An earthquake was shaking the south of Italy and burying 1,500 Neapolitans, Marlene Dietrich was singing “Falling in Love Again.” Stalin was completing his usurpation of the Russian Revolution, and the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was committing suicide. The English were jailing Mahatma Gandhi, who by demanding independence and loving his country had brought India to a standstill. Under the same banner in the other Indies, our Indies, Augusto César Sandino was rousing the peasants of Nicaragua and US Marines were burning the crops to defeat him by hunger.
In the United States some were dancing to the new boogie-woogie, but the euphoria of the Roaring Twenties had been knocked out cold by ferocious blows from the crash of ’29. When the New York Stock Exchange tanked, it devastated international commodity prices and dragged several Latin American governments into the abyss. The price of tin took a nosedive off the precipice of the global crisis, pulling Bolivian President Hernando Siles after it and putting a general in his place, while the collapse of meat and wheat prices finished President Hipólito Yrigoyen in Argentina and installed another general in his place. In the Dominican Republic, the fall in sugar prices opened the long cycle of dictatorship of also-general Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who was inaugurating his regime by baptizing the capital city and the port with his own name.
In Uruguay, the coup d’état was not to strike until three years later. In 1930 the country had eyes and ears only for the first World Cup. Uruguayan victories in the previous two Olympics held in Europe made the country the obvious choice to host the tournament.
Twelve nations arrived at the port of Montevideo. All Europe was invited, but only four teams crossed the ocean to these southern shores. “That’s far away from everything,” Europeans said, “and the passage is expensive.”
A ship brought the Jules Rimet trophy from France, accompanied by FIFA president Monsieur Jules himself and by the reluctant French team.
With pomp and circumstance Uruguay inaugurated the monumental showcase it had taken eight months to build. The stadium was called Centenario to celebrate the constitution, which a century before had denied civil rights to women, the illiterate, and the poor. In the stands not a pin would have fit when Uruguay and Argentina faced each other in the final. The stadium was a sea of felt hats and canopies over cameras with tripods. The goalkeepers wore caps and the referee black plus fours.
The final of the 1930 World Cup did not merit more than a twenty-line column in the Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. After all, it was a repeat of the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928: the two nations of the River Plate insulted Europe by showing the world where the best soccer was played. As in ’28, Argentina took second place. Uruguay, losing 2–1 at the half, ended up winning 4–2 and was crowned champion. To referee the final, the Belgian John Langenus demanded life insurance, but nothing more serious occurred than a few tussles in the stands. Afterward, in Buenos Aires, a crowd stoned the Uruguayan consulate.