HAVANA (Reuters) – Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona said his hero, the late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, whom he considered the « second » father « and whose face he had tattooed on his leg – pushed him once to go into politics.
Maradona, who died Wednesday at the age of 60, never fulfilled those aspirations, but played a role in promoting and contributing to left leaders across Latin America – such as Castro, Hugo Chavez from Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia to give them a broader international focus.
« Everything Fidel does, everything Chavez does for me is the best (that can be done), » Maradona said on Chavez ‘weekly television show in 2007.
« I hate everything that comes from the USA. I hate it with all my might. «
Maradona, the son of a factory worker who grew up in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, met Castro for the first time in 1987, a year after helping Argentina win the World Cup and four years before the fall of the Soviet Union that would usher in a new era of economic hardship in communist Cuba.
An unlikely friendship between the often outlandish footballer and the well-read revolutionary deepened at the beginning of the century when Maradona spent four years in Havana trying to shake a drug addiction.
« Coming from such humble beginnings, Castro was his idol, » said Alfredo Tedeschi, an Argentine television producer based in Belgium who became close friends with Maradona while at Reuters in Havana.
« It was like falling in love (with Castro) and then Chavez, Morales and the others came along, » said Tedeschi, who often invited the footballer to traditional Argentinian steak barbecues.
Tedeschi remembers the time when Maradona knocked on his door and suggested a spontaneous visit to Castro. The Cuban guide received them within minutes of their arrival and admitted his busy agenda to spend three hours with them, including playing soccer in his office.
« They always talked about politics – Diego was really interested in politics, » said Tedeschi, adding that Castro would also spontaneously visit his home in Havana.
In 2005, Maradona interviewed Castro on his Argentine TV show and asked how George W. . Bush had been re-elected President of the United States, to which Castro replied, « Fraud. The Miami Terrorist Mafia! «
« Diego was the guy that anything he said would have an impact, » said Tedeschi. « And for Fidel, that kind of propaganda was welcome. «
In a stroke of fate, Maradona died on the same day, November. 25, like his idol four years ago – on that occasion he said he « cried uncontrollably. «
« These two dates are intertwined in November. 25 and will be throughout history: two greats, one of football and the other of the Cuban revolution, « said retiree Luis Perez, 64, in Havana.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter that Maradona’s « friendship with Cuba, and especially with Fidel, made him part of this people. «
The successor to Morales and Chavez, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, has also expressed his condolences on Twitter. Maradona had supported Maduro towards U.. S.. . Sanctions against his government.
« With sadness in my heart I learned of the death of my brother Diego Armando Maradona, a person who felt for the poor and fought for them, the best football player in the world, » wrote Morales, an avid football fan.
Former Bolivian president recruited Maradona to play him in a 2008 charity game in La Paz to show his support for Bolivia’s campaign against a FIFA ban on high-altitude gaming. The ban was later lifted.
In an interview with the Argentine newspaper Clarin in 2018, Maradona said he would consider going into politics, perhaps as a supporter of Peronist Cristina Fernandez in the 2019 presidential election, to oust the then-conservative government.
« Fidel told me to go into politics and I would go with her, with Cristina, » he said. « I see people suffering, people who can’t make ends meet until the end of the month. «
Fernandez, now Vice President, has chosen a different path. But on Wednesday she paid tribute to her former admirer.
« A lot of sadness, a lot. A great one has gone, « she wrote on Twitter. « For all eternity, Diego, we love you. «
Fidel Castro, Cuba, Diego Maradona
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