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Making most of a Messi marriage

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-29 07:48

Argentine icon's hometown braces for international media invasion

ROSARIO, Argentina - Security is at the top of everyone's minds in Rosario, Argentina these days.

On Friday, the picturesque city will host the wedding of soccer superstar Lionel Messi and Antonella Roccuzzo at a lavish celebration bringing together some of the world's wealthiest athletes, just up the street from one of its poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods.

In the glare of the international media spotlight, some 21 members of FC Barcelona, including Luis Suarez and Neymar, as well as luminaries like Gerard Pique - accompanied by partner Shakira, perhaps more popular than the Catalan defender himself - will be flying into Rosario, 180 miles north of Buenos Aires.

Making most of a Messi marriage

Barcelona's Lionel Messi poses with his childhood sweetheart Antonella Roccuzzo and their two sons after winning May's Copa Del Rey final against Deportivo Alaves at Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid. On Friday, Messi and Roccuzzo will be married in the superstar's hometown of Rosario, Argentina. Getty Images

The luxurious City Center casino hotel, where guests will stay and the ceremony is expected to take place, borders a poor neighborhood known as the birthplace of the bloody drug gang Los Monos.

"Messi's marriage - like the casino's presence in the neighborhood - is a metaphor for inequality," said provincial official Carlos Del Frade, author of several books on Rosario's exploding drug trade.

On June 17, just a few hundred meters from the bright lights and neon of City Center, two people on a motorcycle opened fire on four women belonging to Los Monos.

The attack claimed the life of Petrona Cantero, 56, the sister of Ariel Cantero, the historic leader of Los Monos, who is now serving a prison sentence.

Del Frade said drug violence has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the city over the past five years.

Last year, the local homicide rate was double the national average of seven per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a report from the Ministry of Security of Santa Fe province.

In the Las Flores neighborhood, just behind the City Center complex, Los Monos holds virtually total power, according to Del Frade, who said the gang amounts to the "de facto government".

Historically, Rosario has long had a strong working class, and today's violence stems largely from widespread unemployment.

Messi's father, a metalworker here in the 1990s, emigrated with his family to Barcelona in 2000, amid the grave economic crisis then facing Argentina.

Officials are confident the safety of Messi and his guests can be assured, regardless of the high crime rate.

"Rosario is prepared for the wedding," said city administrator Monica Fein.

"Lionel chose to come get married here because it is his hometown and he feels comfortable here. We will do everything in our power to make it so."

Last week, local officials met with representatives of the Messi family, but no information leaked out, including on the location of the meeting itself, which was changed at the last moment to keep journalists away.

Some local residents, people who know every twist and turn in the city's streets, cannot understand the decision by the superstar - who made some $82 million last season, according to the Eurosport sports network - to hold his wedding celebration in such an unsafe area.

"The truth is, I'm surprised they're doing it here, considering that Messi is one of the best-paid players in the world. I just can't believe it," said Micaela Llane, a 24-year-old secretary.

Locals have been following the preparations as if they were all expecting to be invited, so they know all about last-minute changes to the plans.

"The other hotel (the five-star Puerto Norte, where the celebration was to have been held) is in a much prettier area," said Ariel Vallejo, who works for a private security firm.

And everyone dreams of showing off the best parts of the city where the soccer superstar - five-time winner of the prestigious Ballon d'Or award - was born.

Agence France-Presse


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