Maradona and the ALBA Train
El viaje de Maradona a bordo del Tren del ALBA
Maradona and the Tren del Alba arrived in Mar del Plata, Argentina, when the U.S. neoliberal proposal of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was being debated during the IV Summit of the Americas. And there he declined. Hugo Chávez, Lula da Silva, the Kirschners, among other leaders, opposed the Treaty and promoted the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). Diego Maradona and the Train played a significant role in these events. Maradona, as the most important media and popular convener. The train, as the most important symbolic element. A legacy that is still in force.
The cold of Mar del Plata contrasted with the fiery spirits of leading activists in the Latin American social movement. Leaders and broad sectors of the population were confronting the U.S. proposal of the FTAA. The neoliberal treaty was being promoted at the same time by President George W. Bush in the same Argentine city, within the framework of the Summit of the Americas. The distinguished soccer player Diego Maradona and the ALBA Train took part in the crucial events that took place there on November 4 and 5, 2005.
Maradona and the ALBA train once upon a time
I never thought I would mourn the death of a soccer player. At least, no more than I would mourn the death of a half-known human being (media or not). Or of someone whose existence we barely knew about, or who perhaps concerns us in a remote way.
The day to experience that feeling came at the hand of Diego Armando Maradona. I am also sorry for my Argentinean friends. For many of them Maradona not only represented the exceptional footballer that he was. The everlasting legend.
He was, above all, a sign of identity. Well, if that vague notion of human narrowness makes any sense. In any case, understood as a motive for national cohesion rather than as a useless search for differentiating features.
I was lucky enough to meet Maradona in his homeland. It was aboard the Tren del Alba, on the cold night of Friday, November 4, 2005. The fortunate succession of five cars that departed with a clear direction and, at the same time, with the iron certainty, literally iron, of having no point of arrival. Rigorous the course, and without a marked arrival. There could not have been, because intense illusions have no place in space and no moment in time.
The FTAA cataclysm
Hope, perhaps, would be between the rails guiding us forward. Perhaps, standing at the successive stations glimpsed through the windows. Or it would be the locomotive that pulled us through the darkness, occasionally skipped by the lanterns of the fast-moving villages. It never was and never will be a point of arrival.
The deflated promoters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, FTAA, were unable to hide their panic at metaphors. They took it for granted that the emblematic train had departed from Plaza Constitución, in Buenos Aires, to Mar del Plata, with an exclusive purpose: to sabotage their IV Summit of the Americas.
That is what U.S. President George W. Bush and his corrupt squires, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, believed. The sinister bishop, Alvaro Uribe Velez, the Colombian president, assumed it. And the long list of other traitorous governments of Our America.
They were wrong. It is true that in Mar del Plata the neoliberal party that the United States and Canada had prepared for them was spoiled. But what happened during those days of southern downpours would only be the beginning of the great dream of the Latin American Patria Grande. Caribbean. Ours. No train arrived in Mar del Plata. From there, if you will, one departed.
The alternate course
It has had shining stops, such as the strengthening of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), and the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). And other breaths, which still have echo and perspectives.
Some come and go, of course. They suffocate or grow, since the way of existence of regions, societies and individuals is no different. A fluctuating becoming, an endless process in which, sometimes, achievements are obtained; other times, losses are achieved.
Like today, where Diego Armando won the death and we have lost his physical presence and his direct phrases to frame. We lost those outrageously accurate statements against good manners, FIFA, the military and other important people of similar ilk.
Seen from the opposite corner, when he lost his life while the rest of us mortals will forever gain his memory and the legacy of that particular nature. What are life and death, if not relative matters and at most contingencies?
Maradona and the ALBA train from the inside
Maradona was traveling in the end car, the last one (which would be the first one, because he arrived later, but they opened it before). After a few hours of travel, at dawn, the ex-football player crossed the convoy of characters and journalists from end to end. He did so with remarkable calmness through the agitated corridors.
Thanks to the kind management of Congressman Miguel Bonasso, I was able to ask him some questions and count on his cordial greeting for Telesur, the recently created Latin American multi-state channel of which Argentina was part. And so was I.
Evo Morales, two months later president of Bolivia, accompanied him on the journey through the dense jungle of exalted journalists and recognized images. Social leaders, actresses, singers, all more fans of him than tasters of their own notoriety. And on the other side, Emir Kusturica, the Serbian filmmaker, too big for the small camera with which I attentively recorded his every step.
Maradona was courteous to me, and at the end he gave a warm greeting to the audience of the international channel. Over there, in Caracas, among blurred archives, his words must have become dusty. Or not, who knows. Three lustrums are fifteen years. Maradona and the ALBA train may be temporary, even diffuse, in the precise memory, and, however, clear in the subjective vigor they project.
The man who waved at nothing
I should have been satisfied with the testimony. I hastily thanked him, instead of finding out something more among the thousands of concerns available then and always. In the light of time, or its darkness, I realize that the feeling of duty accomplished is pierced by a frightening mediocrity.
I cannot honestly evoke what his answers were. Even less, where my curiosity as a political journalist with no idea of soccer, in front of a soccer player with enough political clarity to know which train he was on. Not from Buenos Aires, but from several years ago.
But I keep clear, among my memories, what he said a few moments before, at the press conference held at the station at the top of the station with his fans. There, I also witnessed the popular veneration he aroused among his compatriots.
Maradona had interpreted the recent landing of the American president with a famous phrase, emphatic and very much his own: “Today the guy (Bush) arrived, waved and smiled from ear to ear… and there was nobody waiting for him! Bush is the man who greets nothing”.
He was referring to the lonely salute from the door of Force One. To the feigned smiles of Cowboy George and Professor Laura, his wife, for the photo. A slight rebuff compared to what was to come the next day, during the plenary sessions of the summit.
¿And Bush? ¡ALCA…rajo!
The heavy rain of the Saturday morning of November 5 gave way to the diplomatic storm of speeches crossed by opposing ideological contents. Two continental political and economic axes that would face each other to the death within the official Summit. Contrary to forecasts, a Summit that in the end would turn out to be minuscule compared to its counter-summit or Summit of the Peoples.
For and against the FTAA, that is to say, in the dilemma of supporting regional subordination to the United States or strengthening the budding mechanisms of regional integration. A struggle that led, in the end, not to the signing of any agreement, but to the demise of the imperial project.
At that precise moment, the United States began to realize that it was losing hegemonic control of its backyard. A dominion that from then on, with slight intervals, has not ceased to deteriorate. And that explains why its recovery is among the priority plans for 2021.
I do not know if conjunctions or alignments of stars with planets have any incidence in the affairs of the Earth, apart from the torment to the tides caused by the phases of the Moon. But I take it for granted that the confluence of the soccer star with Chávez, Lula, the Kirchners, meteors of the regional politics of the time, stretched the wings of forces that would determine the following years.
No, I have not forgotten a crucial name. The foundational and fundamental referent of the experience that was to be an era full of confidence in the future. And that will continue to be so for the social resistance against the powerful elites.
I am referring, of course, to Fidel Castro. The then president of Cuba was the one who, with several weeks of anticipation, the right word and his convincing arguments, bought Maradona the ticket for that train of desires.
Towards the ALBA
The Tren del Alba entered Mar del Plata between six and six-thirty in the morning. I am not sure if it was the fourth or fifth of November when we left Capital Federal, around midnight. I know it was the only time in a journey of more than ten minutes, in any means of transportation, that I did not sleep soundly. There was no way. There were plenty of reasons not to.
I wonder, fifteen years later, if the immense tree that was Maradona would let the dozens or hundreds of journalists squeezed against each other to interrogate him for what he was saying, see the spectacular forest that those days were. Why he did what he did. Or was the way he was.
I am disturbed by the detail because I know that throughout each and every one of the years of the idol’s existence, the branches of his addictions and debaucheries did not allow many to see the leafy grove of himself. His convictions, social concerns, courage and loyalties. Unimpeachable, deep, defined.
Maradona by heart
I don’t know to which heaven or to which of the many vacant hells Maradona will go to. Climb to the heaven of the inordinate rumbas or to the one of perpetual soccer matches against Englishmen again and again defeated. Go to the insufferable hell of regrets. In truth, I could care less. After all, what else is life? All right, a tombola… ¡Y lo que venga al mil por cien! [And Whatever Comes a Thousand Percent!]. Manu Chao had to sing it with emotion.
Be that as it may, I will continue to pass him from time to time in the crowded corridors of that train of red corduroys from which not even dead people get off now. To ask him, at every opportunity, the same question I can’t remember: where is this train really going? And something else: why the fuck are we crying?
November 26, 2020.