Maradona Wasn't Just An Argentine, He Was Argentina

The South American soccer legend has left us, but his spirit and exploits will live on, along with the country he so perfectly personified.

A last goodbye to Maradona in Buenos Aires
A last goodbye to Maradona in Buenos Aires
Joaquín Roy


One price I've had to pay for spending the past 50 years in the United States is that, except for on rare occasions, watching soccer is something I'm only able to through the television. I miss being a direct spectator, witnessing first-hand the exploits of stars making history in real time.

Still, I can say that I saw Maradona play — albeit in just two matches, both in Barcelona (but not with the Barcelona FC). One was the 1982 World Cup inaugural match in Spain, and the other in a subsequent match against Italy, when he had to abandon the field. Both historic chapters seem to me symptomatic of the life of the star and his homeland.

Argentina is my favorite Latin American country. I have devoted books to it. I have more friends and academic colleagues there than anywhere else. For me, walking in Buenos Aires prompts nostalgia for a bygone Barcelona. I always return there with great satisfaction, and always depart without resentment in spite of my irritation with certain social traits I find there.

I feel no other Latin American country has made so many systematic errors in an apparent bid to destroy the national essence. Argentina can boast it has the most varied of migrant populations in Latin America. Its nature is abundant, with the pampa plains assuring food and produce for one of the continent's most educated populations.

No other Latin American country has made so many systematic errors in an apparent bid to destroy the national essence.

Few colonial musical genres have the intimate personality of the tango. Argentine poets and novelists are essential to any bookshop's selection in the Western hemisphere. Argentines stand out in their respect for language, grounded in Spanish and spiced up with Italian sonority. Three Argentines at a meal will engage in exemplary table talk. Two together are a spectacle. Every Argentine competes seeks to outdo his or her own, magisterial discourse.

As one of novelist Mario Vargas Llosa's famous characters said (he talking about Peru, but it applies equally to Argentina): "When exactly did it fuck itself up?" The context was the economic crisis of the 1920s and 30s that walloped Latin America as a whole, and was especially rough on Argentina, where new waves of migrants found that the rural interior was already occupied and began to swell up inside the cities. They became the descamisados — the "shirtless' proletariat — who rallied around Juan Perón, with no small amount of help from his wife, Evita.

Argentine populism is inimitable. The later Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez lacked the right charisma and had no Evita by his side. I cannot imagine any remake or screen musical of "Don't Cry For Me Venezuela." Argentina's migrant society was seduced by a particular, and the most genuine, type of populism.

Maradona playing in the 1980s — Photo: Lapresse Torino/LaPresse/ZUMA

Once Perón and his wife were gone, the country fell into the harshest type of military dictatorship, the fruit of a Cold War conjuncture. Other nations in the region suffered the same fate. In the final years of the last junta, the country was dragged into a tragic invasion of the Falkland Islands.

That disaster coincided with the World Cup in Spain. As Maradona leapt onto the pitch, back in the Falklands, one of his relatives, a soldier in the war, was being held captive following Argentina's surrender. On the field, against Italy, the star was fouled left and right, at a time when yellow cards did not yet work and the red card never appeared.

His response was a hell of a kick, not of the ball, but on an Italian player's leg. He headed straight for the changing rooms, not waiting for the referee's order. Weeks later, he would join Barcelona FC, also known as Barça.

Everything was out of proportion after that. Yes, he boosted Barça. But in the meantime, more and more people there tried to influence him, and his conduct descended into darkness. A multi-million dollar offer took him to Naples, where his personal fabric degraded further.

His greatest sporting triumph was in the 1986 Mexico World Cup, where he took his country's revenge on England with inspired goals, especially the one scored with "the hand of God." In the 1994 world cup in the United States, he was disqualified after testing positive for drugs. The decline in his sporting conduct and health hastened.

This star of soccer's "super-capitalist" firmament, then took refuge in Fidel Castro's public health service. He emerged, finally, as a certified trainer amid a range of personal and professional transformations in Mexico and Argentina. But then, in the end, his body could take no more.

Argentina, in the meantime, will continue to struggle along its rocky itinerary in politics and changing hues of Peronism. But as history suggests, it will also survive. And deep down, we'll continue to hear Maradona sing, even louder if you wish, "Don't cry for me Argentina, the truth is I never left you."

We'll have his footage, including his Hand of God, and all the kicks life gave him. We also have Lionel Messi still, for now at least, and even if he leaves Barça. And then there's enduring, eternal Argentina itself, there for all of us, Argentine natives and converts alike. And that's all we can really ask for.

*Roy is a professor and head of the Jean Monnet European Union Center of Excellence at the University of Miami.

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The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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