 3,600 meters, in which the FIFA scored. Afterwards, they gave a kick that reached all the way to Cuba. They sent Fidel Castro a signed ball. Morales’s dedication said, “With admiration for Fidel.” Unabashedly, Maradona wrote, “To my soul’s teacher, with love.”
Also, as a way of pressuring the FIFA to reconsider its position, Morales played in a high-altitude game. In an event for the Guinness record books, the president played a game in a field of snow on Nevado Sajama [Bolivia’s tallest peak], 6,542 meters above sea level. Evo was the only scorer.
If, as Eduardo Galeano says, “the history of soccer is a sad journey from pleasure to duty,” then Evo marches the opposite direction. Because if anything has been accomplished in his games held alongside the continental summits, it’s the inevitable contrast brought by this sport held in the free, fresh air that blows from the poor neighborhoods of the highlands and rural communities. In the conclaves of international leaders, the goals are made by those on the left.
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.