José Luis Chilavert rides the wave of the libertarian right and runs for the presidency of Paraguay | International


Paraguayan exporter José Luis Chilavert, in a file image.Clive Brunskill (Getty Images)

On June 16 like today, but in 1996, Vélez Sarsfield humiliated Boca Juniors 5-1 with two goals from his goalkeeper. José Luis Félix Chilavert (Luque, 56 years old), the Paraguayan soccer player who marked an era by leaving the goal to kick every available free kick, put a medium-sized team in the Argentine league on the map by driving his rivals crazy. The anniversary of the day he scored two goals against Boca de Maradona could only be food for those nostalgic for a football that no longer exists, but Chilavert’s name has returned to the newspapers this Thursday. More verbose than ever, the goalkeeper who saved with a bulldog on his chest has just confirmed that he wants to be president of his country in 2023. While the center-left parties join forces for the first time in more than a decade to unseat the president Mario Abdo Benítez, Chilavert wants to detonate the space on the right from one end.

The exporter announced his candidacy this Thursday “after reflecting and feeling the responsibility to build a better Paraguay”, as published on his social networks along with a video in which he tours markets, hugs the elderly and takes photos with children in the streets. . The best South American goalkeeper of the 20th century, according to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, is running as an independent candidate. The rest of the forces, including the conservative Colorado Party that has governed since 2013, will define their candidacies in internal elections scheduled for December this year.

Chilavert debuted in soccer in his country in 1980, but became a legend in Argentina. He was a goalkeeper for Sporting Luqueño and Paraguayan Guaraní, for Argentine San Lorenzo and for Spanish Real Zaragoza before arriving at Vélez Sarsfield in 1991. He defended the goal of that team from the west of the city of Buenos Aires for a decade in which he won a Copa Libertadores, an Intercontinental against the Italian Milan, four Argentine leagues and three South American tournaments. In between he scored 62 goals, more than any other professional goalkeeper of the last century, and was voted the best in the world in his position three times.

His legend grew up in a football that no longer exists. Large, agile and quarrelsome, Chilavert’s left leg made the opponent’s goalkeepers tremble and the face of a bad dog that he put under the goal scared away the forwards. His free-kick goals are only slightly more famous than his fights in the stadiums: he grabbed current River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo by the throat; he spat in the face of Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos in a World Cup qualifying match; and one day, after being expelled, he approached the bench of the Colombian team only to hit Faustino Aspirilla, a striker who gave him a flying kick. That June 16, 1996 in which his team thrashed Boca Juniors, he drove Diego Maradona so crazy that the legend was expelled before the end of the first half. His feud was never resolved.

Chilavert takes a free kick during the 2002 Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup, against the Spanish team.
Chilavert takes a free kick during the 2002 Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup, against the Spanish team.Brian Bahr (Getty Images)

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It remains to be seen if the size of the footballer is enough for politics. Retired from the sport for almost 20 years, Chilavert never abandoned the controversy. On May 26, he was sentenced in Paraguay for defaming the president of the South American Football Confederation, Alejandro Domínguez, whom he accused on Twitter of having received bribes. The goalkeeper will begin his campaign while the suspended prison year that was imposed on him passes, and he has already given some signs of the direction in which he hopes to go.

“We are not contaminated with the dirty politics of the traditional parties,” he said in an interview with a Colombian portal a few days ago, when he was still flirting with the candidacy. In the same talk, he referred to the Uruguay of the conservative Luis Lacalle Pou and the Brazil of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro as “a breath of fresh air that liberal democracy has” on the continent, and stated that he is “very concerned that populism will gain ground.” . chila puts the governments of Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia in the same bag with the “leftist current” of the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro. A few weeks ago, Chilavert met in Asunción with Javier Milei, the ultra-liberal Argentine deputy who threatens to “kick the ass” out of the political “caste”. “He has a libertarian thought, I am more liberal”, he clarified when the meeting reached the Argentine media.

Paraguay will face an election in April 2023 that is already defined as crucial, in which the government of conservative Mario Abdo Benítez will seek to stop the blow of almost 83% disapproval, according to the latest report from the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics. Nonconformity has caused the forces of the center to the left to seal their first pact since ex-bishop Fernando Lugo won the 2008 elections and broke 70 years of hegemony of the Colorado Party. Lugo was expelled from the Government four years later with a parliamentary coup promoted by Liberals and Colorados who returned to power in 2013 until today. With a campaign that seeks to “recover the culture of work” and “stop education”, while denying social plans and subsidies, the exporter will seek to unseat the incessant Colorado Party again. His chances are still unclear, but neither were the last one to do it, and seen from afar he sounded almost as eccentric: he was a former priest.

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