“With you Peru”: the country where you can play soccer in any circumstance and the passage of the national team in troubled hours

The soccer game of Argentina and Peru, in the midst of the political upheaval that the latter is going through. Source: LA NACION – Credit: Illustration: Sebastián Domenech

Soccer can be played in Peru under any circumstance. It is April 22, 1997 and the guerrillas play soccer at the Japanese embassy in Lima, on the 126th day of the capture. “It is 3:00 pm. The game has started”, warns Admiral Luis Giampetri, one of the hostages, through a miniature radio. “Serpa is playing. Tito is playing,” continues Giampetri. It refers to Néstor Serpa Cartolin and Eduardo Nicolás Cruz Sánchez, “Comrade Tito”, two of the leaders of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) that on December 17, 1996 took over the embassy in the San Isidro neighborhood. About eight hundred hostages. Diplomats, government officials, military and businessmen invited to the 63rd anniversary of the birth of the Emperor of Japan Akihito. On the day of the assault, when the military took advantage of the fact that the guerrillas relaxed playing soccer, there were only 72 hostages left. Most of it had been released within hours of capture. Among them, Francisco Sagasti, international consultant. Today he is the brand new president of Peru. He swore yesterday, a few hours before the game against Argentina at the National Stadium, for the qualifying rounds, in a convulsed Lima.

Released after 48 hours, Sagasti came out with a “hostage diploma”, a piece of cardboard signed by Serpa and by Rolly Rojas Fernández (“El Árabe”). On the day of the assault, the sound of a helicopter for the usual one-hour “football” played by the guerrillas. It’s late. The last survivors, reports suggest, are executed by forces led by Vladimiro Montesinos, the “black monk” adviser to President Alberto Fujimori, now jailed, convicted of corruption and killings in popular neighborhoods. The Odebrecht case dragged the following presidents: Alejandro Toledo (arrested in the United States), Alan García (killed himself in 2019), Ollanta Humala (probation) and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (house arrest). Martín Vizcarra, despite his high degree of approval, became the sixth president in a row to be disgraced on Monday, November 9. The excuse is a still incipient investigation into an alleged old cause of corruption. Congress, which has half of its members prosecuted for corruption, designates the cattle businessman Manuel Merino, who takes office with an ultra-conservative cabinet. It is difficult to answer the question that, sixty years ago, during the dictatorship, “Zavalita” was asked in “Conversation in the Cathedral”, the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa: “At what point had Peru been screwed up?”

The protests become massive. Actress Tatiana Astengo launches the hashtag “That the Selection does not play” against Chile. It is criticized. “There is another game and it is in the street. With you Peru”, encourages the protesters a poster stuck in the National Stadium of Santiago, hours before the “Classic of the Pacific” that Chile, finally, wins 2-0. The next day, Saturday, with more people in the streets and the repression on the rise, bullets of power assassinate Jordan Inti Sotelo and Jack Pintado. They are “the generation of the bicentennial” (Peru celebrates it in 2021). “Centennials”, “tiktokers”, “generation Z”, some with millions of followers summon through their networks. “They messed with the wrong generation.” Soccer is added. Mourning shields. Minute of silence on the courts. Sporting Cristal sends Inti Sotelo’s family an autographed jersey throughout the squad and poses sideways before the camera. “We are next to the town,” DT Roberto Mosquera tells RPP. Reimond Manco, from Atlético Grau, dedicates his goal to “the two warriors who lost their lives.” I read the poster of a student in full march: “Dad, Mom, I went out to defend my country. If I don’t return, I went with her.”

A colleague friend, Juan Carlos Ortecho, told me early Monday that he thinks it is difficult for the game against Argentina to be played. The national team players support the fight. Edison Flores, Christian Cueva, Carlos Zambrano and several others. “Who is going to bring these brave young men back to life?” Asks Paolo Guerrero, the injured captain. His replacement, Gianluca Lapadula, who plays in Italy and achieved nationalization in record time, did not know Peru. In eight days he sees three presidents. Peru played soccer amid strikes, hyperinflation and terrorism, colleague Pedro Ortiz Bisso reminds me. “The story is difficult to explain, but you are Argentine”, says another colleague, Daniel Titinger. I get it. Racing champion in the middle of the five presidents of December 2001. The World Cup with Videla. Titinger’s entire response is beautiful. I synthesize the ending. That Merino’s resignation, Titinger graphs, “was celebrated as Jefferson Farfán’s goal that led Peru to a World Cup (Russia 2018) after 36 years” and Sagasti’s appointment gave a new air. “When a Peruvian dies, and even more so if he is young, all of Peru is in mourning”, says Sagasti. “And if he dies defending democracy, indignation is added to mourning.”

The match against Argentina is about to begin. Titinger tells me that “of course we would love to yell some goals.” But “if Peru does not win, believe me Ezequiel, we will not care so much. We have already won. We have played a much more important game these days. We have been the best fans in the world defending democracy. We are a strange country, but we are decent and we have eggs. “

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