Band of blood

On Monday night, two men were walking down a street in Buenos Aires and were stopped by three others. Without saying a word, the three pulled out guns and opened fire, seeming to aim at one of the pair in particular. Now, that man is lying brain dead in a Buenos Aires hospital. His name is Gonzalo Acro, and he’s one of the leaders of Los Borrachos del Tablón.

Los Borrachos are, for the uninitiated, River Plate’s main barra brava – hooligan gang – and they’ve had an ongoing dispute for some time now regarding which of two main factions should have control of the terrace. Acro, also an employee of River, was one of the six ringleaders banned from home matches following trouble during the Apertura. Nothing has been confirmed as yet – the identities of the gunmen are unknown – but there’s a strong suspicion that the shooting was the latest part of this turf war.

Acro, or Gonzalo as he’s known on the terraces, is the right-hand man of Adrián Rousseau, the leader of the rebel faction of Los Borrachos trying to wrest control of the group from the current incumbents, brothers Alan and William Schlenker. According to Olé, he was shot at on the 7th May outside Rousseau’s house, less than ten blocks from the location of Monday night’s attack. Ubaldo Matera, the man who’d been walking with Acro, was hit in the back but is not in too grave a condition.

The most startling thing about all this is the very thing which makes it hard to predict what the consequences might be (because whether it’s actually the case or, less likely, not, it will certainly be seen as part of the power struggle) is that this attack goes so far beyond the accepted ‘codes’ of the barras bravas. It occured away from the stadium, on a non-match day, and involved firearms (these aren’t unknown but knives are seen as more ‘accepted’ in the barras‘ macho culture).

River president José María Aguilar understandably refused to comment, calling it ‘a judicial matter,’ but did insist that River were still ‘the most secure club in Argentina.’ He perhaps has a point – one of their fans being shot in the street well away from their ground can hardly be blamed on the club – but the fact remains that tonight, a 29-year-old man is fighting for his life in a hospital bed, a doctor having called his situation ‘almost irreversible’. Gonzalo Acro is by no means a wholly innocent bystander, but two questions at least are difficult to avoid: is it really worth it? And how long will it be before serious action is taken to stamp the barras bravas out once and for all?

Update: River held a press conference on Tuesday evening in which a spokesman read the following statement:
‘River Plate asks for total collaboration from everyone who is in some way related to football. ‘Everyone’ means the Minister of the Interior, the Federal Police, the AFA and anyone else who can join in to put an end to violence in football.’
José María Aguilar wasn’t present at the press conference, owing to death threats he recieved in the hours beforehand. River’s match on Sunday against Newell’s has been brought forward to a 14:15 kickoff in an attempt to make policing easier, since it now won’t be getting dark when full-time comes and fans start to leave the stadium.

5 thoughts on “Band of blood

  1. Bloody hell.

    This is eerily reminiscent of the shooting in Sesto San Giovanni last year, in which a leading Milan ultra was targetted in the context of a similar battle for “control of the curva”, but that was only a kneecapping.

    We’ve already seen close to a half dozen “turning points” in Argentina become only mileposts on the decline into this precipitous spiral of ever-worsening violence , but perhaps this one will in fact inspire some serious action. River’s reaction appears to be positive in that regard, let’s see what the authorities do.

    Is there any clarity on exactly what the various factions are fighting over? Here in Italy it is taken for granted that such conflicts are not just about prestige and visibility, but also have significant economic aspects, usually relating to control over the sale of semi-licensed products and/or the disposition of tickets and travel packages. The investigators in the Milan case have also raised the possibility that there may well be a narcotics angle to that particular fight as well.

  2. Wonderful and concise article however there is something that you do not point out…the battle between the two bands is because neither leader wants to give up the 10000 Euro a month salary that they get!!!

  3. Gonzalo Acro, the murdered man, had not worked for River Plate since February, when he was sacked for his involvement in an armed battle in the cafeteria at River’s stadium. The club also placed a banning order on him. Eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that he was paid 5700 pesos a month to work in the club’s swimming pool and on maintenance tasks. Did he have other, undeclared, duties? One board member claims that his requests for a list of the club’s employees have met with repeated refusals from the chairman. Acro went to a private school and spent some time in higher education; William and Alan Schlenker, leaders of the rival faction, are the sons of a lawyer and a pilot. Why do such people become barras? Perhaps there is still a lack of jobs for qualified people in Buenos Aires. Adrián Rousseau has now given a statement to a magistrate. Some say that if he goes down, the club chairman will go with him, but I can’t think of a precedent for that, and would be very surprised.

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