The international controversy over the alleged match fixing between Argentina and Peru at the 1978 World Cup is one of the events that need clarifying, writes VICKY PELAEZ*. Football’s world governing body, FIFA, has launched an inquiry into the alleged deal, struck as part of the infamous Operation Condor.
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Arthur Conan Doyle
WE TEND TO FORGET OUR PAST, yet there comes a moment in life when history begins to trouble our minds and emotions and prompts us to relive bygone events. And it is only by trying to see them more clearly that we can restore our peace of mind.
The international controversy over the alleged match fixing between Argentina and Peru at the 1978 World Cup is one of the events that need clarifying. Football’s world governing body, FIFA, has launched an inquiry into the alleged deal, struck as part of the infamous Operation Cóndor.
In the 1970s, Peru and Argentina were both ruled by military governments. On May 24, 1973, General Jorge Rafael Videla (pictured) was nominated as the de facto president of the Argentine junta established following a bloody coup. Thousands of people were killed and went missing during his rule. Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay also fell victim to military dictatorships.
In 1973, those countries would all have hailed Washington’s plan to create an anti-communist centre in Latin America. The plan came to be known as Operation Condor. U.S. death squads were then allowed to travel freely all across the continent, except for Cuba, kidnapping and executing people suspected of subversion or dissent. Coordination was effected from a headquarters at a Panama Canal base.
Peru was a signatory to the Operation Cóndor treaty. The Peruvian leader at the time, General Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who came to power on the back of a 1975 coup, dismantling all the populist programs of his predecessor, Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado (1969-1975), has always denied the country’s involvement.
The austerity measures imposed on Argentina by the International Monetary Fund in 1978 drove the nation to the brink of bankruptcy, splitting it along the social lines. Public protests, strikes and revolts shook the country to such a degree that Marxist ideologues came to believe all prerequisites for a revolution were now in place. But there was no consensus inside Argentina’s left camp, with the Communists obeying instructions from Moscow, which feared a revolution would undermine its status quo with Washington.
In the early hours of May 25, 1978, 13 Peruvians were detained on subversion charges in Lima and Arequipa, including two admirals, a journalist and 10 leftist leaders.
They were put on a plane, taken to Argentina’s Jujuy Airport and assigned to the 20th Infantry Regiment as prisoners of war. After that they were transferred to the basement of the Federal Police Central Department in Buenos Aires and coerced into signing a request for political asylum.
According to one of the detainees, Ricardo Napurí Shapiro, the original plan was to apply “the escape law” to them and throw their bodies into the sea from a helicopter. He says they owe their narrow escape to a journalist, who smelled a rat and took pictures of the aircraft and its passengers at the Jujuy Airport. Once published in a local periodical, his photos and commentaries caught on with national and foreign media. The news spread across the world, through the thousands of reporters who were covering the FIFA World Cup in Argentina. In this situation, Videla’s regime had no other option left but to send the prisoners to Europe.
But the story does not end here.
During the 1978 FIFA World Cup, Peru and Argentina allegedly struck a match-fixing deal for their semifinal. The idea behind it was for the Argentinean team to play the Dutch in the finals. Argentina needed a four goal victory to advance over Brazil, an enormous margin at this level of competition, especially since Argentina had a weak offense (6 goals in 5 games) and Peru a stout defence (6 goals allowed in 5 games).
As a result, Peru lost the game to Argentina with an improbable score of 6:0. Argentina then beat the Netherlands in the final, 3:1, after extra time. Holland refused to attend the post-match ceremonies after Argentina’s alleged stalling tactics before the match, when they came out late and questioned the legality of a plaster cast on a Dutch player’s wrist – allowing tension to build for the visitors in front of the crowd.
There is evidence confirming suspicions that Jorge Rafael Videla and Francisco Morales Bermúdez put pressure on Peruvian referees to help Argentina improve its international image.
What President Videla said to the Peruvian team’s captain, Héctor Chumpitaz, in the locker room before that historic match remains a mystery. Nor do we know the content of Bermudez’ phone conversation with “Querido Chumpi.”
In a 1998 interview with Buenos Aires’ La Nación daily, the Peruvian team’s Argentinean-born goalkeeper, Ramón Quiroga, described as inadequate the lineup formed by the manager Marcos Calderón and made it clear he suspected some of his teammates of complicity. He said that “of those who benefited [from the deal], some were to die and others were to become dead to football.” Quiroga also said some of his teammates, like the defender Rodulfo Manzo, had ostensibly underperformed in that match.
Suggestively, a deal on Argentinean food aid to Peru was signed shortly after the match, with 23,000 tons of wheat pledged in annual supplies, and several Peruvian military officers were awarded decorations by General Videla. Bermúdez, for one, received Admiral Guillermo Brown’s sword from the repressive army chief Emilio Massera. This case caused a great stir in the FIFA and a thorough investigation could shed light on it.
If the match fixing suspicions are confirmed, Argentina may face penalty, with its win over the Dutch in the World Cup finals to be declared null and void. Argentina’s Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide, meanwhile, has ruled that Videla and the junta’s interior minister Albano Harguindeguy should offer an explanation over the kidnapping and torture of the 13 Peruvian nationals seized in their country and transferred to Argentina as part of the Operation Cóndor in 1978. He has also ordered detention and subsequent extradition of the Peruvian dictator Bermúdez.
It remains to be seen just how far the arm of justice will stretch out in this case. Videla and Harguindeguy have long been held responsible for the disappearance of 30,000 Argentinean citizens during their junta regime. Bermúdez, who has always been protected by his country’s subsequent governments, is now 90 years old, and there is little chance of him ever admitting to his crimes and paying for them. The important thing, though, is to establish the truth and to demonstrate to these and other dictators that the memory of their past crimes will haunt them until the end of their lives.
*Vicky Pelaez is a Peruvian-born journalist. Edited by TS.