LIMA, Peru – The sun was beginning to set on Sept. 24 as a capacity crowd of 82,000 packed into Monumental Stadium in the eastern municipality of Ate in the nation’s capital.
Two of Peru’s most storied teams – Universitario de Deportes and Alianza Lima – were playing one of the biggest games of the year, but this fateful day won’t be remembered for what happened on the field, but for what happened off it.
It’s unclear how the violence started between the fan bases of rival teams who simply don’t like each other, but this is clear: Walter Oyarce Domínguez, a student and fan of Alianza, was thrown from one of the upper levels of the stadium by a fan of Universitario.
He fell more than 15 meters (49 feet) and died hours later from a brain injury.
He was five days shy of his 24th birthday.
Richard José Valverde, David Sánchez-Manrique Pancorvo, Giancarlo Díaz and Jorge Luis Montoya were charged with the death of Oyarce Domínguez and are being held, pending trial, at the Miguel Castro Castro prison in the outskirts of Lima.
Oyarce Domínguez’s death brought to life what’s become a now deadly problem in Peru: The violence that’s occurring among opposing groups of soccer fans, known as barra bravas in the Andean nation.
A wide problem
As in other nations of Central and South America, there are two main fan groups in Peruvian soccer: The “Trinchera Norte,” created in 1988 and composed of Universitario de Deportes fans; and “Comando Svr,” founded in 1986 and composed of Alianza Lima fans.
There are no official statistics regarding the number of members in each group since each district in Lima is home to a small faction that supports each team.
But a study carried out by the suicide prevention department of Honorio Delgado Hospital in Arequipa estimated there are about 14,000 barra bravas nationwide.
Guillermo Ojeda Martínez, an Alianza Lima fan, said the barra brava group from his neighborhood does not dispel the stereotype.
“We cheer for our team and we go through the streets singing,” he said. “Some see the walk as a game and start robbing people, as pedestrians just happen to be there. It shows that in the city of Lima and throughout Peru, one team is in charge and that team is Alianza Lima.”
Both groups are constantly provoking one another, showing their strength (in numbers), their insignia (graffiti or murals in the streets) and their battle trophies (stolen banners of the opposing team).
“Look, my group has taken shirts from rival fans or rival hooligan groups in the middle of a fight,” said Pablo Peña, a Universitario fan. “It’s normal.”
And when it comes to fighting, there are no rules.
“When there are fights, you just grab a rock and throw it,” said an Alianza fan who would only identify himself as “El Gordo.” “You don’t know whether it will hit a rival fan or not.”
In recent years, violence has increased inside and outside stadiums nationwide.
So far in 2011, Peru’s National Police have made 251 arrests for crimes related to safety and public order at a stadium.
Of those detained, 55% were members of the hooligan groups, but formal charges are rarely filed unless a tragedy occurs.
“There’s been a major increase in violence,” said David Patiño Bartra, a psychologist with the Ministry of Women and Social Development (MIMDES). “[Soccer fans] themselves get carried away with emotion and they start to commit crimes.”
Social adaptation and family issues play an important role in the violent behavior displayed by these groups, Patiño Bartra said.
“I worked with a group and something interesting happened,” he added. “One of the questions we asked them was ‘What’s your greatest wish?’ and one of them responded ‘That my father would speak to me.’ They’re asking for love and attention. It is a message that must be heard in order to avoid further tragedies.”
In the wake of Oyarce Domínguez’s death, the Peruvian government launched an investigation to end violence at soccer games.
“The upcoming league matches will be played without fans, given the urgency this case deserves,” Interior Minister Óscar Valdés Dancuart said days after the tragedy.
The government of the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima implemented the project “Play fair. That’s how Peru plays,” which tries to lure fans away from hooliganism by helping them find employment.
“By December 2012, we aim to create 39,000 new jobs for young people. By the end of this administration, we hope to reach 327,000 new jobs, thereby reducing the national youth unemployment rate by three points,” said Labor Minister Rudecindo Vega Carreazo, explaining the government’s effort to introduce employment options to young soccer hooligans before they enter a life of crime.
Lima Mayor Susana Villarán said everyone must respect the law.
“It must be understood that there are rules of the game that we have to respect and lines that shouldn’t be crossed. From childhood on, that makes us better people, better neighbors and better citizens,” she said.
Ojedo Martínez listened to Villarán, as he now goes to the stadium to cheer, not fight.
“Now I just go [to the matches] as a spectator,” he said. “I decided to leave it behind. I didn’t want any problems.”