efe-epaBy Rodrigo García Villa Fiorito, Argentina

Villa Fiorito will forever be known as the neighborhood that introduced local soccer hero Diego Maradona to the world but the reality nowadays, amid an ongoing economic crisis in Argentina, is that the area is struggling to pull itself from the grips of poverty, drug abuse and violence.

Just 40 kilometers (24 miles) from the capital Buenos Aires in the municipality of Lomas de Zamora, getting to Fiorito, as the locals call it, is not complicated. Yet, many taxi drivers decline the trip out from the city center, especially if they have to linger there.

Maradona's humble family house still stands on Azamor street, where the future superstar first started kicking a ball around, but all other traces of the neighborhood's most famous export have all but vanished as the area gives way to dilapidation.

"That place should be something very important for Fiorito, but it is not, it should have a monument," Luján Ocampo, who says he was a childhood acquaintance of the "Golden Boy," told Efe.

Born in a nearby hospital in 1960, Maradona's early childhood was blighted by hardship until Argentinos Juniors soccer club signed him up and changed his life forever.

In the 1970s, Maradona's family moved into the city and the promising player started making history.

The current tenant of the house at 10 Azamor street declines to give interviews and other local residents warned of the risk of being assaulted on the street.

Although granted its own city status in 1995, many in Fiorito, with its population of 40,000, still consider the area to be a suburb of Buenos Aires.

"It's bad, bad, bad," said Reina Salazar, a secretary at a retirement center managed by the Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE), an social organization. "We've been robbed twice, we cannot leave the house alone, we want to go on a trip but we can't."

In 2001, as Argentina plunged into an economic crisis, hundreds of people relied on scavenging and selling cardboard boxes to make a living. The largest "cartonero" collective emerged in Fiorito — its has since been integrated into the MTE.

Natalia Zaracho knows this line of work first hand.

Now, as Argentina struggles with a new recession, albeit not as serious as the collapse in 2001, Zaracho works with the MTE's health team, providing support for vulnerable people.

"You know Fiorito because Diego, the best player in the world, came from here, but the reality is that we are struggling. In three and a half years (President Mauricio Macri's term so far), insecurity has tripled," Zaracho, who is also a candidate for the Frente de Todos, an opposition political party, said.

There are around 20 workers providing counseling for victims of gender-based violence and health issues at the MTE center, which also provides activities for older people.

One such person who seeking assistance was a young Bolivian woman who said she came to Argentina two years to look for her son who was allegedly kidnapped by her abusive ex-partner.

The women, who asked not to be named, said she herself was kidnapped by the man in a house in Buenos Aires province but managed to escape six months later with her son. She reported what happened and then came to Villa Fiorito to try her luck here.

"I met with the MTE and they helped me get a job, I work in the kitchen in the retirement center," she said.

Male violence against women is still a scourge on society in Argentina.

"You end up working both with women who have suffered violence and with the violent men," Leonardo Fernández, a social worker with the municipality of Lomas de Zamora, said.

The MTE, which is linked to the with the Kirchner-affiliated CTEP labor union, looks to pressure the government into reversing its economic shortcomings in areas like Fiorito.

This year Argentina heads to the polls in October for general elections and one of the most pressing concerns for those vying for votes will be the fact that 32 percent of the country still lives in poverty. EFE-EPA

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