In Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett’s satirical novel on football, the author says, “The thing about football—the important thing about football—is that it is not just about football."

In these days of heady football frenzy, this line resonates with beliefs in unusual quarters: South America. Political leaders in the continent see Fifa’s decision to ban Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez for four months for biting Italian footballer Giorgio Chiellini not as an attempt to set a harsh precedent for such violations but as an “Anglo-Italian conspiracy".

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the decision is Fifa’s ploy against a South American team for eliminating European teams, England and Italy. “They can’t forgive Uruguay that a son of the people has eliminated two of football’s big nations, so they invented a whole case," said Maduro.

Predictably, Uruguayan President José Mujica was of a similar view and went one step further to say, “We feel that this is an assault on the poor because this gang will never forgive him because he never went to university, he isn’t educated, he grew up on the field, and he is a natural rebel and expresses his anger naturally."

The conspiracy angle, albeit a slightly different one, was also echoed by Diego Maradona, one of Argentina’s football greats. Maradona said, “The sanction on Luis is a way of punishing Uruguayan clubs for asking CONMEBOL (the South American confederation) for a fairer share of money. It hurts that they have cut short the career of a lad who is a winner. It’s an excessive suspension, Fifa cannot talk about morals to anyone...Suarez didn’t kill anyone. This is an unjust punishment."

This surely is not just football. And in Latin America, it is never just that. And it is nothing new.

Twenty years ago, during the 1994 World Cup when Maradona received a 15-month ban from football for testing positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine it was a conspiracy. “While admitting to his (Maradona) own past drug addiction, he puts at least two dope tests down to fabrication, part of an unspecified conspiracy extending to a CIA-style plot against him in the US World Cup of 1994, and denies he ever took drugs to enhance his performance." (The Telegraph, 1994)

The rich vs poor, capitalist West against communist Latin America theme has been a consistent and convenient excuse for the continent to explain everything that goes wrong: from football to their economy.

And there are interesting historical and economic reasons for this strongly held conviction that the West is out to victimize Latin America.

The trouble with Latin America’s economic experiments is that it veers sharply between austerity and populism. From the days after Salvador Allende was deposed in 1973—and prices of Chile’s main commodity export, copper, fell—and austerity was “imposed" by a group of Chicago university economists all the way to Bolivian president Evo Morales’ “natural gas socialism", the continent is littered with examples of wild policy swings.

In the wake of this experimentation have come bouts of hyperinflation, growth tumbles, growth “miracles" and exchange rate instability.

Economic instability has provided a fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

Ricardo Hausmann, a former minister of planning of Venezuela, recently wrote that Latin America’s interpretation and depiction of history has always been employed to prove that “current problems are the result of evil deeds committed by foreign powers that came only to exploit. The poor are poor because they are victims of the powerful".

His article came after Eduardo Galeano, an Uruguayan writer, known for his seminal book on Latin American history, The open veins of Latin America, disavowed his own book more than 40 years after he wrote it. Galeano’s book, which Hausmann says “defined a generation’s view of the region’s tortured history", has been the staple of Leftists in Latin America and across the world. It has served as a bible that details the exploitation of the continent from the days of the Spanish conquistadors all the way to the “yankee" imperialism in the 20th century.

The reasons for Latin America’s economic backwardness are deeper than mere colonial exploitation. The first national revolutions on the continent can be dated back to 1808 and since then the colonial links of exploitation have been severed one by one. A part of the blame at least, if not a substantially major one, has to lie with the governments of independent states in Latin America. But never mind that. Galeano has now repudiated his stand. But will that change the outlook of the readers, past, present and future, of Open Veins? Looks unlikely.

While Galeano is now willing to say “he was not qualified to tackle the subject", Latin America’s current crop of leaders is nowhere close to abandoning its conspiracy theories and inconsistencies in understanding in the world.

The support for Suarez only proves this too well.

Financial status, education, background all have became the defence of “South America’s son" against imperial Fifa.

It is tempting to ask though, how banning the third most expensive footballer in the world for an unjustifiable violation is an “assault on the poor". Or what Maduro and Mujica think about “their" Suarez wanting to move to Spanish football club Barcelona for an exorbitant sum of €40 million.

If Maduro and Mujica’s worldview was shaped entirely by their belief in communism, then even Suarez should be part of the bourgeois that they so despise. But that isn’t the case. A potent mix of populism combined with feigned nationalism has supplanted those ideals. While they were busy supporting the Uruguayan star and thinking up conspiracy theories, Suarez on Monday admitted to biting Chiellini. Maybe good sense prevailed, or maybe the lures of capitalism caught up with him. It is believed that Barcelona, the club that Suarez wants to play for, wanted him to publicly apologize for what he did before he moves. This might be a more plausible explanation for why he suddenly went from saying he “accidentally collided" with Chiellini to accepting the violation.

Viva la revolucion!

Global Roaming runs every Tuesday to take stock of international events and trends from a political and economic perspective.

Please note: The name of Eduardo Galeano’s book has been corrected to “The open veins of Latin America".

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