Over the years Argentine soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona, who will be hosting a special program for teleSUR during the World Cup in Russia, has proven to be a strong supporter of the Latin American governments that stand against imperialism and fight for more equal, just societies in the region and abroad.
He has the famous portrait of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, his revolutionary compatriot, tattooed on one of his arms, and the face of the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro on one of his legs. His love for Cuba was forged through years of visiting the island and speaking with Fidel Castro, making him a fierce critic of neoliberal policies in the continent he holds dear.
Even though his political stances have earned him critics, he remains firm on his ideals, as Fidel once told him: “ideas are not negotiated.”
Diego Armando Maradona first visited Cuba in 1987, just a year after the Argentine team won its last world cup in Mexico. Since then, he established a strong friendship with commander in chief Fidel Castro, whom he deeply admired, and traveled frequently to the island.
Fidel Castro playing with Maradona during the interview conducted at Havana on October 26, 2005. Photo | EFE.
Maradona would become a strong defender of Cuba and its policies, fascinated by the strong social convictions of Fidel and the revolution.
In 2000, Fidel invited the soccer superstar to La Pedrera clinic as he was struggling with drug addiction and needed rehabilitation. Five years later, Maradona was in much better shape and interviewed the commander on his TV Show. The interview was conducted in the Cuban Presidential Palace and it lasted, it's said, five hours.
News of Fidel's death reached Maradona in Croatia while he was supporting an Argentine team. He traveled to the island after the cup and paid his respects to the commander. “He was like a father to me... He opened the doors to Cuba to me when Argentina was closing them on me,” said Maradona at that time.
“When they told me last night, I cried like hell... today he's leaving but he will keep guiding us like Che, like Chavez. Someone who can guide us from heaven is arriving to heaven.”
It was the same fight for social justice that Maradona saw in Cuba that attracted him to another Caribbean country.
Maradona was fascinated by Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution and visited the country several times, also meeting Evo Morales and Lula da Silva there. Even though his friendship with Hugo Chavez is not as well documented as that with Fidel, he was a great admirer of the commander and his project.
Diego Maradona (l) along with Evo Morales (c) and Hugo Chavez (r) during the opening ceremony of the America Cup at San Cristobal, Venezuela. June 26, 2007. Photo | EFE.
Once in 2010, Chavez surprised Maradona and joined him during a press conference. “One day we will defeat Argentina and Brazil,” said Chavez, remembering the worst times of Venezuelan soccer, when teams wanted a match against the Caribbean country in order to get an easy victory.
When the commander died, Maradona visited his tomb along with President Nicolas Maduro, with whom he would later establish a friendship and go on to support unconditionally.
“What Hugo left me was a great friendship, an incredible political wisdom. Hugo Chavez changed the way Latin America thinks. We were bowed to the United States and he showed us that we can walk by ourselves,” said Maradona after Chavez's death.
Maradona continued his support for the Bolivarian revolution through his support of President Maduro, whom he has accompanied in difficult moments.
“Don't give up. In soccer it doesn't matter if you lose three to zero, never give up. You never gave up and you're giving everything for Venezuelans. Long live Maduro!” he told the president, “we're soldiers of Nicolas, I came here to give him my support.”
Maradona has visited Maduro multiple times and supported him in campaign events. His strong political stance, support of socialism and Latin American sovereignty, has earned him critics from the right every time.
Maradona gestures as Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro kisses the national flag during a campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela May 17, 2018. Photo | Reuters.
Like Che, Maradona doesn't focus only on his country's politics and extends his solidarity beyond borders. He has been a long way and understands that.
“In the name of all Argentines that love Fidel and Che, I ask you for forgiveness because we have a president that knows absolutely nothing ... I'm a Cuban soldier, I'm available for whatever Cuba needs instead of being Macri's soldier, which I will never be. I would give my whole body for this flag,” he said, echoing Che.