DISCLAIMER: Many say a curse is not real unless one believes in it. Therefore as a precaution that the following stories may very well convince you, and in an attempt to save her own hide and those of her readers, this journalist will refrain from using the proper name of the party in question and instead refer to him as simply, the Unnamable
You’re at an asado talking politics with an Argentine, of course. They then make reference to a certain former president by the wrong name. Perhaps they said Menen or Mendez. Funny you think to yourself, and begin to ask “Don’t you mean Mene–?” when a hush comes over the table, forks freeze in mid air, even the chorizos sizzling on the grill seem to stare at you. “What?” you say innocently. But didn’t you know? Finish that sentence and that asado might just be your last. Therefore as a service to you and your long, happy and healthy life, do take heed.
President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, the Unnamable is infamous for selling off the country’s national industries in a neoliberal yard sale and plunging the country further into debt with the one-dollar/one peso scheme and a series of billion-dollar loans from the International Monetary Fund. He is generally accepted as the father of the devastating 2001 economic collapse and has faced countless charges of corruption including accepting US$2m in bribes from German engineering conglomerate Siemens and the illegal sale of weapons to Ecuador and Croatia for which he continues to be prosecuted. He has yet to declare personal assets held outside of Argentina, which are said to be around US$10m, and oh yeah, in the 90s he pardoned a host of leaders of the 1976-83 military dictatorship such as Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera for leading the torture and murder of an estimated 30,000 of their own citizens.
But as if this knockout resume weren’t enough, the Unnamable has an additional reputation as being mufa or yeta in Spanish, or in English, very very bad luck. From lost football games to lost limbs, the Unnamable is attributed with having directly or indirectly caused a running list of minor and major tragedies. Argentines both rich and poor, River and Boca, and even his former supporters avoid saying the name like the plague, for fear they may be next series of strange incidents that have happened after encounters with the Unnamable, incidents far too strange to be merely coincidental. Let’s look at what has them so spooked.
Like the chicken and the egg, it is unclear whether the Unnamable’s bad political reputation is what spawned the myth of his curse or whether it in fact started much earlier. Believers will remind you of Miguel Roig, former vice-president of the agro-giant Bunge and Born and named Minister of Economy by the Unnamable upon taking office. Five days after accepting the position, Roig suffered a heart attack while driving in his car and died. Two months later, the Minister of Health and Social Action died in an aerial accident.
Incidents have also struck much closer to home for the Unnamable. The day after taking office, his first son Carlos Saúl Facundo was in a terrible motorcycle accident but survived. Six years later however, Carlitos was not so lucky, dying in a suspicious helicopter crash that many, including his mother (ex-Unnamable) Zulema Yoma, believe was in fact an assassination. A message to Dad?
For sports fans, rumours of curses are often a light-hearted half-excuse for a struggling team. But for the football fans of Argentina the myth of the Unnamable’s negative powers is no laughing matter.
Still high off their World Cup victory of 1986 and with Diego Maradona at his peak, the Argentine national team sauntered into Milan for the opening game of the 1990 World Cup against the clearly outmatched Cameroon. Without question the then recently-elected Unnamable attended to cheer on his team. As the story goes, the Unnamable approached Argentina goalkeeper Nery Pumpido before the game in an attempt to shake his hand and wish him luck. Aware of the curse but not wanting to slight the president, Pumpido politely raised his hands and pulled away from the Unnamable’s outstretched palm with a smile, perhaps feigning unworthiness or gently letting the man know that this might be a dangerous interaction. Embarrassed but understanding, the Unnamable laughed and gave Pumpido a chummy pat on the knee. The result? Argentina lost the game to Cameroon in a humiliating 1-0 defeat in which Nery Pumpido fractured his kneecap. Though Argentina made it to the final match against Germany, it lost and has never been back to the finals since.
In May of 1999, local club San Lorenzo was in second place for the Argentine Championship until the Unnamable, known for being sporty, found himself playing a friendly game in San Lorenzo stadium in a San Lorenzo jersey. He was even named honorary president of the club. The following week San Lorenzo lost 3-2 week to the second-rate Gimnasia de Jujuy and fell from reach of the title.
Though a huge fan of the team River Plate, the Unnamable was banned from the stadium by the club for fear of what might happen were he to show his loyalty in person. The team coincidentally had its greatest success during his presidency, winning numerous national and international championships, as the Unnamable enjoyed games from his living room with a glass of champagne.
In other sports, the Unnamable also: played a friendly game with tennis star Gabriela Sabatini provoking a sudden slump in the athlete’s otherwise soaring career; shook hands with Michael Schumacher before the Argentine Grand Prix in 1998 in which the top Formula One driver was surprisingly caught out in the initial laps and barely won; and invited a well-known Argentine racing driver to dinner in Olivos before the World Rally Championship in which the driver popped three tyres and eventually abandoned the race after crashing into the side of a mountain.
Life and Limbs
In most other circumstances, receiving a visit from a president while in the hospital would be a rejuvenating honor. If that president happens to be Señor Innombrable however, you might just ask him to send a card. At least that’s what filmmaker and tango singer Hugo del Carril should have done in 1989 while recuperating from heart trouble. Perhaps it was the emotion of such an important visit, but hours after the Unnamable (also a lover of tango) dropped by with flowers in hand, the recovering Carril was no more.
In 1990, tango composer and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla suffered thrombosis in Paris and returned to Buenos Aires where he was hospitalised. The Unnamable did not pass up the opportunity to visit the legendary artist who had been fighting for his life for two years. Days after the visit Piazzolla’s conditioned worsened and he passed away soon after at the age of 71. Fairly aware of his reputation as yeta, the Unnamable himself admitted to talk show host Mirta Legrand that hours after paying a visit to his much older first girlfriend, the healthy 91-year-old fell dead.
Yet in perhaps one of the strangest incidents to date took place in 1989 along the Río Paraná with current governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, Daniel Scioli. A champion of offshore powerboat racing, Scioli had invited the Unnamable to join him on his boat the day before the Delta Argentino race. During the race a wave from an oil tanker flipped Scioli’s boat and the politician wound up losing an arm. It was the same arm he extended to the Unnamable to help him onto the boat. Though a talented speaker, Scioli is a politician of few gestures.
Beginning to wonder, aren’t you?
Just ask around and you might be told some personal stories of bad luck with the Unnamable. I did and was contacted by Rodolfo Jeckeln of Buenos Aires. Sixteen years ago he was an award-winning professional golfer playing in minor tournaments in the country with a handicap of 6. One sweltering summer day Jeckeln went golfing with his instructor and his mother when along came the Unnamable golfing behind. Jeckeln’s instructor, an acquaintance of the president, stopped to say hi. Despite the heat and his sweaty palm, Jecklen did not wish to be rude.
“I go to give him my hand and he comes up to me and gives me a kiss, with all that sweat, a sticky mess. I’d say unpleasant to avoid saying disgusting,” says Jeckeln.
“From that day forward I had 12 years of bad luck, cursed, not being able to win a single tournament since that day,” recounts Jeckeln. The sweaty kiss of death.
Some even blame the Unnamable for large-scale disasters. The day after he returned from a visit to the US in 1989, the San Andreas faultline in California slipped, causing the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1990 the Unnamable took the ambassador of Peru on his jet back to his country from a visit to Africa. The following day a 6.8 earthquake hit the San Andreas region killing 300 Peruvians. And finally, the night before the 2000 US presidential elections, the Unnamable is said to have called his good friend George W. Bush to wish him luck. Need I say more?
To some these stories are mere coincidences, strokes of bad luck. Others plainly pronounce that the Unnamable made a pact with the devil. How else would one explain such bizarre tragedy associated with one man? Whatever the reason and whether or not you have been convinced, you may consider swapping that “NEM” for a “DEZ,” pick one of his various nicknames, or just trail off whenever you say the name Meneee…
You know, just in case.