In Diego Maradona’s famed farewell speech at La Bombonera in La Boca, Buenos Aires, he acknowledges his personal errors: “El futbol es el deporte mas lindo y mas sano del mundo. Porque si se equivoque uno, no tiene que pagar el futbol. Yo me equivoqué y pagué – pero la pelota no se mancha.” In English, this roughly translates to “Football is the most beautiful sport in the world. If one person messes up, football doesn’t have to pay. I messed up, and I paid. But the ball, the ball doesn’t stain.”

This final line, la pelota no se mancha, delivered as if off the cuff – just another in a long career of brilliant on field improvisations – brought the house down in La Bombonera, and is oft-quoted to this day in Argentina.

In Latin America, everyone and everything has, at some point, erred. Europeans, Americans, military strongmen, cynical businessmen, corrupt weak men, dictators, black markets, white powder, inflation, inequality, torture, slavery, homicide, femecide, genocide – just about any horrible thing you can think of has taken its turn defiling the region.

But, for anyone who has shot mezcal in Oaxaca, who has camped out in Torres del Paine; who has been in La Boca on game day, there is an intrinsic beauty – lo mas lindo, lo mas sano del mundo – to Latin America.

Y la pelota no se mancha.

Lots of folks seem to be making a living analyzing Latin America. A couple of them actually seem to love the region. I try to get them to write.

Lots of folks seem to want to know more about Latin America beyond Macchu Picchu and Spring Break. I try to get them to read.


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