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The fall of Rafa Márquez

Until he was linked this week to an alleged money launderer, Márquez was the quiet example in Mexico of how there are ways to resist the enchantment of the siren song of dirty money.
11 Ago 2017 – 06:06 PM EDT
Rafael Márquez Crédito: Getty Images

First, a necessary confession: I admire Rafael Márquez, the footballer.

I have followed his career since I was a boy when he was already leading the defense of his Guadalajara Atlas with an uncommon elegance. I admired him when he decided to leave the comfort of the Mexican league to go find fortune for Monaco, without speaking a word of French but armed with that privileged brain capable of eyeing the whole field, all the time, all at once.

I watched with astonishment when he made the jump to Barcelona, where he was as indispensable as Ronaldinho, Puyol, Xavi and Busquets. I went there to interview him more than a decade ago. We talked for an hour about football and for a good while about life in general. Márquez only lost his composure for a minute, when I asked him to recall his father, also a footballer, who died prematurely. I was impressed by his clarity, but also by his precision and intent. He spoke as he played: directly.

For almost two decades I have also seen Márquez as captain of the 'Selección', Mexico's national team, always with a gallantry barely interrupted by the occasional outbursts at the height of competition. But Márquez has not only been exquisite: he has been effective. As a Mexican captain he has scored in three different world cups, each strike at a crucial moment. At his best, he has been an incomparable soccer player, perhaps the best Mexico has had, with apologies to that giant in the box, Hugo Sánchez.

But this sporting admiration does not begin to reveal the degree of my grief when I learned that Márquez has been identified by the United States Treasury as a frontman for an alleged money launderer, in the employ of that irredeemable butcher, Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzmán. I don't weep over my childhood passions. I weep, yes, for the youth of my country. Depending on what Márquez has to say about his version of events, his apparent fall is nothing more than the confirmation of a generational absence of positive role models whose consequences, I fear, still escape us.

I once asked a Colombian colleague how he explained the attraction that, for thousands of boys in his country, the culture of drug trafficking has represented. He explained that, for years, young people in Colombia, especially the poorest, saw no other way but to surrender to the narco.

"It was the only way to get ahead, to prosper," he told me. "There was no other door." Something similar has happened in Mexico for quite a while now. The culture of drug trafficking attracts with its very public and vulgar excess, but also because, in the midst of social rejection it seems like the only escape valve, as the only exit door. For many people in many parts of Mexico, that's what drug trafficking is - with all its adrenaline, the risks and the foul corruption - or a slow and tremendously screwed up death.

Mexico's misfortune

That's the Mexico we're left with, thanks to corruption, inequality, the failed educational system and so many other variables of our misfortune.

In the midst of that empty desert, young Mexicans find few oases to drink from. If it's a question of public figures to respect, we are orphaned. History has denied us references in politics that inspire a degree of confidence, not to say virtue. Who can find relief from the grief in a gang that ranges from blatant corruption to narcissistic indolence?

For the young, the void runs the gamut of every national, public platform, which is debated between the sham vulgarity of the unbearable "influencers," the contemptible ostentation of the wealthy, the celebration of the culture of drug trafficking in regional music (and television, of course), the hysterical and sterile debates on social media and the shocking arrogance of academics, intellectuals and, yes, journalists.

Only sport, despite its objective mediocrity, seemed to offer some kind of balm and inspiration. And in that field, no one more than Rafael Márquez.

Successful, honest, strong and purposeful, a smiling philanthropist and upright father; he was our disciplined and long-time captain, in charge of exchanging our three-colored flag, winning the coin toss and singing the national anthem louder than anyone.

Márquez was the quiet sign that in Mexico there are ways to resist the siren song of dirty money.

In white, red and green, with number 4 on his back, Marquez embodied the other door, now slammed shut, the unmistakable certainty for millions of young Mexicans that no one can escape the serpentine bite of the narco-life. What a tragedy!

Leon Krauze is news anchor at Univision KMEX, journalist and author.

(This article was first published in Letras Libres. )