Twitter: @Ajulianperez1

lunes, 11 de enero de 2021

                    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

person’s report.

    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

my clothes.

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”,

and “Espergesia”.

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.

6 “God”


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

other provisions.

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

of faith.

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

been forgiven.

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

train station.

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.

16 creoles


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

being canonized.

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.

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