The Greatest Honor of a Star: an Unforgettable Goal Against Pinochet

On the return of democracy to Chile, which was threatened by fascist terror in 2021, I return to a text written long before, that ZonaCurva republished.

An Unforgettable Goal Against Pinochet

Among the images that come to us from September 11, 1973, the day of the military coup against Salvador Allende, among so many vivid images, one could rightly be of President Allende resisting in a helmet as a last resort, with some loyal militants at the gates of La Moneda palace. This image speaks of a democratic socialist, who by the strength of the ballot box thought he had the power, who is destroyed in the end, defeated with the greatest eloquence of bombs and crime.

Another image could also be the one that ran the world, of books being burned by army soldiers in the streets of Chile. In a country of great poets and humanist tradition, this picture escaped the paradox, because it was made coherent with the murder of the poet Pablo Neruda by the dictatorship. And then, this image of the books in the fire is so simple and pornographic, at the same time of such didacticism about the fascist ideology in its Pinochet carbon, that a comment would pass for the already seen, by remembering and repeating actions from Hitler to Franco, all great burners of writers, books and intelligence.

Then I’ll talk quickly about an image and character that mark them as well. The gesture, the person and the value of Carlos Caszely are not very well known in Brazil. He was a Chilean soccer star. The wikipedia informs that Carlos Caszely is the most popular and beloved player in the history of Colo-Colo and Chile. To this day he is called El Chino, El Rey del Metro Cuadrado, or El Gerente. But his greatest achievement is this: star of the Chilean soccer team, in an official ceremony inside the palace, in the vigor of killings and shootings of opponents, Carlos Caszely refused to shake hands with dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Or as he himself speaks of that rare and beautiful moment, years later: “I heard footsteps. It was terrifying. Suddenly the doors opened. A figure dressed in a cape appeared, with dark glasses and a hat. He had a bitter, dirty, hard face. He went to greet each of the players who had qualified for the Cup. When he approached, I put my hands behind my back. He held out his hand, but I refused to shake it. As a human being, that was my obligation. I had a whole people suffering behind my back. What a thing.

The reasons for this gesture, this heroism, are prior. It was not a crazy impulse. Before, the player had been linked to former president Salvador Allende. Himself, the player, a socialist like the dead president. After the coup, Caszely transferred to Spanish soccer. And what does the scoundrel of the regime in Chile do? Near the 1974 World Cup, the military kidnaps, arrests and tortures the player’s mother. It is assumed that this was an attempt to silence Caszely and force him to play for the Chilean national team. Among those persecuted by the dictatorship, he was the leading player in Chilean soccer, star of Colo-Colo and the national team. Caszely found the act of torture on his mother so stupid that he recently declared:

Even today it is not clear why they did that. They arrested her and tortured her savagely, and to this day we don’t know what she was accused of. I remember a sad, silent, silent, laughingless country. A nation that was entering darkness. I knew what would come from above. I was afraid. Not for myself, but for my friends and my family. I knew they were in danger for my ideas.

So his mother is arrested, tortured, and released, without any charges. And shortly afterwards he comes face to face with the dictator, at the farewell for the 1974 World Cup in Germany. This is the moment when Caszely puts his hands behind his back, as Pinochet approached to greet one by one. Caszely was the only one to reject the dictator.

As I write, remembering this act, I smell a perfume, one of those unforgettable ones, whose smell and chemical composition come only from the memory that surrounds a gesture. In that accursed and magical year of 1973, when the known world was falling apart, at the exact moment when hopes were great, there was this gesture by Caszely that was so little or not at all divulged. I just learned about it a short time ago. But what courage, we could say. And here, if there were room, we should discuss how wrong are those who think that courage is an attribute of bullies, of men who scoff at danger. It is not. Courage is fidelity to the feeling of honor, duty or love. So we say: what affection and greatness in being faithful to one’s innermost feelings we felt in those arms behind Caszely, as the dictator advanced against him. Surely, the player was trembling, but he still could not yield to Pinochet’s hand in greeting.

I don’t know, but that seems to me the greatest plaque goal in history.

Urariano Mota is the author of Never-Ending Youth.