The recent death of San Lorenzo fan Ramon Aramayo has exposed,
once again, how unrelenting violence is scarring Argentine
The father of two made the mistake of objecting to a security
check last month as he approached the stadium of opposing Buenos
Aires club Velez Sarsfield. Exactly what he said or did isn’t
known, but the confrontation lasted only seconds before several
police wrestled him to the asphalt, face-down.
”Aramayo resisted being frisked, and witnesses told me what
followed was a brutal beating by police,” said Gustavo Grabia, a
journalist and expert on Argentine hooliganism. ”They used
excessive force. He was taken down to the ground. They hit him in
the back, in the legs, they squeezed his testicles. Not everything
is clear. He was able to get up and walk, but passed out.”
”Basically, they pulled him out of the line and pummeled him,”
Grabia added in an interview with The Associated Press.
Aramayo was pronounced dead minutes later, and three officers
were suspended the next day. Aramayo’s autopsy showed bruising from
police blows, but it said he probably died of heart failure – or
traumatic shock – brought on by the assault.
His was the country’s 13th football-related death in just over a
Football violence in Argentina is distinct from the thuggish
brutality associated with English hooliganism, which has prompted
several pieces of anti-violence legislation in Britain over the
last 25 years.
Mayhem threatens almost every match, whether the perpetrators
are individual fans, police or hooligan gangs. In a nation with a
proud footballing tradition, little is being done about the deadly
blight on the game. Grabia and others say the reason is a web of
connections that touches hooligan gangs, football officials, police
and the nation’s highest-ranking politicians.
”It is impossible to combat the problem here,” Grabia said.
”The violence is committed by people deeply involved with the
clubs, politics and unions.”
On March 20, the day Aramayo died, the 50,000-seat Velez stadium
grew unruly as word spread of what had happened. Rival hooligan
groups, known in Spanish as ”barras bravas” – fierce gangs,
shouted sexually graphic insults at each other. Then, seven minutes
into the game, San Lorenzo goalkeeper Pablo Migliore dropped to the
ground, struck on the head by an object thrown from the stands.
From that moment, the crowd grew even more frenzied. Shirtless
fans climbed a chain-link fence – ripping it free of its moorings,
trying to get at black-clad police on the other side who were
braced with batons, shields and a high-powered fire hose.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Velez goalkeeper Marcelo
Barovero was terrified.
”I got a signal that someone had died – that a San Lorenzo fan
had been killed,” Barovero said. ”I didn’t know what to do. They
were trying to get on the pitch. I’ve never seen anything like it
… I knew something serious had happened and right away I thought
of my wife who was at the stadium with my child.”
The match was eventually abandoned and no one took
responsibility for the chaos.
Club presidents, government officials and police tried to
distance themselves from it. Fans blamed the police. The Argentine
Football Association remained silent. News of the death and the
mayhem that followed was ignored later in the day on
government-funded TV, which broadcasts all the matches.
The AFA says such violence is simply an outgrowth of rising
street crime in Argentina, and one official has famously said:
”Don’t throw the corpses on our doorstep.”
AFA’s disciplinary committee met after the death, but made no
statement about it. Instead, it dealt only with mundane matters,
withdrawing a yellow card handed out in a recent match to Martin
Galmarini of Club Atletico Tigre.
The AFA’s powerful president – and FIFA vice president – Julio
Grondona made his first public statement two days afterward in a
”I have nothing to say. I’m not making any ‘mea culpa.’ I was
in Chile when it happened,” he said. ”I’m profoundly sorry that
the incident took place within football. We have to wait to see
Other recent football-related deaths have looked like
mafia-style killings, further tarnishing the image of a country
that has produced three of the game’s greatest: Lionel Messi, Diego
Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano.
Eighteen months ago, Pablo Gomez, a member of the Newell’s Old
Boys barra brava, was shot four times at point-blank range. Five
months later, the leader of Newell’s barra brava – Roberto
”Pimpi” Camino – was gunned down in a bar, shredded by five shots
to his head, throat and leg.
The primary way to deal with the violence has been to separate
rival fans in the stadiums, most of which are decrepit, with fields
ringed by moats and fences. But with hooligans unable to confront
each other at the stadium, the bedlam has increasingly spread to
One local resident described a shootout several months ago
between hooligan groups that took place in front of his house, less
than two blocks from the stadium where top club side, River Plate,
plays. He said club officials apparently had been meeting in the
evenings to decide, among other things, which members of the local
barra brava would get the lucrative rights to park cars during
One group apparently went away unhappy. The shooting began
”My wife was cooking and the kids were doing the homework and
just all of a sudden ‘boom, boom.’ We all went down, hit the
deck,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of
reprisals. ”The neighbors were screaming. My wife saw them in the
street in front of the house.”
Police confirmed it was the work of River Plate hooligans, who
are known by the colorful nickname – ”Los Borrachos del Tablon” –
the Drunks in the Stands.
The man described a typical weekend, with water cannons poised
for action and police patrolling on horseback. He said the violence
was getting worse.
”I went to one game and they were throwing glass bottles up in
the air inside the stadium. That kind of ruined it for me,” he
said. ”It’s not like a U.S. baseball game, a football game that’s
family oriented. You go in at your own risk. Anything can
Grabia has studied the barras bravas as a reporter with sports
daily Ole. He published a book in 2009 about the hooligans of Boca
Juniors (”La Doce”) and has documented the jailing of at least 35
”The deaths have changed absolutely nothing,” he said. ”I
have been dealing with the subject for 15 years and despite all the
criminality in the stadiums, instead of decreasing, the violence
has increased … It is impossible to be optimistic when all you
see is more violence, more money involved and more impunity.”
Grabia links the intractable problem to the tight relationships
between fan groups, clubs and many of the country’s most important
The groups do the nitty-gritty work for the clubs. Barras run
the merchandise and food concessions, scalp tickets provided to
them by the clubs and control parking at the stadiums. The barras
of Boca Juniors even run a special section in the stadium for
tourists; expensive seats but the safest in the house.
Grabia estimates about 300 members of such groups wound up at
last year’s World Cup in South Africa, many of them with plane
fares and tickets provided by politicians connected with the
In exchange for supporting the barras, club officials – many of
whom are high-profile politicians or union leaders – can count on
fan groups to provide easily mobilized turnouts at political
rallies or labor-union protests. They also are used to badger
unpopular players the club might like to unload. Back in 1993,
then-River Plate manager Daniel Passarella was beaten up by the
Some barras even get a cut of rich player transfers, meaning
there is big money involved. Grabia estimates the top half-dozen
leaders of fan groups at Boca Junior or River Plate earn about
$80,000 annually in a nation where the legal minimum wage is $450
per month – or $5,400 annually. One estimate suggests 40 percent of
Argentines live on less than $200 per month – or $2,400 per
”When you see the cars they drive, you get an idea of how much
money they are making,” he said. ”They have lifestyles like a
chief executive of a big business.”
The leaders of hooligan groups also are celebrities. The former
head of the Boca Juniors group was Jose Barrita – known as ”El
Abuelo” (the grandfather) – who was often seen with the club
president. He was convicted 14 years ago of organizing an extortion
racket and has since died.
Among the powerful politicians connected with the clubs is
Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri. He’s the former president of
Boca Juniors and a possible candidate in this year’s presidential
election. Anibal Fernandez is a member of the executive committee
of Quilmes club and chief cabinet minister for Argentina President
Cristina Fernandez. Luis Barrionuevo is the former president of
Chacarita club and the leader of a powerful hotel- and
Now add the police.
”I’m not afraid of the barras bravas,” Grabia said. ”What
scares me the most are the police when they get involved with the
barras. If there were no complicity between the police and
politicians there would be no barras.”
Meanwhile, the AFA’s 79-year-old president Grondona has just
completed 32 years in charge. Known as ”the Godfather,” Grondona
has acknowledged he met formally last year with an umbrella group
which represents the hooligans.
”This gave them legitimacy and recognition,” Grabia said. ”In
the meantime, AFA has never met with the families of the victims of
the violence and killings. This is a very clear message on the
position of AFA.”
Pablo Alabarces is one of Argentina’s top experts on football
violence. He says it’s gotten worse in the wake of the seven years
– 1976-1983 – when the country was brutalized by a ruling military
dictatorship. The regime was responsible for the deaths of
thousands of civilians; many tortured or thrown out of airplanes
into the sea.
”Thirty years ago it was not like this,” said Alabarces, a
sociology professor at Buenos Aires University. ”This was not the
footballr culture. A big part of the football violence for me has
to do with the dictatorship and the way the dictatorship changed
people’s relationship with violence – individual and state
Not only do rival gangs hurl crude, sexually graphic insults at
each other, they also have a simple chant: ”No existis, no
existis.” It means ”You don’t exist, you don’t exist.” Alabarces
and others have suggested the chants are a reference to those who
were murdered and who disappeared during the dictatorship.
Alabarces said the violence seems to benefit the police, who get
more work and more overtime when there are disturbances.
”It’s good for business,” he said.
Former judge Mariano Berges, who helped form the nonprofit group
”Let’s Save Football,” says solutions that worked in Europe – new
stadiums with no cheap standing room sections, higher ticket prices
and strict policing – will not work here. The group pushes for
prosecution of cases involving football violence and corruption,
and says since 1982 – the last full year of the dictatorship – 154
people have died in football violence, just over five per year. For
perspective, the group counts a total of 256 football-related
deaths since 1924.
Berges is also critical of Grondona.
As a judge in 2003, Berges halted league play for two weeks
following a brawl between Boca Juniors and Chacarita. In 2010, he
led a march demanding the resignation of Grondona.
Nadia Fernandez, a member of the provincial legislature in
Mendoza, added: ”What is really serious is that all of this has
become normal and it surprises nobody.”
Some trace the growth of barras all the way back to the rise of
populist president Juan Peron in the 1940s. Their power and
popularity was enhanced when Argentina won the 1978 World Cup. The
barras helped fill the stadiums, creating carnival-like spectacles
that the military dictatorship used for propaganda.
Chris Gaffney, author of ”Temples of the Earthbound Gods:
Stadiums in the cultural landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos
Aires,” described stadium scenes in Argentina with thousands of
barras bravas, their backs to the field and in a near-trance,
orchestrating young men into a frenzy.
The football doesn’t matter, he said in an interview.
”Basically you have two organized mini-armies in the
stadiums,” Gaffney said. ”Old stadiums, corrupt policing – it is
lethal and you can’t be sure where it will explode first.”
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