LONDON: Argentine football legend Diego Maradona said that his hero, the late revolutionary Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whom he called a “second father” and whose face he had tattooed on his shoulder, had once encouraged him to go into politics.
Maradona, who died at the age of 60 on Wednesday, never achieved those ambitions, but he played a part in championing leftist leaders in Latin America, such as Castro, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, and in helping to give them wider international appeal.
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“Everything Fidel does, everything Chavez does for me is the best (that can be done),”Everything Fidel does everything Chavez does for me is the best (that can be done).
“I hate everything that comes from the United States. I hate it with all my strength.”
In 1987, one year after helping Argentina win the World Cup and four years before the collapse of the Soviet Union that would usher in a new age of economic deprivation in communist Cuba, the son of a factory worker raised in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Maradona first encountered Castro.
At the turn of the century, when Maradona spent four years in Havana breaking up an addiction to cocaine, an unexpected relationship between the sometimes outlandish footballer and the well-read visionary deepened.
“Coming from such humble beginnings, Castro was his idol,” said Alfredo Tedeschi, a Belgian-based Argentine TV producer who became close friends with Maradona during a stint working for Reuters in Havana.
“It was like he fell in love (with Castro), and then came Chavez, Morales and the rest,” Tedeschi said always welcoming the footballer to traditional Argentine steak barbecue dinners.
Tedeschi remembers the moment that Maradona knocked on his door and suggested Castro’s spontaneous visit. Within minutes of their arrival, the Cuban leader greeted them and cleared up his busy agenda to spend three hours with them including playing football in his office.
Diego was very interested in politics,”They would always talk about politics – Diego was really interested in politics,”They would always talk about politics.
In 2005, on his Argentine TV programme, Maradona interviewed Castro, asking how George W. Bush had been re-elected president of the United States, to which Castro responded: “Fraud. The terrorist mafia of Miami!”
Maradona, as such, was also a propaganda weapon for the leftist politicians of Latin America, Tedeschi said.
“Diego was the kind of guy where anything he said would have a repercussion,” Tedeschi said. “And for Fidel, that kind of propaganda was welcome.”