René Higuita and Radamel Falcao were firmly in the “Yes” camp while Daniel Torres supported a “No” vote and James Rodríguez was criticised for staying quiet
4 October ~ Colombian footballers appear to have voted Yes, No and Don’t Know in the run-up to Sunday’s plebiscite, in which their fellow countrymen and women narrowly rejected a peace agreement ending the 56-year-old war between FARC guerrillas and the state.
René "scorpion kick" Higuita firmly stood in the Yes camp. There was certainly no other way to read his presence at what was supposed to be the guerrilla group’s last conference a fortnight ago in the remote Yari plains.
The former national team goalkeeper is one of several veterans of Colombia’s classic 1990s national team with a track record of supporting peace and reconciliation projects in recent years, such as the Me la Juego por las Victimas (I Play For The Victims) roadshow (WSC 331).
But what of the the new generation of Colombian players which so impressed at the last World Cup? They are certainly no strangers to the war themselves. Chelsea’s Juan Cuadrado lost his father at the age of four while growing up around the banana plantations of Urabá on the Caribbean coast. Like most of the regions worst hit by the war, the majority of its inhabitants voted for the accord.
Meanwhile the family of Porto and Colombia midfielder Juan Quintero continue seeking the truth about what happened to the player’s father after he entered a military garrison in 1995 only to become one of the country’s many thousands of “disappeared", whose fate would have been the subject of serious investigation under the proposed agreement.
Last year we pondered whether any of this new generation would eventually come out in support (or otherwise) of the ongoing peace process. In the final countdown to Sunday’s vote, El País columnist John Carlin posed the question a bit more forcefully, giving 2012 national hero James Rodríguez one last chance to use his influence and say a big public Yes to the peace deal in a piece entitled James es un cobarde: Si o No? (James is a coward: Yes or No?). But James, a man of few words at the best of times, had allegedly failed to respond to earlier overtures from the Yes campaign, and was not to be drawn this time either.
Such reticence did not affect national squad newcomer Daniel Torres, who also plays in La Liga. The Deportivo Alavés midfielder put out a video message to the country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, last week accusing him of failing to put Christ at the centre of the negotiations and other ungodly (but unspecified) behaviour, assuring Santos and anyone else watching that as a consequence nothing good would come of the accord.
As oblique as his words may have seemed to the outside world, there was little doubt in Colombia that Torres spoke on behalf of the vociferous religious fundamentalist wing of ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s No campaign, who wasted little time in spreading his message on social media.
Torres may however face some theological jousting in the dressing room with striker Radamel Falcao come Colombia’s next World Cup qualifier. Also speaking last week, Falcao gave his own Biblical interpretation of the choice facing his fellow Colombians, calling on them to pray for their leaders to bring about peace, and to forgive “70 times if necessary” because "I know that what lies ahead for Colombians will not be at all easy. It’s about reconstructing a country in which whole generations suffered war. I believe this is a chance to change our destiny.” Unfortunately that chance has for now been passed up. Jake Lagnado