2 July 2008

Dark History of the 1978 Football World Cup

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 were 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).

After Argentina’s victory, and happy to be still alive, they had another present: their hangmen allowed them a bath and offered them, as a sick joke, to change their clothes for those that had belonged to the disappeared, assassinated in that secret centre.

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 was a chip in favour of the dictatorship that could prolong his captivity.

It was only years later, and by then freed, 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.

Today Juan and Ernesto have passed 50. Together with their families, they were in the “Other Final” organised by the Instituto Espacio para la Memoria (Space for Memory Institute) to heal the wound between those footballers who won the Cup and the victims of the horror whose perpetrators sought to use it to cleanse the image of the military regime.

Among those players present were Luque, Villa and Houseman who, like a large part of Argentine society, were not aware of the magnitude of the massacre but now have the courage and dignity to speak out and to remember, pinning on the flag the photographs of the disappeared who died while the crowds celebrated the world champions.

Other players of the team supported the act and some preferred not to, even making declarations against it, as if to jog their memories and self-criticism would take the shine off their sporting achievements.

The ineffable Menotti stayed away when he had the chance to stand up for justice and remembering. In that World Cup, he certainly allowed the dictatorship to make use of his charisma, his prestige and his figure to hide from the world the magnitude of their crimes.

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 had their Argentine shirts signed by the players. If only they do not have to wait for another 30 years for the missing signatures.

Source: Página 12

1 comment:

Scott Robarge said...

Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us.
Scott Robarge