Argentines see plot in expulsion of star Maradona


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- It's a plot.

For Argentina, those are words that have echoed through much of its history as an explanation when "bad" things happened to "good" people.

For the military governments of the 1970s, international outcry over human rights abuses were considered a plot by terrorists outside the country to discredit the Argentine military. Earlier in the century, Jews were plotting to take over the Patagonia, in what was called the Andean Plan. More recently, to explain periodic sharp public criticism, president Carlos Saul Menem has said that there is a media plot, backed by communists out to get him.

And now, the news that Diego Maradona tested positive for banned medication has Argentina again raising the banner of conspiracy, or complot, as they say in Spanish.

On Thursday, the 33-year-old Maradona, who has a history of cocaine use, was withdrawn from World Cup play by the Argentine delegation after tests found five derivatives of the drug ephedrine.

"The theme of a plot is very Argentine because it excuses your own guilt," said Jorge Lanata, a columnist for the daily newspaper Pagina 12. "If Argentines confront reality, they have to face the fact that they are responsible for what is happening. It is much easier to place the blame on others. If there was a conspiracy, then we are not responsible for anything. It is a typical symptom of the Argentine sickness. All the world is conspiring against 30 million Argentines. That is crazy."

A telephone survey of 200 people in Buenos Aires by the newspaper found that nearly 60 percent believed Maradona and the Argentine team were the victims of a plot. Barely 10 percent of those surveyed said they were mad at Maradona and more than 50 percent said they felt sorry for him.

And for the country where a common saying is, "We're the best, but they don't let us become the best," the fall of Maradona has many pointing fingers rather than looking inward.

The fingers have pointed to Maradona's personal dietitian, his training team, to soccer's international governing body.

"I don't agree with the historical Argentine view of a conspiracy, but I believe there is a conspiracy against Maradona," said Osvaldo Soriano, an Argentine writer, who questioned the fairness of the draw that chose to take a urine sample from Maradona, as one of two Argentine players, after its match with ** Nigeria. "Maradona has made a lot of people mad at him and he had some bills to pay."

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