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Soccer-Latin American leftists see red over Suarez ban

Reuters

* Rich world out to get Suarez, leftist leaders say

* Venezuelan politician says FIFA bites more than Suarez

* General regional reaction softer, but many deem ban excessive

By Alexandra Ulmer and Patricia Velez

BUENOS AIRES/CARACAS, June 27 (Reuters) - Some of Latin America's most prominent leftists are accusing soccer's world governing body FIFA of banning star striker Luis Suarez as a ploy to sideline his Uruguayan team from a World Cup brimming with Latin flavor and European flops.

Suarez bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and has been barred by FIFA for Uruguay's next nine competitive matches, meaning an immediate end to his World Cup campaign.

He was also suspended from all football-related activity for four months.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, a 79 year-old former guerrilla, has been joined by powerful Venezuelan politician Diosdado Cabello and Argentine football idol Diego Maradona in lashing out at the record World Cup sanction imposed on Suarez.

"They only see fouls committed by Latinos," said Cabello, the president of Venezuela's National Assembly known for his often virulent verbal attacks, lauding Suarez as a "warrior."

"The FIFA with Mr. (Sepp) Blatter bites more than anyone, they bite the whole world, and no one suspends them, but they do suspend Luis Suarez," he said on Thursday night, warning the same could happen to other Latin American stars like Argentina's Lionel Messi, Colombia's James Rodriguez or Brazil's Neymar.

Uruguayans are incensed by the punishment handed out to Suarez, a national idol who hails from a poor, broken family and has become one of the best players in the world.

Many deem the ban excessive, hypocritical coming from scandal-plagued FIFA, or downright crooked.

The sentiment isn't nearly as strong in the rest of Latin America, where most fans are more concerned about their own teams and many were shocked by the bite.

No proof has been presented to back up the accusations that FIFA unfairly targeted Suarez. In a region where football is lived so passionately, politicians often try to score their own wins during the World Cup.

'WHO DID SUAREZ KILL?'

Uruguay beat European powerhouses England and Italy in their group matches, helping eliminate them from the World Cup.

Spain and Portugal were also sent home early, while Latin American teams have done well with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and even underdog Costa Rica marching on to the World Cup's last 16, delighting the soccer-mad region.

"We kicked out Italy, we kicked out England, how much money was lost there?," said Uruguay's Mujica, who lives in a humble farm house and regularly criticizes what he describes as the capitalist world order.

"We're Uruguay, we're very little," he lamented on Thursday night, arguing that bigger countries have more muscle to flex inside FIFA.

Latin America has a long history of foreign intervention, ranging from Spanish colonization to U.S. support for dictatorships during the Cold War, so sensitivity to external meddling is high.

The skepticism comes amid accusations of corruption in FIFA and frustration with Blatter, its president since 1998.

Latin American media has generally been kinder towards Suarez than its European counterparts have, and commentators tend to feel the ban is unfair when compared with sanctions for other fouls.

But regional solidarity only goes so far: In Colombia, many are relieved Suarez will not be on the pitch when their national team faces Uruguay in the next round of the World cup on Saturday.

Maradona, a close friend of former Cuban president Fidel Castro and never one to shy away from bold statements, has perhaps gone furthest of all in damning FIFA.

"Who did Suarez kill?" he said during his soccer commentary program broadcast on Venezuela's Telesur and Argentine public television on Thursday.

"This is football, this is contact," said Maradona, whose infamous hand goal and a string of superb performances led Argentina to the World Cup title in 1986.

"They may as well handcuff him and bring him to Guantanamo directly," he added during the show called 'De zurda', which means 'From The Left' - be it Maradona's famous left foot or the left end of the political spectrum. (Additional reporting by Todd Benson in Sao Paulo, Rosalba O'Brien in Santiago and Helen Murphy in Bogota; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Kieran Murray and Nigel Hunt)

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