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The Divided City of Rosario: From Che Guevara’s Birthplace to Lionel Messi’s Dangerous Neighborhood

Just an hour ago I was standing in the rich center of Rosario, strolling along elegant streets and admiring magnificent buildings. One of these buildings is on Entre Rios, a pretty shopping street that leads through the city center to the banks of the Rio Panara. It is the birthplace of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Marxist Revolutionary and guerrilla leader, who was born here in June 1928. It is one of the most elegant buildings in the city, five floors, built in 1927 in the French style. The apartment where Guevara’s parents were staying at the time is more than 200 square meters in size.

Che Guevara’s birthplace in the Argentine city of Rosario (Photo: Carsten Korfmacher)

Now I’m in another part of Rosario, in La Bajada, the poor neighborhood where Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi was born some 60 years after Guevara. I’m walking down the street and Gabriel, my taxi driver, is driving next to me at walking pace, waving his arms in my direction and looking increasingly annoyed. I photograph the murals left by local artists in Messi’s honor around his childhood home. The walls of the houses are a single homage to the exceptional footballer. Despite its beauty, tourists rarely come here. Because the district and the surrounding slums are extremely dangerous. Like almost the entire city of Rosario, the town is controlled by drug cartels, and foreigners or non-local Argentines are easy prey for youth gangs or the many junkies and homeless people who populate the streets.

Reporter Carsten Korfmacher in the neighborhood in Rosario where Lionel Messi was born (Photo: Carsten Korfmacher)

And if all that wasn’t enough, the neighborhood is divided between rival football fans. Some streets are drenched in the blue and yellow colors of Rosario Central, others in the black and red of Newells Old Boys, where Messi also played as a youth. The “Barra Bravas” of the two clubs, the hooligans who are involved in organized crime, share a deep enmity that repeatedly leads to murder. Here, in the neighborhood where Lionel Messi grew up as the son of a factory worker and a cleaning lady, the fans of Central and NOB live right next to each other, so that even a walk in the park or shopping at the supermarket can turn into a deadly gauntlet.

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Lionel Messi gives hope to the people in the slums

“Get in, we have to move on, it’s getting too dangerous,” Gabriel calls out to me, bobbing his head towards a group of young men coming towards us at the end of the street. I get in and we drive off, one of the men crosses our path on the street. But Gabriel goes around him and we are on the way to safety. Towards the center. Where Che Guevara, the left-wing symbol of social justice and class struggle, was born. “Who is actually more important to you here in Rosario: Lionel Messi or Che Guevara,” I ask Gabriel as we leave the district. He laughs loudly once and then giggles several times, as if I had just asked him the stupidest question you could possibly ask a resident of Rosario. “Who is Che Guevara,” Gabriel asks provocatively when he’s finished giggling, and immediately answers: “Nobody.”

Lionel Messi’s birthplace in the Argentinian city of Rosario (Photo: Carsten Korfmacher)

In fact, Lionel Messi and Che Guevara embody completely opposite poles of political thought in the city with 1.3 million inhabitants, which is about four hours’ drive west of Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. People here see Che Guevara as a rich upper-class child who wanted to play militant socialism and in the process dragged countless people into war, terror and death in developing countries in South America, Africa and Cuba. Lionel Messi, in turn, embodies the “rags to riches” story that gives hope to the poor people in the city’s slums. Especially since Messi has never lost the connection to his hometown, even though he has lived in Europe for over 20 years and has Italian and Spanish citizenship in addition to Argentinean. In 2017, Messi married his longtime girlfriend here, his parents still live in the city, and over the past few decades, Messi has donated millions in Rosario, to hospitals, charities and other institutions. His own charity, the Leo Messi Foundation, is also based in Rosario.

Almost 60 percent of all citizens voted for Milei

Rosario was once considered a stronghold of the socialists, who have repeatedly provided the mayor since the 1990s. But that time seems to be over. People are frustrated and are suffering from high inflation, crime and the rigid economic policies of the left-wing populists of the past decades. In the last presidential election, almost 60 percent of all Rosario residents voted for Argentina’s new president, the libertarian Javier Milei. They hope that Milei can make the success story that is Lionel Messi’s life come true for them too. They hope for a future without drug cartels, without street gangs, but with well-paying jobs and a stable currency that makes it unnecessary to hide wads of dollar money in mattresses, pillows or the living room couch in case the peso finally goes into effect passed hyperinflation.

Hoping for a better future: Young footballers in La Boca, a working-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires (Photo: Carsten Korfmacher)

Whether this will succeed remains to be seen. Because like Rosario, the rest of the country is also divided, between ardent supporters of socialist-left-populist Peronism and desperate citizens who want change. Argentina is “one of the most polarized democratic societies in the world, so that extreme positions spread to all areas of politics,” explains Simon Iglesias Gerards, South America expert at the Cologne Institute for the German Economy (IW). The forces of inertia in society are great because they come primarily from state-financed interest groups who now fear for their sinecures: powerful unions, employees in the bloated state apparatus, professional demonstrators, activists. New President Javier Milei wants to cut off their money, which would lead to great social pain after almost 70 years of a planned economy. Milei’s zeal for reform therefore met with bitter resistance. Because the state-financed interest groups want to prevent what Argentina needs now, namely “successful labor market reforms and liberalization,” as IW expert Gerards says. The country “needs its own ‘Agenda 2010’, similar to the measures that once helped Germany become competitive again.”

A demonstration against Javier Milei in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires (Photo: Carsten Korfmacher)

The next few months will decide Argentina’s future. In politics, even left-wing forces are now in favor of Milei’s reforms. Many of them let him have his way, even if they don’t share his politics. The main thing is that they don’t have to take action themselves, which would guarantee them the wrath of the part of the population supported by the state and would subsequently make them unelectable. Meanwhile, the other 50 percent of the population are held hostage: the many young and well-educated Argentines or the 45 percent of the workforce who work illegally because regular employment is no longer worthwhile. They don’t want much more than hope, a perspective. You don’t expect the wealth of Lionel Messi. But they expect a better life than what Che Guevara’s heirs left them.

2024-02-09 17:39:24
#Country #brink #country #move #slums #cartels #icons

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