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Colombian soccer fans after their team's July 3 defeat
Colombian soccer fans after their team's July 3 defeat
Benjamin Witte

-Analysis-

Many of the Colombian players broke down in tears after coming up just short in last night's World Cup match against England. Still, they can hold their heads high, and not just because of the valiant effort they put forth. The "truth" of the matter is they got robbed — at least according to Diego Maradona.

"Today I saw a monumental theft," the Argentine soccer legend said during an appearance on the Venezuela-based television network teleSUR. Who then was the culprit of this egregious crime? The referee, of course. Mark Geiger. From the United States.

Maradona isn't the only outspoken Latin American with a soft spot for conspiracy theories. Former Ecuadorian leader Rafael Correa (2007-2017) has been hammering on for years about a far-reaching rightist scheme to restore conservative leadership in the region. And on Tuesday, after a judge ordered the ex-president's arrest in connection with the 2012 kidnapping of a political opponent, Correa again denounced a supposed "complot" against him, the Argentine daily Clarín reports.

Further north, in tiny Nicaragua, the regime of President Daniel Ortega also likes to blame its woes on hidden, outside forces. And it is currently using said conspiracy to justify the more than 200 killings that have occurred — at the hands of police and pro-government paramilitaries — since protests against Ortega began nearly two months ago.

Accusing America of creating Venezuela's crisis is about as fair as accusing O.J. Simpson of murdering Princess Diana.

In some cases people point the finger directly. Other times it's just implied. But either way, the common thread in most of these scenarios (including last night's "monumental theft" in the World Cup) is the United States — the imperio ("empire"), as Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and others in the Latin America left like to call it.

From the overthrow of Guatemala's Jacobo Árbenz, in 1954, to the 1990 invasion of Panama, the U.S. has a well-earned reputation for intervention in Latin America — be it through brute force or cloak-and-dagger scheming. Needless to say, that image isn't improving any under President Donald Trump, with his Mexico bashing and mass jailing of migrants.

Even so, whether on the soccer pitch or in the halls of power, there's a difference between truth and fiction. As difficult as Ortega may find it to believe, the Nicaraguan people don't need clandestine CIA infiltrators to spark unrest after a decade of blatant, anti-democratic leadership. The same goes for Venezuela, as comedian John Oliver quipped in a recent segment of his show Last Week Tonight.

"Accusing America of creating Venezuela's crisis is about as fair as accusing O.J. Simpson of murdering Princess Diana," Oliver said. "I'm not saying it would be completely out of character. It just happens to not be true in this particular instance."

All jokes aside, dismissing every negative outcome as the result of a grand conspiracy is a reflex Correa, Ortega and others ought to put to rest. Doing so is intentionally deceitful. And it won't resolve the very real problems their countries face, any more than Maradona's accusations will stamp Colombia's ticket to the next round of the World Cup.

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