1. PRESIDENT OF ARGENTINA WON’T FACE CHARGES (The New York Times)
3. ARGENTINE COURT REJECTS ALLEGATIONS CRISTINA KIRCHNER TRIED TO HEAD OFF IRAN PROBE (The Wall Street Journal Online)11. FALKLAND ISLANDS’ CONFLICT RISKS REMAIN NEGLIGIBLE BUT UK-LINKED OPERATORS FACE HEIGHTENED DISRUPTION AND VANDALISM RISKS (IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis)
By Jonathan Gilbert27 March 2015BUENOS AIRES — An Argentine appellate court dismissed a criminal case Thursday against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her political supporters that accused them of conspiring to hide Iranian officials’ involvement in a bombing here in 1994.Reiterating the harsh tone of a previous dismissal, a three-judge panel threw out the case, ruling that evidence presented by Alberto Nisman, the longtime lead investigator into the deadly attack on a Jewish community center, was too flimsy to open an investigation. Mr. Nisman made the accusations against Mrs. Kirchner in January, shortly before being found dead of a gunshot wound to the head.Highlighting fierce debate over the case, however, one of the judges voted in favor of pursuing Mr. Nisman’s allegations.The judges who voted to dismiss the complaint, which had been revived by a second prosecutor, Gerardo Pollicita, struck out at Mr. Nisman, saying that there were no grounds to accuse Mrs. Kirchner and that he had groped for evidence to back up his accusation of a cover-up.”It is the presence of evidence that must drive a criminal investigation, not the inverse,” wrote Judge Jorge Ballestero. He added, ”Witness stands are not stages for theater, and judicial files are not filmstrips.”The investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death has agitated Argentina, and it has not been established whether he was killed or committed suicide. A third forensic team will start work next week to compare stark differences between the official investigation into his death and another one commissioned by Mr. Nisman’s former wife, which said he was murdered.Mr. Nisman’s original complaint said that Mrs. Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman had conspired to shield Iranian officials from charges that they had planned the 1994 bombing, which left 85 people dead. He said the government had hoped for trade benefits in exchange. One judge on the panel, Eduardo Freiler, said Mr. Nisman had ”capriciously chained together” extensive telephone intercepts on which he based his complaint to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.Germán Moldes, the prosecutor who brought Mr. Nisman’s case before the appellate court, called the situation ”unprecedented” but would not say Thursday in a telephone interview whether he would appeal the ruling. He has 10 working days to do so. A new prosecutor would then decide whether to bring Mr. Nisman’s case before a higher criminal court.The decision to throw out the case represents a partial victory for the government, which has claimed Mr. Nisman was manipulated as part of a plot to destabilize Mrs. Kirchner’s government. But the split vote ”sends an ambiguous message,” said Martín Böhmer, a law professor at the University of Buenos Aires.The dissenting judge, Eduardo Farah, said that an investigation was needed to ”clarify remaining unanswered questions.” Mr. Pollicita suggested dozens of investigative leads, but none of these have been pursued.The ruling may fuel political fissures. After a silent march last month in Mr. Nisman’s honor, Mrs. Kirchner accused a group of prosecutors that includes Mr. Moldes of using the case for political gain.Government supporters will be bolstered by the ruling, Mr. Böhmer said, while opponents may question the impartiality of the appellate court judges.By Taos Turner27 March 2015An Argentine federal appeals court on Thursday rejected accusations that President Cristina Kirchner conspired with Iran to cover up its alleged role in a 1994 terrorist attack.The three-judge appellate court ruled 2-to-1 to dismiss the case, which had been filed in January by Alberto Nisman, a prosecutor who was found dead the day before he was set to detail allegations to Congress. Two of the court’s judges said a lower court had been right to dismiss the accusations as baseless. The ruling eases pressure on Mrs. Kirchner, whose government was thrust into crisis by Mr. Nisman’s accusations and mysterious death.German Moldes, a federal prosecutor who last week urged the court to open a probe into the allegations, is expected to appeal the decision to another appellate court.3. ARGENTINE COURT REJECTS ALLEGATIONS CRISTINA KIRCHNER TRIED TO HEAD OFF IRAN PROBE (The Wall Street Journal Online)By Taos Turner26 March 2015Judges reject deceased prosecutor’s accusations that president and others conspired with TehranBUENOS AIRES—In a split-decision, an Argentine federal appeals court on Thursday rejected accusations that President Cristina Kirchner conspired with Iran to cover up its alleged role in a 1994 terrorist attack.The three-judge appellate court ruled 2-to-1 to dismiss the case, which had been filed in January by Alberto Nisman, a prosecutor who was found dead just days after making the allegations. Two of the court’s judges said a lower court had been right to dismissthe accusations as baseless.The ruling eases pressure on Mrs. Kirchner, whose government was thrust into crisis by Mr. Nisman’s accusations and mysterious death.German Moldes, a federal prosecutor who last week urged the court to open an investigation into the allegations, is expected to appeal the decision to another appellate court. Mr. Moldes is the second prosecutor to arguethat Mr. Nisman’s allegations merit a full investigation. His office couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.Mr. Nisman had accused Mrs. Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and others of sabotaging his yearslong probe into the bombing that killed 85 people at the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. It was the worst attack on Jews in this hemisphere and one of the worst world-wide since the genocide during World War II.Argentine officials, including Mrs. Kirchner and Mr. Timerman, have called the accusations absurd. Top officials have also said that Mr. Nisman was manipulated by both local and foreign intelligence services to make the Kirchner administration look bad.Iran has long denied involvement in the attack. The country’s embassy in Argentina couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.“The case presented by Dr. Nisman is characterized by a fanciful concatenation of facts that don’t, by themselves, seem to have any relevance. But they are presented in such a way as to simulate the idea that a crime has occurred,” appellate Judge Eduardo Freiler wrote in his opinion backing Mrs. Kirchner..In a dissenting opinion, Judge Eduardo Farah said that what merited an investigation was the plausibility of a possible crime, not conclusive evidence that one has been committed. As a long as it is plausible that a crime has been committed, one should investigate to determine if this is indeed the case, the judge wrote.“We have to appeal to common sense here,” Judge Farah wrote. “Without investigating anything we leave room for but one thing, uncertainty. Only by initiating an investigation will we be able to answer all of the questions raised here. Not investigating this is not only incorrect but it is contrary to the law.”Mr. Nisman had said that while working on the original bombing investigation, he inadvertently came across what he characterized as an immense quantity of evidence indicating Mrs. Kirchner had used intermediaries to carry out clandestine negotiations with Tehran.He said that while Argentine officials publicly condemned Iran, in private they were secretly trying to improve geopolitical ties and exchange Iranian oil for Argentine grains. In return, Mr. Nisman said, Argentina’s government would have moved to withdraw accusations that Iranian officials had been involved in the bombing.Mr. Nisman said his evidence was based largely on more than two years of intercepted phone calls between people close to the Kirchner administration. He said, however, that none of the conversations directly involved Mrs. Kirchner or Mr. Timerman.Though Mr. Nisman filed a criminal complaint against the president and others, charges haven’t been filed against any of the accused.Mr. Nisman accused Iran of masterminding the plot and said the militant group Hezbollah carried out the 1994 bombing. Based on Mr. Nisman’s work, Argentina’s government arranged with Interpol, the international police organization, to issue arrest notices for Iranian suspects in 2007. The arrest notices are still in effect, and the subjects of those warrants haven’t been apprehended. Hezbollah also has denied involvement.Mr. Nisman, who had spent more than a decade investigating the bombing, was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment a day before he was due to testify about his allegations to Congress. Investigators looking into his death haven’t determined if he was murdered or whether he committed suicide.A team of forensic experts hired by Mr. Nisman’s ex-wife, who is a federal judge, concluded he was killed, likely shot from behind by an unknown assailant.Despite the controversy, Mrs. Kirchner’s approval ratings rose to 36% this month, up from about 30% in February, according to a new poll by Management & Fit.By Laurence FletcherMarch 26, 2015*Hedge fund’s recently launched Argentina offering is up by about 12% this yearHedge fund Brevan Howard Asset Management LLP’s Argentina fund, which launched in December, has chalked up double-digit gains this year.The $220 million fund is up about 12% in 2015, according to performance numbers reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.The fund, which invests in sovereign debt, GDP warrants and equities, was helped by an 8.5% gain in February, said two people familiar with the matter. During the month Argentina’s Merval equity index gained 13%.Brevan Howard, headed by secretive billionaire Alan Howard, is one of Europe’s biggest hedge-fund firms, with $27 billion in assets. But it has experienced a tough time of late.The firm recently closed its commodities fund, while its flagship macro fund has seen billions of dollars of outflows and last year posted its first-ever calendar year loss.This year the macro fund is up 3.7%, helped by bets on European bonds and against the euro.Write to Laurence Fletcher at email@example.comCorrections & Amplifications:The $220 million fund is up about 12% in 2015 An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the fund was up by about 12% in 2014.March 27, 2015MOSCOW — A senior Russian government official says Moscow hasn’t held negotiations on leasing a dozen of supersonic bombers to Argentina, but would be willing to consider it.Alexander Fomin, the head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, a government agency tasked with coordinating arms trade, denied media reports claiming that Russia was in talks on offering Argentina a batch of 12 Su-24 bombers on lease.Fomin said Friday in remarks carried by Interfax news agency that “regrettably, the issue isn’t being discussed, but we are ready to discuss it.”The reports of the possible deal raised concerns in Britain that Argentina could use the bombers capable of high-speed, low-altitude raids to attack the Falkland Islands. Argentina launched a botched attempt to seize the South Atlantic territory in 1982.By Davide Scigliuzzo and Paul Kilby26 March 2015NEW YORK, March 26 (IFR) – Clearing houses Euroclear and Clearstream have closed trading bridges on some US$9.4bn of Argentine bonds issued under local law, a source familiar with the situation told IFR on Thursday.The action will prevent Euroclear customers from settling their trades with Clearstream clients and vice versa, but it will not affect trading between customers belonging to the same clearing company, the source said.“Any instructions to receive or deliver the aforementioned securities from/to a Clearstream Banking Luxembourg customer will be rejected with immediate effect,” Euroclear said in a note to clients seen by IFR.The note came in response to a similar action taken by Clearstream on March 25 after a US court judge Thomas Griesa allowed Citigroup’s local branch to make payments on such bonds but prevented other intermediaries from doing so.The decision was part of Argentina’s decade long court battle with holdout investors seeking some US$1.33bn plus interest from the South American country.Holdouts led by Elliott Management’s NML Capital unit have won a series of legal rulings against Argentina, which ultimately led the country’s second default in a little over a decade last year, when Griesa blocked coupon payments on nearly US$30bn of restructured bonds.Earlier this month, Griesa said the US dollar, local law notes were covered by an earlier injunction that prevented Argentina from servicing its restructured bonds unless it also made holdout creditors whole.The closing of the trading bridge came as a surprise to several market participants, who said trading in the securities will now become more complex.“It fragments the market,” said Jorge Piedrahita, CEO of brokerage Torino Capital. “Investors should be thinking about moving their bonds to a local custodian to make sure their bonds get paid.”Argentine bonds weakened across the board on Thursday amid fears that the country’s default might spread to at least some of its local-law notes.Local-law Boden 2015 and Bonar 2024, which are denominated in US dollars but not covered by the US injunction, dropped by as much as one point in afternoon trading to cash prices of 102.0 and 106.5 respectively mid-market.“Argentina’s default just got a little bigger. (But) people are looking beyond President Kirchner’s term and that is what is keeping the bid in the market,” said Piedrahita.The securities affected by the halt in the trading bridge have the following ISIN codes: ARARGE03E097, ARARGE03E113, ARARGE03G704, ARARGE03G688, ARARGE03E154.By Hugh BronsteinMarch 26, 2015(Reuters) – Last month’s court decision that cleared Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez of charges that she tried to derail the investigation into a deadly 1994 bombing was upheld by an appeals court on Thursday.The late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman had accused Fernandez of trying to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the truck bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community center in Buenos Aires. He alleged that she attempted to whitewash the attack in order to clinch a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.A court cleared the two-term president of the charge last month and Iran denies any involvement in the bombing.The judges who make up Argentina’s Federal Appeals Chamber voted 2-1 to reject the appeal “due to lack of evidence” against Fernandez, according to the official ruling. A second attempt at re-opening the case could be made to another appeals court, or brought directly to Argentina’s Supreme Court.Nisman was found shot dead in his apartment on Jan. 18, four days after lodging his complaint against Fernandez. His mysterious death spawned a slew of conspiracy theories, some involving Fernandez, whose last months in office could be overshadowed by the case.Nisman’s death has weighed on the popularity of the 62-year-old leader, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third term in the October general election.The government last week made accusations that Nisman received salary kick-backs from the IT specialist who had been working with him on his original investigation into the AMIA bombing.Fernandez’s cabinet chief said Nisman spent the embezzled money on champagne, women and lavish vacations. The accusation prompted outrage from the opposition, adding fuel to a scandal that has rocked Argentina for more than two months.Polls show the Nisman case has increased voters’ thirst for political change starting in December, when the next president is sworn in. The increasing pro-change sentiment has mostly benefited presidential candidate Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires.Macri and other leading presidential hopefuls are seen as more orthodox than Fernandez, whose trade and currency controls have slowed the economy to a crawl while inflation stays in the double digits.By Hugh BronsteinMarch 26, 2015BUENOS AIRES, March 26 (Reuters) – Argentina’s waterlogged soy lands will get much-needed sun over the 10 days ahead, firming soils and allowing growers to drive harvesting combines into fields turned to mud by heavy early-March storms, meteorologists said on Thursday.With about 5 percent of the 2014/15 crop already in, the soy exporting powerhouse remains on track for a record high harvest of 56 to 60 million tonnes, after floods in the northern farm belt threatened a significant output cut.A big crop from Argentina – the world’s top source of soymeal livestock feed and No. 3 supplier of beans – could pressure international food prices already sagging under the weight of expected record U.S. and Brazilian grains output.Demand from commodities-hungry China should keep the price of soy from collapsing as world production climbs to an expected record 315.1 million tonnes this season.“Starting today or tomorrow a window of sunny weather will make soils firm enough to allow harvest machines to enter fields that had been too wet,” said German Heinzenknecht, a meteorologist with local consultancy Clima Campo.“Tomorrow (Friday) they will be harvesting in some of the areas that have been most complicated. The open window for harvesting should last until about April 3. After that we expect more rains, but not of the high intensity that caused the flooding in February and early March,” he said.Areas hardest hit by floods are in central-west Santa Fe and central-east Cordoba provinces. The Pampas farm region also includes Buenos Aires and Entre Rios provinces, which have been spared from flooding this season.In Cordoba alone, 400,000 hectares have been lost. But areas not completely under water should recover over the days ahead, promising yields of around 4 tonnes per hectare versus 3.6 tonnes last year, according to the Rosario grains exchange.The Buenos Aires exchange says it is seeing average yields of 4.0 to 4.5 tonnes per hectare in the central Pampas.Meteorologist Antonio Deane, of consultancy Weather Argentina, said the Pampas is in for good weather for the rest of this month, but he expects another rain-related harvesting slowdown in April.“In the first 25 days of April there will be nine days of bad weather in the core soybean region,” Deane said. “Cloudiness and light rains will not give soy plants time to dry, causing a decline in the speed of harvesting.”By Charlie DevereuxMarch 26, 2015(Bloomberg) — An Argentine appeals court upheld a judge’s decision to dismiss charges of a cover-up against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, first levied by deceased prosecutor Alberto Nisman.The three-judge appeals court voted by majority to uphold Judge Daniel Rafecas’s dismissal of the allegations, Supreme Court spokeswoman Maria Bourdin wrote on Twitter. Nisman had accused Fernandez of trying to cover up for Iranian officials accused of masterminding the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center. He was discovered dead from a gunshot wound to the head Jan. 18.Nisman’s accusations and his unexplained death have dominated headlines in a year in which the country will elect a new president since Fernandez is barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term. Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli, who is seeking to win the nomination to run as candidate for Fernandez’s Victory Front alliance, has drawn level with rival Mauricio Macri in the past month.In a document filed to a federal court, prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita said Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, lawmaker Andres Larroque and other government supporters tried to remove international search warrants out on Iranian officials, in exchange for trade preferences on grains and oil. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in 2013 to set up a joint probe into the bombing that killed 85 people, enabling the Iranian officials to give evidence in Iran.No CrimeIn dismissing the case four weeks ago, Judge Daniel Rafecas argued that since the truth commission was never convened, no crime was committed. The separate accusation of seeking to annul Interpol red notifications is refuted by the evidence, including a statement by former Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble, who said Argentina never made any such request, Rafecas wrote in a 63-page report.Investors have been piling into Argentine bonds on speculation the scandal would be detrimental to Fernandez’s alliance in elections and pave the way for a more market-friendly government.While opposition candidate Mauricio Macri has risen in the polls, Scioli has regained the losses he suffered in February, according to a Management & Fit poll.Scioli gained 7.4 percentage points to 29.5 percent of voter intention against 28.8 percent for Macri, the current mayor of Buenos Aires and 14.6 percent for lawmaker Sergio Massa in a survey carried out March 14-21. The nationwide poll of 2,400 cases had a margin of error of two percentage points.The attack on the Jewish center was the worst in Argentina’s history. It eclipsed a similar, unsolved bombing two years earlier of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29.Coming less than a decade after democracy was restored to Argentina following a dictatorship that used extra-judicial killings and “disappearances” on as many as 30,000 of its own citizens, the attack traumatized the nation. While then-President Carlos Menem called the perpetrators “beasts,” neither his government nor any in the past 21 years has secured a conviction in the case.By Daniel CancelMarch 26, 2015(Bloomberg) — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced a series of plans to subsidize consumer goods as the government looks to stimulate the economy ahead of presidential elections in October.The government will spend 3 billion pesos ($340.7 million) to subsidize bottled gas for 2.5 million users, offer fixed rates for new taxi cabs, provide 25 percent discounts on energy-efficient household appliances with up to 12 monthly installments and expand the use of a transport card with 8 million users to provide discounts at shops, Fernandez said.“These are measures to stimulate the economy, an intervention of the state in the economy not to take anything away from anyone but to promote industry and commerce,” Fernandez said during a nationwide speech from Buenos Aires.Argentina, South America’s second-largest economy, last year grew at its slowest pace since 2009 as a drop in imports to shield dwindling international reserves and a fall in investment left government spending as one of the few growth motors. While Fernandez, who can’t run for a third consecutive term, has yet to publicly support a successor from her Victory Front alliance, Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli is leading the latest polls.Fernandez’s government approval rating rose to 36.1 percent in March from 29.8 percent in February, according to a Management & Fit poll taken March 14-21 with 2,400 people and a margin of error of 2 percentage points.Under Fernandez and her husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner, the government has subsidized utilities to maintain consumer demand and promote industrial production. Those policies, along with a growing energy deficit, have caused the fiscal deficit to widen to an estimated 4.05 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 from about 3 percent in 2013.Even with the highest denomination bill of 100 pesos only worth about $8 at the black market rate and with consumer prices above 20 percent, Fernandez also announced a new series of the bill to commemorate the victims of the nation’s military dictatorship to be printed this year.11. FALKLAND ISLANDS’ CONFLICT RISKS REMAIN NEGLIGIBLE BUT UK-LINKED OPERATORS FACE HEIGHTENED DISRUPTION AND VANDALISM RISKS (IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis)By Laurence Allan26 March 2015Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has criticised the UK government’s intention to strengthen its military capacity on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Speaking on 24 March, Fernández objected to UK Minister of Defence Michael Fallon describing Argentina as a “live threat” to the security of the Islands, which overwhelmingly voted in favour of remaining a UK Overseas Territory in March 2013. Argentina has had discussions in the past 12 months with Brazil, China, and Russia over boosting military co-operation and equipment, although substantive boosts to Argentina’s military capacity remains pending. The Argentine armed forces have seen very steep long-term cuts in funding and operational capacity since the 1982 conflict. Overstretching as a result of a lack of resources means the Argentine navy faces difficulties fulfilling its principal role of safeguarding Argentine sovereignty.The same applies to the air force, which lacks a credible bomber capability, and its fighters would not pose a significant challenge to RAF’s Typhoons. Argentina would not currently present a viable threat to the Falklands, while its constitution explicitly prohibits military action to regain sovereignty over the islands.Risks: Interstate war; Protests and riotsSectors or assets affected: Banking; Marine and ports; Hotels and entertainmentBy Charles Newbery26 March 2015Buenos Aires (Platts)–26Mar2015/1017 am EDT/1417 GMT The government of Chubut, the biggest oil-producing province in Argentina, has vowed to take more steps to maintain crude output and jobs in the sector, two months after cutting production royalty taxes.“I am going to take the necessary measures to sustain activity levels and jobs in the oil industry,” Governor Martin Buzzi said late Wednesday, according to a statement. “In these complex times, we need a very active state.”He made the comments at a rally in the port city of Comodoro Rivadavia by oil unions to defend jobs that they fear are at risk as a more than 50% drop in global oil prices since June threatens to slow investment and production.Buzzi did not give details on what new measures his administration could take. In January, he cut the royalty tax on production to as low as 7.5% from 15% for companies that increase output or start new developments.“We prefer to bring in less money at a certain time if this guarantees jobs,” he said.Buzzi said his government will sign a deal April 8 with Companias Asociadas Petroleras (Capsa), the country’s ninth-biggest oil producer with a 2.1% share of the 530,000 b/d national output.The agreements give producers more time to develop their field licenses in exchange for commitments to step up investment and production.The extensions “guarantee jobs and production,” Buzzi said.Extensions have been granted for the field licenses of Argentina’s Tecpetrol and state-run YPF, while modifications have been made to the licenses of BP-controlled Pan American Energy. Chile’s Enap Sipetrol is also due to sign an extension to its field licenses, Buzzi said.Chubut produces 30% of the country’s crude and 8.3% of its 114 million cu m/d of gas. The province exports about a third of its crude production.By Jessica Contrera27 March 2015A humble, hard-working soccer superstar draws fence-jumpers and bus-chasers during first D.C. visit.The fence dividing the superstar from his superfans was tall, thick, metal — and flexible.“If we pull two of the bars wide, I bet I can fit through,” one of the fans said as he looked onto the soccer field. On the other side of the bars stood one of the world’s great athletes. Lionel Messi, hero of Barcelona and Argentina, four-time world player of the year, living proof that soccer is a sport and an art, here in the District for the first time in his career.Here, too, was Brian Pacheco, 21, a Best Buy employee, college student and Argentina fan since birth. And so the bars bent, and in went Pacheco’s arm, then his leg, then the light blue No. 10 jersey, and then he was off, sprinting toward his hero.The hundreds who surrounded the closed practice at the Georgetown University field — or rather, the fences and gates blocking off the field — watched him run, hoping he might succeed for the rest of them.“Go, go, go, go, man!”Lawyers and janitors,stay-at-home moms and social media consultants, preschoolers and store owners — all ditching work or any other plans for a glimpse of Messi.He is in Washington with the Argentina national team for the week, practicing at Georgetown during the days before a game against El Salvador on Saturday at FedEx Field.The game itself probably will lack excitement, given that the teams are so unfairly matched. But just the presence of No. 10 has been enough to launch Messimania across the city, with fans hiding behind trees to sneak into his practices, running after his van at the Ritz-Carlton and angling to snap photos of themselves with the star in blurry distance at a Washington Wizards game.They know that the only time to spot Messi is when he’s with his team. The 27-year-old isn’t the type of star jock to hang out at bars or nightclubs. You won’t even catch him on a mid-range shopping spree, like members of Spain’s national team at a D.C. Victoria’s Secret last summer. And that’s exactly why he is loved.Messi fans share a set of words to describe him: humble, hard-working, a family man. He’s said to be devoted to his parents, his hometown buddies, his longtime girlfriend and their young son. The image of Futbol Club Barcelona — the team he plays for when not representing his home country of Argentina — is all about humility, effort and clean aesthetics. This was the team that prided itself for years on not having advertising on its jerseys, explains Aaron Plantenberg, vice president of D.C.’s Barcelona fan club. The way Messi plays — low to the ground, weaving through spaces other players wouldn’t see, gliding passes with exact timing — is the style the community prides itself on now.“If you said that one person in the organization has to leave the club — the president, the coach, the longest-serving player — the last person who would be chosen to leave would be Messi,” Plantenberg said.Eager to distinguish Messi from rival superstar Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, fans tout their hero’s humble beginnings.As a quiet but talented child, he was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency that would stunt his growth. His steelworker father couldn’t afford the treatment. Despite the prowess he had shown on the field, no local team would pay. But after a former Barcelona player flew to Argentina to scout the young Messi, the team agreed to move his family to Spain, enter the 13-year-old into its training program and pay for his treatment. He never grew much past 5 1/2 feet tall, but his size has only made him more endearing.“Now, he appreciates everything he has today,” said Othman Chebli, a Moroccan-born Department of Transportation engineer watching Messi from a campus building. “Because it almost didn’t happen.”When he walked on the field Wednesday, Messi waved an arm at the insistent screaming of Giovanni Nicolacci of Chevy Chase, Md. Messi! Messi! Mirar por aquí! Look over here!Nicolacci had pulled his twin sons out of kindergarten to witness how Messi moved his feet, how Messi treated his fans, how Messi was the ultimate humble role model, even for 6-year-olds.“This is a culture I want them to learn,” he said, his son Marco in a little Messi jersey, perched on his shoulders. “This sport is a tool to bring happiness to people of all cultures. You have English, French, Italian, Spanish, and soccer is our universal language.”In D.C., that language is more common than ever. While it was once difficult for Nicolacci to find a place to watch soccer in the area, last summer it was hard to find a bar that did not have the World Cup on TV. Dupont Circle’s Lucky Bar and Foggy Bottom’s Elephant & Castle are among the establishments known as “soccer bars” year-round. At home, the Internet has made it simple to watch games in Europe and South America at any time of day. Even the interest in playing the rest of the world’s favorite sport seems to be at a peak. The adult soccer league District Sports had more than 6,000 participants last season. Director Alex Bearman said that the more they play, the more they get into the global soccer phenomenon.“We’re catching up with the rest of the world,” Bearman said. “People are living it more than ever before.”At Georgetown, they lived it by watching Messi commanding the ball like it was an extension of his foot. They lived it by zooming their iPhone cameras to capture blurry proof that they had seen him in real life. And they lived it by watching, open-mouthed, as a 21-year-old Best Buy employee barreled around the bleachers, past security and into Messi’s open arms.Messi laughed as Pacheco gave him a two-armed hug.“They’re gonna get you, man,” the player said, accepting a black Sharpie marker to sign the jersey on Pacheco’s chest. Pacheco managed to get the signature of Messi’s teammate Carlos Tevez, too, then sprinted back to his friends waiting at the gate before security could manhandle him out.He spent the next hour accepting high-fives and posing for photos taken by envious fans.“You’re my hero, dude!” one told him.Pacheco beamed and made sure to say thank you. He had learned from his hero how to stay humble.