- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
If someone were to ask you for a thought that’s purely positive in these days of nuclear woe and unstable leaders, you might be tempted to think of o jogo bonito — soccer, fútbol, or football, as most of the world knows it.
But, of course, you’d be disappointed. On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added Rafael “Rafa” Márquez, a Mexican soccer legend and current captain of the national team, to its list of specially designated nationals for alleged connections to drug trafficking. He is allegedly linked to, among others, the Flores drug trafficking organization — that is, the group led by Raúl Flores Hernández.
According to a statement by the Treasury Department, Márquez acted as a front person for Hernández, on whose behalf he held assets. (Same goes for Mexican singer Julión Álvarez, also sanctioned) The statement also said that, with 22 Mexican nationals and 43 Mexican entities, this is the single largest designation of a drug trafficking organization.
OFAC director John E. Smith said, “This major joint action reflects the U.S. government’s close cooperation with our law enforcement partners in Mexico to stop the illegal flow of narcotics and to target and expose drug kingpins and those who facilitate their illicit financial networks.”
The sanctions designations freeze the U.S. assets of named individuals — including Márquez — and forbid U.S. citizens from doing business with them.
If true, the allegations of narcotrafficking will be a huge blow to the reputation of one of Mexico’s most cherished sports heroes, and a household name in half the world. (A central defender, he played for FC Barcelona from 2003 to 2010.) They could be a blow to Mexico’s World Cup hopes, too, if Márquez is arrested — Mexico plays Panama in in a qualifier in just a few weeks.
And Márquez’s fame extends beyond the pitch. Thanks to contacts on the Barcelona back line — fellow defender Gerard Piqué is married to Colombian singer Shakira — Marquez also left his mark on stage, specifically in her “Waka Waka” video.
We don’t know what to tell you. Maybe go watch “Waka Waka” a few more times, or relive some of his match highlights. At least Márquez’s onetime Barça teammate and global (and “Waka Waka”) star Leo Messi has never been accused of shady activity.
Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images