Mexican football legend Cuauhtémoc Blanco has announced his imminent retirement from the sport in order to run for mayor of Cuernavaca, which was named the most dangerous city in the country earlier this week.
Blanco, 42, who currently plays for Puebla in Mexico’s top division, the Liga MX, revealed on Wednesday that he will step down from professional football on April 20 ahead of the Cuernavaca elections on June 7.
The short, balding but iconic star, who made his name at Club América, has enjoyed a long and successful career including stints with over half a dozen Mexican clubs and brief spells in Spain and the United States.
He appeared at three World Cups playing for the Mexican national team, including the France 1998 tournament where he drew international acclaim for his acrobatic goals and his eye-catching trademark trick that became known as the “Cuauhtemiña” or “Blanco Bounce.”
Blanco, who will represent the little known Social Democratic Party (PSD) if, as expected, he wins the March 7 primary, has already begun positioning himself as an anti-establishment figure.
“I haven’t voted for a long time because we don’t believe in politicians anymore… I’m not a politician, I’m running for you,” he said, upon announcing his candidacy in Cuernavaca last month.
In a colorful press conference, Blanco denied that he was running for money or publicity, denounced the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) administration as thieves, and vowed to “help the people” so that Cuernavaca could “move forward.”
Cuernavaca named most violent city
The charming capital of central Morelos state, Cuernavaca is a popular weekend retreat for residents of nearby Mexico City. But the city has been beset by violent crime in recent years and on Monday a Mexican NGO released a study declaring it the most dangerous municipality in the country.
The investigation by the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Justice showed that Cuernavaca’s violence rate is three times higher than the national average. Although its murder rate is lower than in Acapulco – which was ranked second in the study – it has higher rates of kidnapping, rape, armed robbery and extortion.
Having grown up in Tepito, one of Mexico City’s toughest neighborhoods, Blanco can flaunt more authentic street credentials than the average Mexican politician, but there is no evidence that he is any better equipped to handle such a complicated security situation.
On the contrary, there have been some suggestions that Blanco has associated with prominent figures from Mexico’s criminal underworld. He was once pictured posing with Serafín Zambada, the son of Mexico’s most wanted drug kingpin, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who leads the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.
When questioned about the photo with Serafín, who is now awaiting trial in the United States, Blanco told the press, “I’ve got nothing to say, any bastard can take photos. I don’t even know him.”
Football stars in politics
Real Madrid striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández complained last week that he had not authorized the use of his image that appeared on campaign flyers that were being handed out in the city to promote Mexico’s Green Party.
It is not unheard of for football players to go into politics in Mexico, but there are very few success stories to encourage Blanco.
Several former players and leading coaches, including Atlas manager Tomas Boy and former Puebla coach José Luis “Chelis” Sanchéz, have led doomed forays into the world of politics over the years.
Yet the only successful figure to date has been Isidoro “Chololo” Díaz, who in 1968 became mayor of his hometown, Acatlán de Juárez, and somehow managed to govern while continuing his sporting career at Club León.
In 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón named Carlos Hermosillo, one of the Mexico national team’s all-time leading scorers, to his cabinet as head of the National Sports Commission. However, the appointment ended in disaster, with Hermosillo resigning just two years into his six-year term after becoming embroiled in a string of corruption scandals.
Victory remains an unlikely prospect for Blanco, with a poll last month indicating that just 14.4 percent of voters in Cuernavaca support him.
Still, given that football stars are idolized about as much as politicians are resented in Mexico, Blanco could still prove capable of beating the establishment.
Whether he’s the right man to represent one of the nation’s most violence-stricken populations is another matter entirely.