The Messiah of Villa 31
by Alberto Julián Pérez
Translated into English by Rolando J. Díaz, Ph.D.
Marcos Feinstein was assassinated. They found his body in Barracas, out in the open,
close to Villa 21. He was shot through the heart. Before killing him, they tortured him. He had
burn marks and contusions throughout his body. He had disappeared from Villa 31 of Retiro
more than one week before. His girlfriend, María Mendiguren, was the one who filed the missing
Marcos had lived in Villa 31 for more than a year. He had been raised in Palermo, in a
middle-class family. He was a drug addict and was taking part in a treatment program to help
with his addiction problem.
The neighbors in the villa miseria1 assured everyone that he was able to cure people with
words. He was a healer. They have accused a gang from Villa 21 in Barracas of the
assassination. According to them, they kidnapped him and took him somewhere to see if he was
able to actually do miracles. They haven’t found any actual proof to determine what happened.
They haven’t found any direct witnesses to the kidnapping. If things continue this way, no one
will ever know the truth, and everything will remain a mystery.
They called him the Messiah, the emissary, and if he was indeed a Jew, they still
considered him a saint. They want to build him a chapel. Now that he is dead, he will end up
transforming, probably, into a myth or a popular saint.
I am a journalist, and as part of my job they asked me to gather information about this
case. What I found did not fit into a simple police investigation. For this reason, I decided to
write a more detailed account, from the multiple perspectives of those involved. I interviewed
people who knew him, who dealt with him. My principal informant was María, his girlfriend, a
woman of great sensibility and culture, in spite of her profession, demonized by the yellow press.
1 A villa miseria is a type of shanty town or slum found around large urban centers in Argentina. The structures are
poorly built, with no running water, and with electricity obtained illegally from the grid. The phrase first appeared in
the novel Villa Miseria también es América (1957) by Bernardo Verbitsky.
María is writing a biography of Marcos, whom I never met in life. She gave me a detailed
description of his personality and told me everything that happened. Based on her testimony, I
wrote his story. With Father Armando Santander, priest at the villa miseria, much loved by the
neighbors, we spoke about Marcos Judaism and his presumed miracles. They all helped me
understand this complex case.
Marcos, the Messiah
… and I came to live in this villa miseria. A short time after I arrived, I fell in love with a
young woman, María. She was a lovely woman, she dressed well, and soon I found out what her
real occupation was. She didn’t hide the truth. At first, I considered myself cool because I was
with her, but soon I realized that I was in love. I didn’t like that she worked as a prostitute, but I
didn’t say anything.
It’s not difficult to explain why I came to live here. Things were going bad at the
university, and I abandoned my literature studies. My old man asked me to leave home. My
mother died when I was a kid, of some kind of cancer, and my father was left with the
responsibility of raising us. He found me drugged up many times and didn’t know what to do. I
think he wanted to protect my younger brother, who looked up to me. I was always dirty and
didn’t work. I stole checks from him, forged his signature, and cashed them. I also bought things
with his credit cards. My old man told me I was old enough, to get a life away from his house, to
get a job. His house was no longer a place for me. He asked me to understand and to forgive him.
He is a small businessman, a moralist, and was ashamed of his son. The community despised me.
No one even spoke to me. Everyone helped their parents with their businesses, they were only
interested in money. The fact is that they didn’t understand me.
I rented a room in a tenant house and tried to leave drugs behind. I love literature and told
myself that anyone who truly loves literature has no need for drugs. Poetry is a powerful
stimulant. I committed myself to treatment for drug addiction and, for a while at least, it did yield
results. But after a while, I fell off the wagon. Once a person has tasted a drug, it’s hard to leave
it behind. It conquers us. It’s stronger than we are. I finally ran out of money and had to leave my
room. After a few days on the street, I ended up at the villa. Here, it’s easier to find drugs and to
My shanty wasn’t far from Maria’s. In the villa they respected her. She got along well
with the leader of one of the gangs, el Cholo, and he protected her. She told me he had defended
her from a guy who had threatened to kill her. Every so often, she let him fuck her. She, like
myself, had studied at the University of Philosophy and Letters. She had been an Anthropology
student and loved literature and cinema.
She explained to me that her work was not hard. She didn’t like it if her client was fat or
dirty. Many times, her clients were good-looking and she liked the time she spent with them. She
liked living in the villa miseria. I did, too. I felt protected. Villa miseria, at first, can be
intimidating, but once you are inside, you begin to act accordingly and you feel secure. If you
want to hide, no one will find you here. It is a labyrinth, and we all know its secret passages well.
It is a world apart, a city within a city.
The members of el Cholo’s gang stole cars and sold them to a clandestine auto shop in
Villa Dominico, where they strip them for parts. They also robbed people’s homes: electronics,
computers, and, of course, money, but only occasionally. They specialized in cars. The people of
the villa did not get into their business, and as a result, they protected them. Villa miseria did not
allow stool pigeons. Here everyone hates the cops.
When the boys of the gang found out I was with la Flaca2, they started scoping me out.
She didn’t give me any money. They envied us because we came from the outside world and had
something they would never have – an education. Many falsely claimed to despise it, but I know
they would love to have been educated. La Flaca and I were a kind of intellectual resource. El
Cholo, the leader of the gang, told me he had left school when he was twelve years old and did
not understand how we could have studied well past our twenties. He could not imagine it. To
him, we were only tourists in the villa miseria. We felt like sojourning spirits or cursed poets.
I adapted to life at the villa. The people lived in solidarity. The neighbors were curious
and asked me questions. They showed hospitality in their own way. They asked about my family
and wanted to know why I was there. They shared their beer and some even shared their
marijuana. They confided in me about their problems and recounted things that happened to
them. Some of the women consulted me when they had problems with their kids in school. They
lived in good faith. One did not have to prove anything. They did not judge you. On Sundays, my
2 A term of endearment for María, meaning “the slender (or skinny) woman”
women neighbors brought me empanadas3. These were northern empanadas, with potato, hot
sauce, and very juicy. One woman, whenever she saw that I was not well, would come and wash
A young man who played the guitar asked me to write some lyrics for his songs. I
composed one that became very popular in the villa, “The massacre,” you may have heard it. It
spoke of the difficult life of the poor here. A cumbia4 group popularized it. This was enough to
grant me their admiration. I decided to start a poetry workshop. First, I spoke with the priest. I
asked if I could use his house, which was close to the chapel, but he said no. Then I spoke with
some mothers who held an eatery for hungry children. They liked the idea and said yes. I gave
my classes at their old warehouse on Wednesday afternoons. Of course, I didn’t charge anything.
My interest was to simply help the people to understand and appreciate poetry. To me it is the
greatest treasure of our culture. At first there were few. The men had many prejudices. They
thought that poetry was for women or for homosexuals. They didn’t want to participate. But
afterward their attitudes changed. I patiently sat down to work with them, and they soon became
acceptable readers, able to read Vallejo and get excited about it. The favorite book in the
workshop was Los heraldos negros5. Many of the students, between fifteen and twenty-five
years of age, memorized the poems. The favorites were “The Black Heralds”, “God”, “Agape”,
I taught them how to recognize the voice present in the poem. One day, one of the
students asked me what a poet did to receive that voice. I told him it was unknown, that it was
the great mystery of poetry. Another asked me if there was something he could do to at least
listen to the voice. He thought he was a poet, wrote poetry, but had not yet felt the voice. I told
him there was little he could do, except pray and hope. The one who never received the voice
would always be an apprentice. A true poet was the one who received it. This was the voice that
came from without, and it was like the voice of God, a great illumination. Another asked me if a
poet was like a prophet. I said yes, well… almost... After a month, el Cholo, the gang leader,
started attending the workshop. At first, I thought he came to spy on me, but soon I realized that
3 A type of baked turnover filled with different ingredients.
4 A type of instrumental music popular throughout Latin America
5 Title of a collection of poems written by César Vallejo, a Peruvian poet; The Black Heralds (1919)
he was actually interested in poetry. He had a great sensibility and read very well. His voice was
serious, serene, and transmitted great emotion.
Not too far from my place, some two hundred meters away, lived Father Armando. The
chapel was by the side of his house. It was relatively big, capable of accommodating around
sixty people. He had arrived there years before. He was a priest of the villa. His neighbors loved
him. Many of those who attended mass and took communion lived criminal lives. The father
knew what they did but did not judge them. I think he preferred to prey for them and to plead to
God on their behalf. From the start he did not trust me. He knew I used drugs and had been
raised in a well-to-do family. As he started to know me better, his attitude changed. When I
began healing people, he thought it was all a farce. I, myself, did not know what was happening.
Soon he was convinced by the truth, and so was I.
The villa miseria was like a small town. Its inhabitants knew its alleys and passageways
well. The world outside was dangerous, but in the villa they felt safe. I came from that outside
world, modern and vibrant. Father Armando, María Azucena, or María, as everyone called her,
and I were foreigners in the villa. We were like tourists passing a season there, or so they
thought. The authentic residents of the villa were the poorest of the poor. Many arrived from the
cities of the interior and from bordering countries. It looked like the United Nations. There were
Chileans, Peruvians, Bolivians, and Paraguayans. The Uruguayans, who believed themselves to
be better than everyone else, preferred to live in the tenant houses at Constitución or San Telmo.
The other outsiders who entered the villa were the politicians. They looked for the help of
some local leader to win influence over the community. They arrived from different parties, but
the most successful ones were the Peronistas. The poor people really loved Perón and fought for
his return. The old people remembered him, and the young ones had heard so many stories from
their parents. For some, the Peronistas had even managed to obtain the deeds to the lands and
structures they occupied. They put forth the money for the expansion of the chapel and for the
purchase of equipment for the medical dispensary. This was the dispensary that saved more than
one young life. Serious fights take place here so often. People are fierce. The police do not come
in. No one denounces anyone else for robbery or assault. People defend and avenge themselves
as best they can, alone or with friends. The most common injuries are those caused by a knife or
a bullet. They are attended to at the dispensary, where no one asks any questions, so long as the
confrontation has taken place within the villa miseria. It’s another matter if the person has been
injured somewhere else, especially if it involves bullet wounds. In that case, the attendants at the
dispensary are obligated to inform the police. This rarely happens, but those who get bullet
wounds rarely go there for attention.
There are some political local leaders who carry a lot of influence and organize food
programs. They respect the boys from the gangs. They try to have good relationships with
everyone and have everyone on their side. Every gang is like a small business that provides a
living to more than a few. El Cholo, for example, always gives money to the priest for the
chapel. After every successful robbery, he gives a donation to the father, who uses it for the soup
kitchen of the villa miseria that the mothers manage. There are so many orphaned children. We
all take care of each other. We receive so little from the outside. If some did not commit
robberies, the rest would suffer. Theft is almost like a tax. Like a tax on the rich for the poor.
Every afternoon, the young and the not-so-young play soccer in the dirt field of the villa.
The most talented dream of leaving here and joining a big soccer club. Sometimes club
representatives come here to see if they can find some kid with promise. The leaders of the villa
miseria have created a gambling scheme around the Saturday games. There is a lot of money
involved, and the teams have great coaches. The games take place at three in the afternoon.
There is always a team from another villa miseria that challenges us, and the gambling begins. I
know that many bet with a lot of money, and the one who doesn’t pay up is physically beaten.
There have been so many fights owing to this gambling. They also threaten the players. They
must fulfill their obligation and defend the name of their villa. If they win, they get money.
That’s what everyone banks on, and no one is innocent. We learn to defend ourselves. We
survive any way we can.
In the villa miseria, most of the people work. They are day laborers, bricklayers, servants,
street vendors, kitchen assistants. They do everything. So much manual labor, with extremely
low pay. That is why there is so much poverty. Thousands of people live here. They work when
they can. They take odd jobs. They go begging. The hardest workers are the women. There are
women here with so many children, and they don’t make enough money to support them.
Someone always helps them out. We really try to make sure no one goes hungry in this place.
People like to listen to stories about encounters with the police. In the evenings, when
they gather to drink beer at the bars of the villa miseria, the toughest ones tell their tales. I have
listened to many interesting adventures. I’ll write them down someday. The women recount
endearing stories of love. In the villa, most of the people are young. And there are so many
The alleyways are filthy. People throw their trash there, but one gets used to it. I am
happy here. What am I going to do? Return to Palermo and beg my old man to forgive me and
permit me to be a good, arrogant member of the middle class? Imagine that. I am Jewish. The
community would laugh at me and put me in a mental hospital. I have always tried to help
others, to save people. I have a messiah complex.
My parents were educated and cultured people. As a child I spent my days in the library
and often skipped school. I loved to read. I have always read a lot. Here in the villa miseria,
books become humid and ruin. I have an electronic reader where I keep hundreds of books that I
pirate off the Internet. I have a little of everything, in multiple languages, because I can read very
well in English and in French. I learned English from a tutor my father got for me, an American
from Boston. I learned French on my own, reading and watching French films on video.
The Villa 31 has progressed so much. Today we have a radio station and even a small
newspaper. The young journalists always interview me. I recite a few poems. Sometimes I read
some of my written work to them. They ask what I think about politics, but I don’t speak about
that very much. My interest lies in literature. The literature of pain. To me, it is the most
authentic. I like other literature less. It seems false to me. True literature cannot sustain itself
with happiness. Joy is a superficial sentiment. Someday a Baudelaire or a Rimbaud will emerge
from this place. There is so much raw talent to be cultivated. I help with my little workshop. You
should see how they analyze Vallejo’s poetry.
In my poetry classes we would read the poem “Dios,”6 which begins: “I feel God, who
walks beside me …”. Vallejo describes how he walks along the beach and feels Jesus at his side.
Jesus is sad and suffers, “the sweet disdain of a beloved one” and because of this, so the poet
believes, “he must carry so much pain in his heart.” When we reached that part of the poem, one
of my students would always get excited, and even shed tears. They were intrigued by the fact
that the poet spoke with God. They began to consider the poetry class as a class on religion. I
mentioned this to my friend, Maria, and she was surprised.
Since I first came to live in the villa miseria, I have tried to heal myself and fight against
my addiction. At the dispensary they gave me methadone so I could gradually leave drugs
behind. I wanted to heal, and not end up in a hospital, or dead. Some guys who got high on
whatever they could find always sought me out, but I avoided going out with them. There were
days when I got the shakes terribly because I had nothing to inject, but I held on. My relationship
with María started to improve. We made love in the afternoons. She went to bed late at night and
never got up before noon. I tried not to show that I was jealous. I never asked about her nocturnal
occupation. I think I fell in love with her because she made love well and because I imagined
that she loved me. She probably liked it, but I understand that María is not the type that easily
falls in love with anyone. She is a woman with few sentiments, although she is very protective
and a good friend. She took care of me. She had more money than me, and she gave me a light
blue Lacoste t-shirt that people envied, among other beautiful things.
One day, one of the people in el Cholo’s gang was shot in the stomach. He was a tall,
slender young man, who they called el Lombriz7. They came searching for me so I could help
them. I told them they needed to take him to a hospital for surgery or he would die. It was a
serious situation, and the dispensary at the villa was not equipped to handle such bad cases. They
did not want to go to a hospital because there they would call the police and they would turn him
in. I suggested that they talk to the priest to see what he thought. They did not like the idea. In
the shootout they had wounded a cop, and they would be looking for them. It was a desperate
situation. I remembered my cousin Sergio, who lives in Belgrano. He is a doctor, and el Cholo
asked me to call him. My cousin was surprised to hear my voice. I told him that I had to see him
regarding a very delicate matter. He reluctantly accepted. We took the wounded man to his
office. My cousin is a gynecologist and was afraid when he saw the gang members. They had a
sinister appearance. I told him there was no time to lose, that we were in a bind. He told them to
put him on a stretcher. It was necessary to take the bullet out. The man needed surgery. He could
not do it alone. He needed an anesthesiologist. The boys did not want anyone called. El Cholo
told him to operate on him right then and there, any way he could. Sergio, seeing that he had no
other option, resigned himself to the situation and made the preparations to remove the bullet.
He brought the wounded man a glass of cognac and asked him to drink it so he could relax. He
7 The worm
then put a kerchief in his mouth and told him to bite down on it. We all held him down so he
could not move. When Sergio touched the wound, he writhed in pain. My cousin made an
incision where the projectile had entered, inserted some forceps, and began to dig around. The
wounded man fainted. In a short while, he removed the bullet. It didn’t take more than fifteen
minutes. I was proud of my cousin. The young man had lost a lot of blood. His heart had
withstood the shock, thank God. My cousin told me that the wounded man was very weak and
could still suffer an infection. We needed to give him antibiotics and change his bandages daily.
It remained to be seen if he would survive.
We took him back to the villa miseria. He had a high fever. El Cholo and his men hid
him in a shed. He was delirious for a few days. They tried to nourish him with soup and chicken,
but he kept vomiting. I helped out as much as I could and would stop by daily to change his
bandages. I was afraid of what would happen to me if he should die. At last, his condition
improved, and he survived. I was happy.
I continued with my poetry workshop on Wednesdays. I had a few students. Two weeks
later, the wounded young man showed up at the workshop. He still looked frail. That day we
were talking about the poem, “God,” by Vallejo. At the end of class, el Lombriz approached me.
He got on his knees and asked for my blessing. I told him I was glad that he was doing well, but
that I had not done that much for him. I had simply helped. It was my cousin who had saved his
life. He did not listen to reason. He was insistent and had a fever, so I did as he asked. I put my
hand on his forehead and blessed him in the name of God. I was afraid and did not want to argue
with him. El Cholo and his men can be dangerous.
Two days later, I noticed that someone had left a bunch of white flowers on the front door
of my shanty. I asked María if she knew who might have done it, and she said no. At the next
poetry class, I noticed that I had a new female student. She was a dark older woman, Indian-like,
and looked to be more than forty years old. At the end of class, she kneeled before me and told
me she was the mother of el Lombriz. She assured me that I was the one who had cured her son
and had saved his life. I told her I had tried to help, but that I was no doctor. The woman told me
I was a saint and asked for my blessing. I told her I could not, since I was not a Catholic. Much
like her son before, she would not move, and remained on her knees. I finally consented and
blessed her in the name of the Father.
I was gaining fame as a healer. The priest, who was the first to find out what was
happening, reacted badly. He asked his followers not to come to my poetry workshop and not to
visit me. He told them I had nothing to do with Christ. He did not trust me because he knew I
was a Jew.
Then the one-year-old baby of a neighbor got sick. She lived in a shanty close to ours.
She always spoke with María, and they were friends. The woman took the baby, who had a high
fever and diarrhea, to the medical dispensary of the villa miseria. Afterward, as advised by the
nurse, she took him to the Argerich, the La Boca Hospital. The child suffered from a strange
illness. The doctors didn’t know what it was. The mother thought that her child would surely die.
In desperation, she confided in the neighborhood women, and asked the child’s father to please
do something. The man, a construction worker from Paraguay, did not know where to turn. He
came and spoke to me. And what could I do? I know nothing of medicine. My field is literature.
Poetry. He was very anxious and asked me to pray for his son. I told him I would. I wanted to
calm him down. The next day he returned and asked me why I had not gone to pray for his son. I
did not understand and told him I had indeed prayed for his son and had tried to intercede on his
behalf. But the man wanted me to go to his son and pray for him there. I told him to ask someone
else for help. There was nothing else I could do. The man reported this to his wife and to the rest
of the women of the neighborhood. Soon all of these women began to shout in front of my hut.
They practically dragged me away. They took me to the cradle where the baby rested. He wasn’t
moving and was very pale. I got on my knees and improvised a prayer. I touched his forehead
and asked God to restore his health, to cure him, and to give him life. “I ask for his life!” I
shouted. And the women got on their knees behind me and began to shout in chorus.
It was something quite impressive. I knew the priest found out about it later and would
not have been surprised if he had denounced me as a fraud who tries to heal people without
having a license. The shouts from the women grew louder. In the middle of all that commotion,
the child opened its eyes and looked at us feverishly. I don’t know how, but the next day, the
child woke up well. It seemed that he didn’t have a fever. He began to eat. The diarrhea stopped.
That afternoon, more women started arriving at my door. They kneeled and lit candles. I did not
want to go outside. I didn’t know what to tell them. I was afraid they would light my place on
fire and that we would all be burned alive. The women would leave candles in the alley. They
stayed to pray. Some would barely move their lips, while others loudly recited the “Our Father”
prayer. By the next day, everything had passed. I gathered the half-burned candles that had been
left behind in the front of my hut. They had left gifts for me: canned food, bottles of beer, and
That night, the priest came to see me. He said I was mocking his religion. That I was a
Jew passing myself off as a Christian. I explained that what happened was not my fault, that I
had not done so willingly. I had been forced to go to the sick child. I had not invoked the
Christian God. I had simply prayed aloud for the life of the child. He told me to be careful and
asked what a Jew was doing living in the villa. Surely, I had well-established parents with
money. I told him I had simply had a small problem and that my stay there was temporary. In the
end, he understood me. He realized I had no bad intentions. He changed his attitude, and in time
we almost became friends. He genuinely loved the poor. He was a shantytown priest. He told me
that in Argentina no one understood the people, except for a few Peronistas.
“The only one who showed compassion for the poor was Perón,” he told me. “There was
something of a saint in that man.”
I agreed and sympathized with the old man. I had read La hora de los pueblos8, which
was to me a great essay. I told him Perón was a good writer. The priest agreed and told me that
hardly anyone read his work anymore. He said that the supposed intellectuals didn’t even know
that his complete works amounted to thirty-five volumes.
“What is missing in this country is justice,” he said.
For the next few days, they left me alone. But the following week, another child got sick,
and since people from the villa do not trust the clinic, and the hospital does little to nothing for
them, they came looking for me. It was not very serious, he simply had a slight fever. The
neighbors thought I could intercede on their behalf before God, so that he would hear them and
grant them favors. A woman told me that I was like a saint. I told her I was a Jew, and that Jews
did not accept sainthood. In any case, I might be a prophet.
“A prophet?” she asked.
“Yes, someone who foresees the future,” I responded.
“Like a messiah,” she said.
“More or less,” I replied.
8 A book essay by Juan Domingo Perón published in 1968, where the author contemplates the history, present, and
future of Argentina and of the continent itself.
The boy recuperated in a few days. Once again the candles appeared in front of my poor
place, and they started calling me “the Messiah”.
Then it was the son of el Cholo. He got sick and almost died. The mother did not trust me
and did not want me to see her son, but el Cholo brought me there anyway. I prayed for him, and
the boy got well. After that, more and more people started arriving. One day they brought me a
man who was unable to walk. According to them, he had paralysis. The man stood up and
walked away. It soon went out that I was the one who had cured him. There were many who
wanted to give me money, but I did not accept it. People from other villas miserias came. My
fame was growing. The people started to become more demanding. They thought I was
infallible. I started to become afraid. I received several death threats. They told me that if the sick
person was not cured, I would be the one to pay for it. They thought I had some kind of power,
and that at any given moment, I would use it against them.
I tried to convince María that we should leave the villa together. I wanted her to leave
behind her job as a prostitute. I was afraid she would get AIDS. I told her we could start again
somewhere else. But she resisted. She said I had a mission to fulfill in the villa miseria. I had
received a gift from God. It was true that I was able to heal people. I never asked for that and felt
unworthy. If God gave me such a gift, it’s because He chose me. And which God? The Jewish
one or the Christian one? To me there is no difference. There is only one God, but the people of
the villa miseria are Christian and have an amazing faith…
María, the girlfriend
To me Marcos was a genius. I admired him. I was leading a bad life, sunk, and had to
survive by being a prostitute. I arrived at this situation like so many other girls from Buenos
Aires. For love. I fell for a guy who was involved in hard drugs. Once I tasted them, everything
got fucked up. There is no way to pay for them, not even working the streets. Marcos helped me.
For me it was divine providence, and I thank God. Finding him was the greatest thing in my life.
I do not love him the way a woman loves a man. This is something different. I had not been a
religious person until I met him. Suffering made me understand what faith is. The boys at the
university mock religion. The fact is that we are children of the encyclopedia: Voltaire,
Rousseau, and Diderot are alive and well in the halls of Philosophy and Letters. The same with
Marx, who understood nothing of the spiritual world, of the craziness of poets and lovers. When
a person goes out into the streets, things happen, things I can’t even tell you about. There, reason
is useless. There you understand that the human being is made up of impulses and instincts.
Reason teaches you to separate people into different categories, and that is not a good way to
live. Life is like swimming in a storm, staying afloat any way you can. To live, one needs ... life,
not reason. As they say in the villa, one needs guts. Courage, and the will to live. In sum, love.
People would probably laugh at me because I talk about love. But all of the prostitutes I know
are looking for one thing: love. They work the streets because they don’t have a job, and the
streets pay sufficiently well. They have children, old mothers, and they lack a hard-working man.
The majority of them arrived at that state because of a lack of love. They are women who feel
bad. And they think someday, someone is going to come and rescue them from all this
filth…They hardly ever find a good man… I, who am more fortunate than most (I have
Marcos.), started looking for salvation in God…Some might laugh at me…but they will
understand me some day when they are in the middle of their drug addiction…and they find
themselves sinking deeper and deeper, within a bottomless pit, that sucks the life right out of
you. You feel that you are going to drown in this thick water…and you want…to live! Life, that
is the touchstone. The rest is nonsense, bullshit.
I studied Anthropology because I liked strange people. I have liked traveling since I was
a kid. I would read books on Geography and about travelers who visited Asian and African
countries. One time I went with my old man to the province of Jujuy, and that changed my life.
We stayed in the small town of Tilcara. My old man knew a philosopher who lived there. He was
one of the most original types, son of a German. He had been a disciple of Kusch. He liked
Heidegger and believed in poetry and in the spirit. I was an adolescent and could not understand
what a man like him could be doing in that town lost in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. The
landscape fascinated me, and the people seemed to emerge from that landscape. There was a
connection between the land and the people. I had never felt anything like that before. From that
point on, I became interested in all things telluric, in the spirit of the earth. I felt that the earth
and the landscape were present within us. I ceased to be scared of the poor.
My father is a professor at the university. Teaches History. And historians are always
arguing about what actually took place. I was always more interested in interpreting how people
behaved, their feelings. I began, when I was fifteen years old, to read books on Anthropology. I
followed this up with Philosophy and Letters. At the university I met Hector, who was a god to
me. He was a melancholic type, and this fascinated me. He got depressed and started to take
pills. When the pills became ineffective, he injected himself. And I, who loved him, did
everything he did. That is how we both sunk together. I would go to bars to pick up men to make
money and buy drugs. It was an endless circle without an exit. One day his parents found him
dead in his room. He over injected himself and had a heart attack.
I left home and got lost in the world of drugs. I started working three days a week in a
brothel on Esmeralda Street. I studied the rest of the week. Then I began working five days a
week and left the university. At the brothel I had a few friends, very interesting ones. They were
girls from the interior, from Uruguay, from Paraguay. They were all very dear. One of the girls
lived in Villa 31, and I came here to live with her. It was comfortable and centrally located. It
was easy to find drugs in the villa, and they gave them to me on credit when I had no money to
pay. After a few months, my friend returned to Paraguay. I missed her. She was teaching me
Several more months passed and Marcos arrived. He was nice. I didn’t find him
especially handsome, but I was attractive to him. He liked prostitutes. He had problems making
love. He was a loner and very timid. I think he was afraid of people. He read a lot, especially
poetry. He also liked to read essays. I never saw him reading a novel. His spirituality was
incredible. For him, poetry was like the daily bread of life. He breathed it. He told me he was
Jewish, that his father was very strict and had thrown him out of his house when he discovered
his addiction to drugs. He had studied literature.
We were twin souls. At first, we thought we were at villa miseria only for a short while, a
kind of prolonged vacation, and that afterward we would return to our own neighborhoods, to
our good lives…when we got better…but this never happened. It is difficult to leave the villa.
One can’t return to the past. We kept sinking and we lost our will. We felt safe in the villa
miseria. Nobody judged us, and some even admired us.
When I first came to live here, the filth in the alleys bothered me, the mud when it rains,
but I got used to it. I became increasingly interested in the people, and I even thought about
writing a book about villa miseria and its inhabitants. The geniuses of the middle class do not
know them. They despise them. Demonize them. They consider them barbaric. They are worse
than the villeros9, with their prejudices and their selfishness. I felt the old story of the nineteenth
century was being repeated, when liberal young people accused the gauchos10, who were
protected by Rosas11, of being criminals and brutes. Afterward, during the liberal governments of
Mitre and Sarmiento12, the politicians and the corrupt police chased the gauchos, who, like
Martin Fierro, had to seek refuge among the Indians. They had no other choice. They were
expendable. They had given the country everything it had asked for: rural peons and arms for
war. They didn’t need them anymore. They brought in foreigners to cultivate the land. They ran
them off from their camps like dogs. They robbed them of what little they had, destroyed their
families. They didn’t even leave them their children.
Like the women gauchas, or better yet, like the captive ones, I was accepting
“barbarism”. I felt at each turn that these people were genuine, and that our middle class was
inauthentic and foreign. They did not understand the poor, and they did not want to understand
them, because they felt themselves to be superior. We hid out in the villa miseria because the
bourgeois society in which we had grown up despised us, for being different, for being strange,
and we no longer had a place in it. We escaped the vulgarity of the middle class, rested from
having to carry the weight of being raised to repeat the history of our parents, and of all of those
who had become our enemies.
Marcos spent most of his time being high on drugs and could not understand what was
happening around him. He had read a lot. Literature was his world. He could not distinguish
between reality and fantasy. He always told me that all poets were a little bit crazy. He heard
voices that spoke to him and told me that they spoke to him about God.
“Like it happened to Vallejo, the poet?” I asked.
“Just like Vallejo,” he answered.
One day he told me about a dream of his that I will always remember. A smiling young
man appeared before him who looked at him with sympathy. As he spoke to him, he took out a
knife and with the tip of it began to make cuts on his left hand. He made meticulous cuts in
9 People who live in the villa miseria.
10 Gauchos were cowboy, mestizo herdsmen who rode the plains of Argentina during the nineteenth century.
“Martin Fierro,” by José Hernandez, is a two-part epic poem of Argentina’s most famous gaucho.
11 Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793-1877): Governor (dictator) of Buenos Aires from 1835-52.
12 Bartolomé Mitre (1821-1906) and Domingo Sarmiento (1811-1888)
geometric forms and about a centimeter deep. He gave it so much attention and care. It seemed
that he did not feel pain, as if he were cutting the hand of someone else. Marcos observed him
and noticed that he had several scars on his hands, his wrists, and his face, from cuts he had
made on himself before. The man was calm and looked at him with a smile. Marcos, frightened,
asked him why he did this. The man responded, without giving it much importance, that it was
“déjà vu”. Marcos did not understand. He asked him again, and the man responded with the same
phrase, always smiling. That was the end of the dream. We tried to interpret it. Marcos was
fluent in French. “Déjà vu” meant that he was seeing something that had already happened. It
involved the repetition of a previous experience. I told him that to me it was a dream about
castration. He agreed. He was Jewish, and in his religion his admission into the family depends
on ritual castration. Marcos was expelled from his community by his father. He felt guilty, thus
his angst about castration. I think he tried to establish another community, spiritually strong, in
the villa miseria, to compensate for that loss. This new society came together around poetry. His
sacred book was Los heraldos negros13. The central subject of that book is the relationship of the
human being, condemned to suffer, with his God.
I don’t know where Marcos is now, at some place in heaven, I guess. The most probable
thing is that he still watches over us because he loves us. I hope that we will soon finish the
chapel, so that we can pray to him and always have him present. Through Vallejo, Marcos was
able to get close to Christ. I spoke about it with the priest, and he also believes this. He told me
that Marcos had understood the message of Christ and understood him to be the true God. I have
studied much about the cultures of the northwest. They identify God with the earth. In the villa
miseria, the earth likewise triumphs with its people. For many, the villa is barbaric, but I think
it’s an Argentina that has its own truth. The middle class cannot understand it because it is
narcissistic and does not feel charity. That’s why it stigmatizes the villeros. They have
condemned us to this way of life. And if God sent Marcos to teach us and to heal us, it’s because
he loved us and looked for ways to liberate us from our slavery.
I chose to continue living here because I felt good among the poor. I am a rebel. I have
always been one. And Marcos was, too. But he suffered more than me, and I understand why,
because he suffered for others. That is why he liked Vallejo, the poet of pain. Christ was a rebel
13 The Black Heralds (1919), a book of poetry by César Vallejo.
who criticized corrupt priests and the merchants at the synagogues. I am an anticapitalist and
don’t believe in the family. I prefer to make a living as a prostitute. It is the most sincere and
honest thing I can do. The family is a morbid institution that enslaves men. They come to me to
be validated. They come humiliated. I listen to them.
Was Marcos a holy man? Yes, he was, because the people elevated him. He did not come
down from the altars. He ascended to them at the hands of the people of the villa miseria. It was
the villeros who baptized him with their gratitude. They were the ones who recognized what he
was. God chose him as one who could grant miracles. Before I knew what he was, I was a self-destructive
drug addict who had at one time walked the halls of Philosophy and Letters. After he
arrived at the villa, I started to seriously think about God. God is not dead. Nietzsche and Marx
were wrong. There are those who drug and poison the people, but religion is not to blame. Those
who exploit the poor fill them with hate, and force them to live in subhuman ways. That is why
Perón came, the only Argentinean politician who connected the problem of barbarism with the
actual world. Had it not been for Perón, we would have had a civil war in this country. He was
the only one who was able to get close to the people. When he arrived, there were two
Argentinas: the Argentina of the poor masses, and the Argentina of the oligarchy. He taught us
how to think as a people. Populism is saving Latin America. Deep down, I came to the villa
miseria to humanize myself, tired of the middle class and of the fascist family structure. I did not
want to reproduce it. I prefer to be a whore, rebellious and independent. The villeros? They are
my equals. Together we are going to save each other.
El Cholo, the thief
When Marcos arrived at Villa 31, everyone laughed at him. He was slender, pallid, and
had a hooked nose. I thought he was a coward, timid, not interested in anything. There were
many who picked on him and tried to provoke him. They wanted to show they were better than
him, and he always pretended not to notice. We did not know why he had come to the villa
miseria. We thought he was a police informant, but when he started using drugs, we realized he
was no cop. He would come and go in the villa, and he always had a book in his hand. At first,
we thought he was a fag. One time one of the boys in my gang stopped him and asked him about
the book he was carrying. In the villa miseria, the only book adults have is the Bible, or some
book given to them by the priest. He said it was a book of poetry and started to recite a poem.
We laughed at him and thought he was crazy. Later he told everyone he was going to start a
poetry workshop. Who was going to attend a poetry workshop in the villa miseria? At first, only
one or two women went. They liked it and spoke well of him. They asked their husbands to go
with them. He became very popular. He was so successful that the place where he gave his
workshop became filled with people. Even I went one day, out of curiosity. No one can ever
accuse me of being weak or cowardly. I am the leader of a well-known gang, and I am not afraid
of death, something I have cheated many times. It is just that we were very prejudiced against
poetry. We thought it was something for gays and women. I had never before read poetry. I liked
cumbias villeras, songs that speak about the struggles of our people. Here we all hate the cops.
There is no one who does not have a relative who has not been killed or imprisoned by the
police. They are our enemies.
The first time I went to a workshop I thought he was going to give a lecture about some
Argentinean poet, but instead he spent the entire time talking about the voice, and said that poets
heard voices, and that when we read poems, we had to feel that voice in the poem. He asked me
to get up and stand at the center of the class. He asked me to read a poem in a book that he gave
me. I was very embarrassed. I am the boss. What the hell was I doing reading aloud in a group of
women? Marcos liked my voice and asked me to read slowly. It was a poem by Vallejo, one that
I would go on to memorize later, “Los heraldos negros.” I read it once, and he asked me if I
heard the voice, if I understood what the poet was talking about when he said, “there are blows in
life, so strong, I don’t know…”. I told him yes, that I understood, because I know what it is to
suffer. He asked me to read the poem aloud two more times, and as I finished the last time, in the
part that says, “…blows as if from the hatred of God, as if before them, the dregs of everything
one has suffered, pools in the soul…I don’t know…”, I could no longer speak from the anguish.
Tears started to flow from my eyes, and I could not continue. Marcos realized what was
happening to me and came and gave me a strong hug. Everyone in the workshop was
transformed and had a knot in their throats. After that, I never again thought that poets were fags.
They are more advanced than we are and bring us sentiments from the next world. They are, I
think, closer to God. This is how His spirit reaches us, and we can’t avoid it. Marcos told me the
reason I cried was that I was a person of faith and had suffered, that I should not be ashamed. I
did not understand what he meant by “person of faith” at that moment, but this was something I
came to understand later. I know that I am a thief, that my hands are stained with blood.
However, I am capable of risking my life for those that I love. One day I saved María’s life.
I was going by her hut and heard someone screaming for help. I opened the door and saw
what was happening. A burly man, in his underwear, was punishing María with a belt that had a
large buckle. María was curled up in her bed, naked, and had cuts and bruises all over her body
caused by the buckle. She screamed and covered her face. The man turned around and faced me.
I did not know him. He was not from our villa miseria. Maybe he was from Villa 21. We had
already had a few confrontations with them. Those from Villa 21 thought they were better
fighters than us. They called us the Gucci villeros because we lived in Retiro. The man was
much bigger than me. I am short and not that hefty. He told me to leave or he would take it out
on me. I am not afraid of anybody, and the big ones don’t scare me. I insulted him and then
challenged him. I took out the knife from my pocket and opened it. He had left his jacket draped
over a chair, where I saw the bulge of a revolver and thought he was going to go for it. But no,
he was the type that followed the rules and took out a knife. He wanted to fight me, equal to
equal. My blood boiled, but I know that one never fights, when life itself is at stake, with a hot
head. I am one of those who keep cool in the most serious of moments, and this has saved my
life many times. He saw that I was younger and more agile than him and lunged forward to test
me. I easily turned to one side and cut him with my knife, leaving him with a bloody mark in his
ribs. The big man took matters seriously now and understood that he was dealing with someone
who knew how to fight. He went to the chair where his jacket was, put the revolver to one side,
and wrapped the jacket around his left arm. I, too, followed the rules. I am not a crafty person,
and respect brave men. I saw a large towel on the table and wrapped it around my arm. Now we
were on equal footing.
María looked on in horror and dared not move from the bed. The two of us balanced
ourselves on our legs and moved about carefully. He menaced María, who curled up into a ball
on the bed, and told her that as soon as he was done with me, he was going to get hers. He called
her a bitch, a guacha and a whore and told her he was going to rip her stomach wide open. I did
not say a word. There was no reason to. This was a matter of kill or be killed. He was not a man
who would run away, and neither was I. He came at me and flashed his knife close to my eyes.
He held the knife like a sword. Argentineans do not fight like the Spaniards. We have our own
way. It has been many years since the gauchos dominated Buenos Aires, but we still have it
inside, instinctual. The man approached me with his forearm wrapped in his jacket and prepared
to stab me forcefully. His arms were longer than mine, and I tried to keep my distance. Since he
was a heavy man, I realized that if the situation continued much longer, he would get tired and
lose his concentration.
I started talking to him, to distract him, as I moved from one side to the next. But the man
knew how to fight and would not let his guard down. He came at me. I fell back without looking
and stumbled. I don’t know how, but we both soon found ourselves on the floor. He was on top
of me. I held the arm with which he wielded his knife, but he was stronger than me. He held my
right arm in a firm grip, and we both struggled. I thought my time had come, but then something
happened. María, who was on the bed terrified seeing everything, suddenly got up, took the
chair, raised it, and slammed it against the back of the big man. His muscles loosened. I slipped
to one side and got on top of him. With one sweep I made him lose his knife. Then I put my
blade to his neck. The man grimaced and tried to protect his neck. He used his hands to try to
move my arm. I started sinking my knife into his skin. I found his jugular next. His eyes turned.
His body loosened completely, and his blood started pouring out. I had slit his throat. The man
was dead. The floor of the hut was made of brick, and they had covered it with a layer of cement.
It had several holes through which the blood escaped.
I got up, covered in blood. María came over, hugged me, and started to cry.
“You saved my life,” she said. “He was going to kill me.”
“And you saved mine,” I responded. “If you hadn’t gotten him off me, I would be dead
I called the boys in my gang and arranged to throw him into the Riachuelo Stream that
night, in front of Villa 21. And that is what we did. We took him in a stolen car. The big man
didn’t have any identification. Martin cut one of his fingers and took a big gold ring he had.
Pedro, in one quick stab, opened his stomach and let out his guts so he wouldn’t float. We took
him to the top of the railroad bridge and threw him over. We saw him sink into the stream.
After that, María always came to see me, or would ask me to go visit her at her shanty.
There we made love. She was very appreciative and told me that if I wanted, she would give me
part of the money she made. I told her that I was no pimp. I was a car thief. I didn’t need to take
money from an indefensible woman to live. I am a criollo, I said. The fact is that we saw each
other often, but I wasn’t in love with María. She made love very well and had a great body, but
that was all. After a while, she started to bore me. When I found out that Marcos was in love
with her, I distanced myself. Marcos was my idol. First, because he invited me to his workshop.
And I, though I am such a brute, actually began to feel the presence of the spirit in poetry. And
later, because of what happened to my son, who almost died. He saved him.
I am going to tell you how we found out that Marcos had the ability to heal. One day,
during a robbery, the cops showed up and started shooting. We fired back and wounded one of
them. We were able to escape because we had a fast car, but el Lombriz took a bullet in the
stomach. We returned to Villa 31 with the wounded man and sent for Marcos. We didn’t want to
take him to any hospital because they would sell us out. I told him to find some way to save him.
He looked him over closely. Because he was badly wounded, he proposed that we take him to his
cousin, who was a doctor. He had to operate on him without anesthesia. He cut into him and took
out the bullet. We returned with him to the villa miseria and hid him in a hut. He had a fever and
was delirious for a few days. Marcos took care of him, gave him antibiotics, called his cousin by
phone and followed his instructions. El Lombriz survived. Marcos’ gamble paid off.
El Lombriz felt that he wasn’t going to survive, and that he owed his life to Marcos more
than to his cousin. He said that Marcos had a halo about him and that he had saved him with his
very presence, with his aura. When he would change his bandages, he would feel an immediate
improvement. At first, I thought El Lombriz was just rambling, but the wound was healing very
fast. One day, before Marcos arrived, I noticed that the wound was red and inflamed. Marcos
came and cleaned the wound with alcohol. After he left, the wound had healed. You could barely
see the scar. I didn’t know what to make of it. El Lombriz was a strange type who spent his time
praying. In my gang there aren’t any ordinary people. I recruit them because I see certain things
in them. Maybe el Lombriz had a saint that protected him, but he said it was Marcos. El Lombriz
was reckless. He felt nobody could harm him, that he was invulnerable to bullets. To be able to
shoot, he would always stand up and expose his body. That’s why he got wounded. He is a man
I also have faith. You might think that’s strange. I was locked up for two years. It was in
prison that I saw the most faithful people. There, everyone prays and speaks with God.
Incarceration and misery have much to teach. In the villa miseria it’s faith that keeps us alive.
Here we have no future. We are closer to God than all the rest. He is the only one who can
protect us and forgive us for the bad things we do. I didn’t want to be a thief. As a child I
dreamed of being a singer. My mother always encouraged me to go straight, but I let myself get
carried away, and by then it was too late. When they put a weapon in my hand and I pulled the
trigger, I had already been turned. I became a leader because I have a talent for that. I know how
to give orders, have a cool head, and make others respect me. I help and take risks for my own. I
never abandon anyone in a bad situation.
Marcos was not well. He was in a drug treatment program, but his addiction was too
strong. He took a slew of cheap amphetamines and snorted coke once in a while. He also injected
himself with acid. After that, I was able to get him higher quality cocaine that I didn’t charge him
for. He appreciated that. He would shut himself up in his hut for days and dream.
I attended his poetry workshop a few times. We read so many poems about pain, about
God, about love, and the things he said stayed in my head. One time I dreamt that Christ
appeared to me and looked at me through such pained eyes. He had a grin on his face, as of joy
or ecstasy, and he reached out to me with his bloody hands. I understood that that was the blood
that I had spilled, and He wanted to save me. I didn’t say anything and understood that I had
El Lombriz spread the word that Marcos was a healer. People started taking their sick to
him. Marcos did not understand what was happening. He was a man full of doubts. I think God
was watching over us and selected him to help us. I don’t know why He chose him. I witnessed
how he healed people. He was distraught after every healing. They would take sick children and
old people to see him. He would touch their foreheads, speak to them, and the next day they
would be healed. One day a crippled man on crutches arrived. Marcos thought he had fallen
down and put his hand on his forehead. The man got on his feet and started walking. Marcos
asked his companion what had happened. He replied that the man had been paralyzed for ten
years. The man walked away with the crutches in his hands. I know this to be true because I saw
that man many times in the villa, and I knew his family. He was always begging for money at the
White people don’t understand us villeros. They think we are heartless people. They
think that because we steal and do other bad things (there is so much drug use and prostitution
here), that we are barbaric, without faith. But no, we are very much like them, or even better. We
have more faith than they do. They don’t know what it is to suffer. One can kill, and I have done
it, but that is not the reason I am worse than they are. It is not hard to kill, and after having killed
one begins to feel such guilt that it wounds and consumes the conscience. One always carries this
guilt. No one can take pride in having killed someone.
I had had a son a couple of years back with a woman from the villa miseria. She was a
young woman, sixteen years old. She looked older because she was sexy. The whole world
envied me for having her. She had such beautiful breasts and walked with grace, moving her hips
from one side to the other. Her face wasn’t so pretty, but I loved her very much. She lived in a
shanty with her father and her son. I would give them money. When things went well in a
robbery, I would take them something. She would often come to my place to see me and bring
the boy. She would spend the night. She named him Juancito, and he had my face, so I could not
deny that he was my son.
One day, Elena, the mother of my kid, told me that Juancito had had a fever all night and
had been vomiting. She was afraid that he would die. She wanted to take him to the hospital. I
told her it wasn’t worth it, that Marcos would cure him. She didn’t want to. Didn’t trust him. She
finally took him to the hospital and they did all sorts of exams on him. They didn’t find anything.
The fever wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t eat and had diarrhea. The fact is that he was dying due to
dehydration. I didn’t know if he had some sort of parasite. Here in the villa miseria the water is
bad. The women get in line at the local public faucets and carry it back in buckets. When it gets
scarce, the municipality brings it in water trucks. Very few have running water in the Villa 31.
Juancito kept crying. His stomach hurt. Elena was desperate and I was, too, because I
love my kid. To me, children are the most important thing. The next day I took him to see
Marcos. I kneeled in front of his hut and called out to him loudly. I don’t know why I did that,
but something told me it was the right thing to do. Passersby looked at me but didn’t get too
close. They were afraid of me. The door opened and Marcos appeared. He understood. He put his
hand on Juancito’s forehead and began to pray. He raised his eyes to the sky. The neighbors
started getting closer and surrounded us. Marcos touched my head and said, take him. He’s
cured. Everyone kneeled in silence. I took him to my hut and stayed with him all day. When his
mother came that afternoon, he was already breathing normally. By the next day he was well. He
laughed, and even got up and started playing. I went to Marcos’ hut, kneeled at his front door,
and thanked God. Marcos came out. I told him my son had been saved and that he could ask for
anything he wanted. I owed him the life of my son. The people looked on, astonished. Marcos
told me I didn’t owe him anything, that he was not the one who saved him, but God. That I could
leave in peace. That’s what I did. That evening, the neighbors placed candles in front of his hut.
Several women kneeled in front of his door and prayed out loud. Soon after, the priest passed by,
looked on in disgust, but didn’t say anything, and walked away toward the chapel.
In the days that followed, they took sick people of different ages to see him. His
popularity went beyond Villa 31. There were many who knew that he was a healer. His greatest
miracle, as I said, was to cure a crippled man. They also brought him a baby who had died so he
could revive him, but he was not able to do this.
Our troubles began with the arrival of outsiders. There were many who envied us and
wished us ill. The people from Villa 21, especially. They thought we believed we were better
than them, because they lived close to the Riachuelo Stream, among the garbage, and we lived in
Retiro, near the train station. The truth is that we were all the same, all poor and miserable.
Those who are not born into poverty, like Marcos, become poor in this place. We are subhuman,
half men, half animals. Only God can elevate us, and that is why He chose Marcos and sent him
to us, as proof that He loves us.
There have been a few times that I have considered becoming a preacher or a priest,
although it may seem hard to believe. One time I talked about it with the priest of the villa
miseria. I told him I had committed many crimes and asked him if Christ could forgive me. He
told me that Christ forgave all those who have faith, that I would have to study a lot to become a
priest, and I had spent so little time at school before. He told me it was better for me to help
people, to give money to the soup kitchen for the children when I could, something I always do.
We knew that those from Villa 21 were planning something against us. We heard rumors
that they wanted to take Marcos away, hide him, so that he could grant miracles to them. They
finally kidnapped him, and he is dead now. They were the ones who killed him. I am sure of it.
We are going to make them pay. We will never have another Marcos. The priest told me that we
shouldn’t avenge ourselves, that God doesn’t want any more deaths, that we should instead build
a chapel in his name, in his memory. But I am not giving up. The gang from el Alto was the one
that kidnapped him. That’s what el Lombriz told me. At the very least, their leader should pay.
We’re going to build the chapel because the people from the villa miseria will not forget him,
and it will be good for them to pray to him there. Now there are many neighborhood women who
sell prayer cards with the image of Marcos dressed as a saint in a white tunic. They are raising
money for his altar. God sent a Jewish boy among us and gave us a sample of His greatness. We
didn’t care if he was Jewish. It was Christ who guided him. The priest told me that this was proof
that God loves us. He knew that Marcos was a healer and understood that he granted miracles.
He believes that Marcos was a vehicle of the Divine through which the will of God was
The priest of the villa
Marcos was a rare case. I came to live in the villa miseria years ago. I had to convince the
bishop, a very political man, to accept my transfer to the chapel at Villa 31. He told me I was a
young priest, talented, and that I could have a good career in the priesthood, that there were
many important positions waiting for a religious man like me. But what I wanted was to be close
to the poor in the villa miseria. I always believed that poverty redeems and makes people better.
I was idealistic and innocent, I should know. After being here a short time, I began to be
horrified by what I saw. At first, I didn’t want to make deals with anyone, but those who don’t
negotiate and believe themselves to be better than others will not survive here. Even if that
person is a priest. There were a few hippies that had come to live in the villa. Young people from
the middle class. I called them “the exiled ones”. They were outcasts, most all drug addicts,
people with mental problems, like Marcos. They were trying to escape from something, from
polite society, I think. They preferred to live in filth. Deep down, they were like me.
I looked for God near the poor. The exiled ones looked for something else. For what? In
Marcos’ case, I think he sought his own salvation in art, in poetry. To him, poetry represented a
type of transcendent truth. He wasn’t a particularly religious young man. Poetry was the only
thing that interested him. He believed that the world of literature was autonomous and had its
own brilliance up there, with its own spiritual force. He liked to meditate and not do anything.
He was a sort of guru lost in the trash of South America. I think that those who gave him the title
of “Messiah” were right. Those who want to consider him a saint are wrong. I do think that God
chose him as a manifestation of His presence among the poor. At first, I did resist with anger and
disbelief, may God forgive me. It seems strange for me to accept this, even now. Because God
chose him, a young Jewish man, very ordinary. Had it not been for his drug addiction, he never
would have come to the villa miseria. His relationship with María was unhealthy: María was a
prostitute. I tried to get her to leave that life behind and leave Villa 31 altogether but was not
successful. I insist that this is a case of such great mystery: Marcos was a young man from the
middle class, who loved literature, like so many others. Now that he has been assassinated, the
poor people have assigned him imaginary virtues. He was the type of person who feels superior
just because he has read a few books. However, I know he suffered, and this might redeem him. I
wish we could just forget about all of this and have life return to normal.
Marcos always got into trouble. I had to defend him. One day, the bishop sent for me and
asked me what my relationship was with the Jewish imposter who healed people. I told him that
there was none, that he was just a poor drug addicted young man. He asked if I would help
denounce him for medical malpractice so they would arrest him. I told him it would be a mistake
to do so, because the people loved him and believed him to be a saint. I explained that he was
just a deranged man and that we had no reason to worry. He wasn’t hurting anyone. The Bishop
asked me if he was truly able to heal people. If I believed he had healing powers. I sat there in
“Did you see him heal someone?” insisted the Bishop.
I lowered my gaze and said yes.
“How does he do it?” he asked.
I explained that he would say a few words and place his hand on the forehead of the sick.
He asked if I knew where he had learned to do this and if he got money for what he did. I told
him I didn’t know where he had learned it, and that he did not charge people, even though many
people took him things, food and bottles of beer. I told him about the crippled man, because
everyone knew about it. The Bishop told me that it was not possible. I told him that el Cholo, a
friend of Marcos’, had witnessed it.
“And who is el Cholo?” the Bishop asked.
I told him he was a thief from the villa.
“And you believe what a thief says?” he questioned.
The fact is that the Bishop was angry with me and wanted me to keep a watch on Marcos
and gather more information about him. But I was not in the villa to do this. It is not my job. My
mission is to help the poor, to bring them closer to Christ.
For someone who has never lived in a villa miseria, this situation is difficult to
understand. The villa miseria is like a town, like a small city within the city itself. Here the poor
feel protected. The police do not come here easily. For those who live in the villa, Buenos Aires
is a dangerous place. That is where they scratch out a living under awful conditions. That is not
to say that the villa miseria is an easy place, but the people are very united, and because of this
they are able to survive. They help each other as much as they can. There are a few mafiosos
who operate within the villa, that is true, but they are in the minority. You can’t judge the masses
for the crimes of a few.
The members of el Cholo’s gang changed considerably after they met Marcos and came
to revere him. I don’t mean to say that they were good people or that they were innocent. They
are delinquents. But Marcos helped them get closer to God. I cannot keep them from building a
chapel here and name it San Marcos. María believes that Marcos truly loved Christ, but I don’t
find her reasoning to be very convincing. She says it was Vallejo who taught him the true
meaning of Christianity. He never told me this directly, even though we spoke many times.
I am disgusted by this situation. If it doesn’t change soon, I will ask the Bishop for a
transfer. I have practiced Christian charity living among the villeros. I did not come to the villa
to play politics. I understand that Marcos was compassionate as a Christian, and that he loved
people, but I know he didn’t want to convert to Christianity. The people of the villa don’t care
about what he was or what he wanted. The saw him heal people. María says that God cured
through him. He was chosen by God. The truth is that this creates a problem for us, as far as
doctrine goes. It would have all been easier if he had just been Catholic. Then he was
assassinated, and everyone considers him a martyr. Perhaps María, who knew him best, should
testify before the Bishop. If she believes he had converted to Christianity, she should prove it.
Facundo, the Peronista leader
At the beginning, I was not interested in politics. In the villa miseria I made people
respect me, and they feared me. I was well known for being smart. I organized the soccer games.
Here one plays soccer for money. We organize games against the teams from other villas
miserias. And the stakes are high. We have some very good players and don’t let major soccer
clubs steal them from us. If they want to take them, they have to pay us. We have our own group
of supporters. I am the boss. The dream of many of our players is to one day join club Boca14.
14 Boca Juniors, an Argentinean professional soccer club.
Here everyone is a Boca fan, much like those from Villa 21. I am the one who picks the coach
every year. The coach gets a good salary and gets free housing in the villa.
The people from Unidad Básica from Retiro, the local branch of the Peronista party, took
note of me and sought me out. They wanted me to take a leadership position and get people to
vote in the elections. They told me I had leadership skills and should take advantage of them to
help people. The first thing I did was to raise funds. Politics depends on money, and if one can’t
show to have local support, one can´t open the mouth. I spoke to the leaders of the drugtrafficking
gangs and thieves who used Villa 31 as their “base of operations”. Some agreed
because they felt obligated, and others, like el Cholo, who think highly of me and are friends of
mine, supported the idea that I go into politics.
El Cholo’s gang specializes in stealing vehicles. They turn them over to the phantom
scrapyards of Villa Domínico and make a lot of money from them. They have a good business
going. The police has grabbed a few of his men, who are in prison, but they continue. They are
not afraid. Something typical of Villa 31 is that we are brave. They call me Facundo, but my real
name is Alberto. The priest started calling me Facundo, and the name stuck. He says I look like
Facundo Quiroga, that I am fierce like him. It all started one day when they organized a
neighborhood fight of five rounds against a man from Villa 21 who claimed to be undefeated. I
fought for Villa 31 and crushed him. I punched him so many times that I left him somewhat
brain damaged. One of my neighbors trained me. He had been a professional boxer in his youth.
There was a lot of gambling in that fight. I was able to live for a few months without doing
anything on what I made from that fight. The people from Unidad Básica went to see that fight,
and it was there that they got to know me.
There are several political parties that work in the villa miseria - the Communists, those
that represent Macri, but the biggest one is the Peronistas. The people from Unidad Básica chose
me because they needed a leader from inside the villa, now that Nuñez, the one who had done it
before, was in prison for stealing material that was to be used in the construction of a
government warehouse. Garabito, one of the leaders of the Básica of Retiro, called me to his
office. He was impressed by the respect the people of the villa miseria had for me, and how I
was able to get along with the gangs. He promised me a lot. He told me they could get me deeds
to various squats in the villa, and that I was going to receive a part of the sales. That was
something serious and had promise. I imagined myself as the owner of various properties. I had a
meeting with the influential people of the villa miseria. I called on the leaders of the gangs and
with the merchants who had stands, little markets, groceries, and bakeries. I had unanimous
support, and soon the money started to flow.
I established our own Unidad Básica in Villa 31. I was named president. We charged fees
from its members and offered them food stamps. Neighbors who were unemployed asked us for
help. In turn, I would take them to all of the rallies sponsored by the Party. The chief of the
district would call me and tell me, today we cut off Avenue 9 de Julio, today we are going to the
Plaza de Mayo, today we support the truck drivers who are on strike. We were always there in
solidarity. When we had events in the villa miseria, the chief of the district came to support us.
He had promised us that they were going to pave the main thoroughfares and were going to put
in a sewer system. It seems that it’s going to take a while, but they are going to do it long-term.
As Peronistas, we can do anything. We are an invincible party.
I was raised in el Chaco15 and know what it is to suffer, to go hungry. I came to Buenos
Aires as an adolescent. I lived with my parents in a tenement in La Boca. I run away from my
house and came here to the villa miseria. I always did odd jobs. I did not steal. A politician gave
me a job as a bodyguard because I wasn’t afraid of anybody. As a kid, I already liked to fight. I
would get into fistfights with all the kids in town. They were afraid of me and nobody wanted to
fight me. I challenged them. I told them that if they beat me, I would pay them. But they weren’t
very sure of themselves. My fists were like rocks. I would ruin their faces. In a fight, it’s not
strength that matters, but determination. To not be intimidated. This is what one can learn from
the criollos16. To keep the head up. Here in Villa 31, there are a lot of people like that. El Cholo
is one of them. He’s going to go far. Did you know that he sings cumbias? Marcos taught him
how to write songs and poems. He is a nice guy and has a romantic soul. Someday he’s going to
form his own group and make money with his music.
I thought of asking him to work with me in the Unidad Básica, as a councilman, but I
don’t want to work with thieves. He would corrupt the people. He is strong-willed, instinctual.
Playing politics is not easy. They say that we can learn to be politicians, but that is not true. We
are born to do this. A short while after I got into politics, I realized that this was my calling. I
didn’t know it at the time, but I was a born politician. I like to be among people, to lead. Before,
15 One of 23 provinces in Argentina.
I wanted to dominate, now I want to help. The priest appreciates me, and so do the women at the
soup kitchen for children. In the villa miseria, we are so much more than people think. We are
united, otherwise, we would not survive.
But you asked me about Marcos. Sorry for rambling on. The fact is that I have little to
add. What do you want me to tell you? The whole world knows about Marcos. I can neither
confirm nor deny. What I can do is give you my opinion: everything they say is true. He came
here for the drugs. He was lost. But after he met María, he changed. She saved him. She worked
the streets to bring him money and buy him amphetamines. She would sell her body so that he
could get high. She would get drugged up, too, but much less. He had a strong addiction. He
spent his days lost, passed out by the front door of his hut, filthy, without eating. He would look
at people as if they were simply ghosts passing by. María, with the help of the priest, put him in a
methadone program to rescue him from drugs. I don’t know if María truly loved him. She is way
too much woman for him. I think she fell for him because she saw how weak he was. He was
like her son. She protected him. She took pity on him. She also admired him because he was a
When he started to give poetry classes, he became famous. He drew people away from
the priest. Nobody wanted to go to the chapel to study the Bible any more. Women preferred the
poetry class. They said that his poems always talked about God. I went one day, they invited me
for being the director of the Unidad Básica. He read a poem by some guy named Vallejo, and the
fact is that I was impressed. The poem spoke about a young man who fell in love with a young
woman and showed how she had crucified herself for him, how she embraced him like a cross.
There were those who cried as he read the poem. That’s what impressed me the most. I had never
seen anyone cry in the chapel, but people cried in that poetry class.
And then the healings began. One day, one of el Cholo’s men was seriously injured.
When someone from the villa miseria is shot, we do everything we can. There are times when
the nurses from the dispensary help. If we take a person who’s been shot to a public hospital
outside of the villa miseria, they’ll be turned in and arrested. El Cholo went to ask Marcos for
help, and he took the wounded man to a cousin of his who was a doctor. He took out the bullet,
but he was still dying. It seems that Marcos began to pray, and the wounded man was saved. You
know how things are in the villa. News spread fast. Afterward, a woman took her son who was
very sick so he could cure him, and the young boy recuperated. From then on, it was like a trail
of gunpowder. He also healed el Cholo’s son. At that point, people would get in line to bring him
their sick and their disabled. He didn’t charge anything and didn’t even accept money, but they
brought him gifts. If they brought him food, he would give it to the ladies from the soup kitchen.
That’s where the conflict began with the priest, who was envious of him. Afterward, he
befriended him, and accepted him, because he, too, began to believe in Marcos. The only one
who didn’t believe in Marcos was Marcos himself. Deep down, he never stopped being a drug
addict, even though he didn’t use drugs that much by then. His head was messed up. The power
that he had came from outside. It was as if a magical hand, that of an angel, had touched him. He
was nothing more than an instrument. Since he was Jewish, at first no one dared to call him a
saint. They called him the Messiah. But after he cured the paralyzed man, who left walking,
everyone called him a saint.
People from the outside came to him so he could heal them, and that is what ruined
everything. If it hadn’t been for that, he would not be dead. Those who are not from this villa
miseria want to see us suffer. When we are in a bad state, they rejoice, and if something good
happens to us, they look for a way to screw us over. That is what happened with the people from
Villa 21, from Barracas. The truth is that we are rivals. A soccer game between them and our
villa is like a final game between Boca and River. When they found out that we had a saint that
healed people, they started to send people to see if it was true, and then they devised a plan to
steal him from us. And you know how it happened. They kidnapped him. A few days later, they
found him dead. El Cholo says he knows who killed him. He probably refused to stay and live
with the people from Villa 21. Or maybe they asked him to heal someone and he wasn’t able to
do it there. Maybe he was only able to cure people here. Perhaps it was a gift God had given him
so that he could heal people, but only in Villa 31.
The priest asked me if I was going to donate to the construction of the chapel in the villa
that is going to be named San Marcos, in his honor. The people want to bury him there, so people
can worship him appropriately. I agree, so I said yes. We are in need of a saint of our own. The
priest assured me that Marcos had undergone a profound transformation. One day he spoke with
him about Christ, and he said he believed in Him. I don’t know if that is true, but it’s all the
same. No one is going to convince the people from Villa 31 that Marcos is not a representative of
Christ on Earth.
Sergio, Marcos’ father
They killed my oldest son. To me, that is the end of everything. Life has no meaning for
me anymore. I failed as a father, and I am never going to forgive myself for this. I became a
widower when my children were young. I raised them the best I could. Marcos was a tranquil
boy, timid. He loved to go to the synagogue with me. I was never much of a believer. I am a
liberal Jew. But I always respected my religion and attended services with my family. When I
was a young man, I was a Zionist. The rabbi of my synagogue appreciates me. I am almost sixty
years old. My generation was very rebellious and wanted to start a revolution. At twenty, I
supported the Montos17. They combined nationalism with Marxism. But, after the death of
Perón, we suffered a terrible defeat. It was a bloodbath. The leaders did not understand the
Argentinean people. I left politics behind and went into my old man’s business. I am a good Jew.
I help the community.
My people have suffered the unspeakable. We understand human suffering. I do not
condemn my son. They tell me he renounced his Jewish faith, but I know that is not true. It is not
surprising that he liked Christ. Who doesn’t like him? He taught about love and compassion,
things we all need. As Jews, we are waiting to be liberated. To me, Christ was not the true
Messiah. I find it ridiculous that now they call my son the Messiah. The people from the villa
miseria are very imaginative, driven by fantasy. And it is outrageous that they consider him a
saint. They are sure that he healed people. I don’t know about that. Aren´t we going backward to
This is a curious nation. We perpetually find ourselves between civilization and
barbarism. I choose civilization, that is why I was a revolutionary as a young man. Marx knew
that society was going to continue to evolve. One day we will all be free. In this world,
enlightenment, reason, and history are going to be more important than religion. María, Marcos’
girlfriend, maintains that he became very religious in the villa. María is a woman of questionable
character. I don’t consider her an honest person. What is she doing living in the villa miseria?
Her parents are rich. They say she is writing a book about Marcos and defends the idea that he
17 Los Montoneros was the armed wing of the Peronist movement in Argentina during the seventies.
was a saint. The only thing left is that my son, a Jew who never renounced his religion, ends up
María was contaminated by the savagery of Villa 31. She influenced Marcos. This
changed him. Sarmiento did not speak of civilization or barbarism. He spoke about civilization
and barbarism. In this country, these two things live side by side. I never accepted this. I believe
in civilization, like many Argentineans. My son did not trust the values of modern society and
went off to live in the villa miseria. Could it have been the influence of the populist Peronista
ideals? They excessively extol the people, but who are those that make up the people? Am I not
At first, I blamed the drugs for everything that was happening to Marcos. I asked him to
leave my house. I could not accept that my son was a bum and a drug addict. He always stole
money from me, bought things with my credit cards, forged my signature. Spent all of his time
locked up in his room. He didn’t want to work. He liked to read, that is true. It’s a family trait.
We have always been good readers, intellectuals, like a great part of the Jewish community. For
us, education is the most important thing. That is why I cannot accept the barbarism of the villa
miseria, promoted by the Peronistas.
Marcos went to live there because deep down he hated me. He wanted to punish me
because I threw him out of my house. But…what was going to happen with my youngest son if
he did not leave? I did what I could so he could leave drugs behind. He had been a good
literature student. As a young man he wanted to be a writer. I sent him to a psychologist after his
mother died, but he told me the shrink did not understand him. I took him to another
psychologist in the community. Again, he refused to keep going to see him. He never found an
analyst that he liked. Psychoanalysis would have saved him. I admitted him in a clinic to go
detox, but he escaped and returned to using drugs.
When he left home, I always feared they would one day find him dead. The world of
drugs is hell. And in the villa miseria he got together with María, also a drug addict, a soul that
was a twin to his. A student of Anthropology. Her family is from the Barrio Norte oligarchy.
They have disowned her completely. To them, María is dead. They could deal with her drug use,
but they know that she is a whore. The whole world knows this. And living in the villa miseria is
the last thing she could do.
They told me María hated her mother. To me, that is the root of the problem. I think
Marcos hated me also. I don’t know why. I always did everything I could for everyone in my
family. They rebelled against their parents, as if we were some kind of fascist monsters. That’s
the way we Argentineans are. We rebel against authority, no matter how it is. We are an
adolescent country, but…why did I have to pay such a price? Why me? To have lost my son is
the worst thing that could have happened to me. May God forgive me, but I don’t understand.