Juan Domingo Perón (, , Spanish: [ˈxwan doˈmiŋɡo peˈɾon]; 8 October 1895 – 1 July 1974) was an Argentine Army general and politician. After serving in several government positions, including Minister of Labour and Vice President of a military dictatorship, he was elected President of Argentina three times, serving from June 1946 to September 1955, when he was overthrown by the Revolución Libertadora, and then from October 1973 until his death in July 1974.
During his first presidential term (1946–52), Perón was supported by his second wife, Eva Duarte ("Evita"): they were immensely popular among the Argentine working class. Eva died in 1952, and Perón was elected to a second term, serving from 1952 until 1955. During the following period of two military dictatorships, interrupted by two civilian governments, the Peronist party was outlawed and Perón was exiled. When the left-wing Peronist Héctor José Cámpora was elected President in 1973, Perón returned to Argentina and was soon after elected President for a third time. His third wife, María Estela Martínez, known as Isabel Perón, was elected as Vice President on his ticket and succeeded him as President upon his death in 1974.
Although they are still controversial figures, Juan and Eva Perón are nonetheless considered icons by the Peronists. The Peróns' followers praised their efforts to eliminate poverty and to dignify labour, while their detractors considered them demagogues and dictators. The Peróns gave their name to the political movement known as Peronism, which in present-day Argentina is represented mainly by the Justicialist Party.
Peronism is a political phenomenon that draws support from both the political left and political right. Peronism is not considered a traditional ideology, but a political movement, because of the wide variety of people who call themselves Peronists, and there is great controversy surrounding his personality. A number of following Argentinian presidents are considered Peronists, including administrations covering a majority of the democratic era: Héctor Cámpora, Isabel Perón, Carlos Menem, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, Eduardo Duhalde, Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Kirchner and Alberto Fernández.
Childhood and youth
Patio inside the home in Lobos where Perón was born.
Juan Domingo Perón was born in Lobos, Buenos Aires Province, on 8 October 1895. He was the son of Juana Sosa Toledo and Mario Tomás Perón. The Perón branch of his family was originally Spanish, but settled in Spanish Sardinia, from which his great-grandfather emigrated in the 1830s; in later life Perón would publicly express his pride in his Sardinian roots. He also had Spanish, British and French ancestry.
Perón's great-grandfather became a successful shoe merchant in Buenos Aires, and his grandfather was a prosperous physician; his death in 1889 left his widow nearly destitute, however, and Perón's father moved to then-rural Lobos, where he administered an estancia and met his future wife. The couple had their two sons out of wedlock and married in 1901.
His father moved to the Patagonia region that year, where he later purchased a sheep ranch. Juan himself was sent away in 1904 to a boarding school in Buenos Aires directed by his paternal grandmother, where he received a strict Catholic upbringing. His father's undertaking ultimately failed, and he died in Buenos Aires in 1928. The youth entered the National Military College in 1911 at age 16 and graduated in 1913. He excelled less in his studies than in athletics, particularly boxing and fencing.
Lt. Perón (left
) and General José Uriburu (middle
), with whose right-wing coup in 1930 he collaborated. Perón backed the more moderate General Agustín Justo, however.
Perón began his military career in an Infantry post in Paraná, Entre Ríos. He went on to command the post, and in this capacity mediated a prolonged labour conflict in 1920 at La Forestal, then a leading firm in forestry in Argentina. He earned instructor's credentials at the Superior War School, and in 1929 was appointed to the Army General Staff Headquarters. Perón married his first wife, Aurelia Tizón (Potota, as Perón fondly called her), on 5 January 1929.
Perón was recruited by supporters of the director of the War Academy, General José Félix Uriburu, to collaborate in the latter's plans for a military coup against President Hipólito Yrigoyen. Perón, who instead supported General Agustín Justo, was banished to a remote post in northwestern Argentina after Uriburu's successful coup in September 1930. He was promoted to the rank of Major the following year and named to the faculty at the Superior War School, however, where he taught military history and published a number of treatises on the subject. He served as military attaché in the Argentine Embassy in Chile from 1936 to 1938, and returned to his teaching post. His wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer that year, and died on 10 September at age 36; the couple had no children.
Perón was assigned by the War Ministry to study mountain warfare in the Italian Alps in 1939. He also attended the University of Turin for a semester and served as a military observer in countries across Europe. He studied Benito Mussolini's Italian Fascism, Nazi Germany, and other European governments of the time, concluding in his summary, Apuntes de historia militar (Notes about military history), that social democracy could be a viable alternative to liberal democracy (which he viewed as a veiled plutocracy) or totalitarian regimes (which he viewed as oppressive). He returned to Argentina in 1941, and served as an Army skiing instructor in Mendoza Province.
Military government of 1943–1946
President Edelmiro Farrell
) and his benefactor, Vice President and Colonel Juan Perón, in April 1945.
In 1943 a coup d'état was led by General Arturo Rawson against democratically elected President Ramón Castillo. The military was opposed to Governor Robustiano Patrón Costas, Castillo's hand-picked successor, who was the principal landowner in Salta Province, as well as a main stockholder in its sugar industry.
As a colonel, Perón took a significant part in the military coup by the GOU (United Officers' Group, a secret society) against the conservative civilian government of Castillo. At first an assistant to Secretary of War General Edelmiro Farrell, under the administration of General Pedro Ramírez, he later became the head of the then-insignificant Department of Labour. Perón's work in the Labour Department witnessed the passage of a broad range of progressive social reforms designed to improve working conditions, and led to an alliance with the socialist and syndicalist movements in the Argentine labour unions, which increased his power and influence in the military government.
After the coup, socialists from the CGT-Nº1 labour union, through mercantile labour leader Ángel Borlenghi and railway union lawyer Juan Atilio Bramuglia, made contact with Perón and fellow GOU Colonel Domingo Mercante. They established an alliance to promote labour laws that had long been demanded by the workers' movement, to strengthen the unions, and to transform the Department of Labour into a more significant government office. Perón had the Department of Labour elevated to a cabinet-level secretariat in November 1943.
Demonstration for Perón's release on 17 October 1945
Following the devastating January 1944 San Juan earthquake, which claimed over 10,000 lives and leveled the Andes range city, Perón became nationally prominent in relief efforts. Junta leader Pedro Ramírez entrusted fundraising efforts to him, and Perón marshaled celebrities from Argentina's large film industry and other public figures. For months, a giant thermometer hung from the Buenos Aires Obelisk to track the fundraising. The effort's success and relief for earthquake victims earned Perón widespread public approval. At this time, he met a minor radio matinee star, Eva Duarte.
Following President Ramírez's January 1944 suspension of diplomatic relations with the Axis Powers (against whom the new junta would declare war in March 1945), the GOU junta unseated him in favor of General Edelmiro Farrell. For contributing to his success, Perón was appointed Vice President and Secretary of War, while retaining his Labour portfolio. As Minister of Labour, Perón established the INPS (the first national social insurance system in Argentina), settled industrial disputes in favour of labour unions (as long as their leaders pledged political allegiance to him), and introduced a wide range of social welfare benefits for unionised workers.
Employers were forced to improve working conditions and to provide severance pay and accident compensation, the conditions under which workers could be dismissed were restricted, a system of labour courts to handle the grievances of workers was established, the working day was reduced in various industries, and paid holidays/vacations were generalised to the entire workforce. Perón also passed a law providing minimum wages, maximum hours and vacations for rural workers, froze rural rents, presided over a large increase in rural wages, and helped lumber, wine, sugar and migrant workers organize themselves. From 1943 to 1946, real wages grew by only 4%, but in 1945 Perón established two new institutions that would later increase wages: the “aguinaldo” (a bonus that provided each worker with a lump sum at the end of the year amounting to one-twelfth of the annual wage) and the National Institute of Compensation, which implemented a minimum wage and collected data on living standards, prices, and wages. Leveraging his authority on behalf of striking abattoir workers and the right to unionise, Perón became increasingly thought of as presidential timber.
On 18 September 1945, he delivered an address billed as "from work to home and from home to work". The speech, prefaced by an excoriation of the conservative opposition, provoked an ovation by declaring that "we've passed social reforms to make the Argentine people proud to live where they live, once again." This move fed growing rivalries against Perón and on 9 October 1945, he was forced to resign by opponents within the armed forces. Arrested four days later, he was released due to mass demonstrations organised by the CGT and other supporters; 17 October was later commemorated as Loyalty Day. His paramour, Eva Duarte, became hugely popular after helping organize the demonstration; known as "Evita", she helped Perón gain support with labour and women's groups. She and Perón were married on 22 October.
First term (1946–1952)
Lt. General Perón in military uniform, drinking coffee (1950 or later).
President Perón at his 1946 inaugural parade.
First emblem of the Peronist Party, 1946-1955.
Flag of the Justicialist Party.
Perón and his running mate, Hortensio Quijano, leveraged popular support to victory over a Radical Civic Union-led opposition alliance by about 11% in the 24 February 1946 presidential elections.
Perón's candidacy on the Labour Party ticket, announced the day after the 17 October 1945 mobilization, became a lightning rod that rallied an unusually diverse opposition against it. The majority of the centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR), the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and most of the conservative National Autonomist Party (in power during most of the 1874–1916 era) had already been forged into a fractious alliance in June by interests in the financial sector and the chamber of commerce, united solely by the goal of keeping Perón from the Casa Rosada. Organizing a massive kick-off rally in front of Congress on 8 December, the Democratic Union nominated José Tamborini and Enrique Mosca, two prominent UCR congressmen. The alliance failed to win over several prominent lawmakers, such as congressmen Ricardo Balbín and Arturo Frondizi and former Córdoba governor Amadeo Sabattini, all of whom opposed the Union's ties to conservative interests. In a bid to support their campaign, US Ambassador Spruille Braden published a white paper, otherwise known as the Blue Book accusing Perón, President Farrell and others of Fascist ties. Fluent in Spanish, Braden addressed Democratic Union rallies in person, but his move backfired when Perón summarized the election as a choice between "Perón or Braden". He also rallied further support by responding to the "Blue Book" with his own "Blue and White Book", which was a play on the Argentine flag colors, and focused on the antagonism of Yankee imperialism. He persuaded the president to sign the nationalization of the Central Bank and the extension of mandatory Christmas bonuses, actions that contributed to his decisive victory.
, an erstwhile socialist who, as Interior Minister, oversaw new labour courts and the opposition's activities.
When Perón became president on 4 June 1946, his two stated goals were social justice and economic independence. These two goals avoided Cold War entanglements from choosing between capitalism and socialism, but he had no concrete means to achieve those goals. Perón instructed his economic advisers to develop a five-year plan with the goals of increasing workers' pay, achieving full employment, stimulating industrial growth of over 40% while diversifying the sector (then dominated by food processing), and greatly improving transportation, communication, energy and social infrastructure (in the private, as well as public, sectors).
Perón's planning prominently included political considerations. Numerous military allies were fielded as candidates, notably Colonel Domingo Mercante who, when elected Governor of the paramount Province of Buenos Aires, became renowned for his housing program. Having brought him to power, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) was given overwhelming support by the new administration, which introduced labour courts and filled its cabinet with labour union appointees, such as Juan Atilio Bramuglia (Foreign Ministry) and Ángel Borlenghi (Interior Ministry, which, in Argentina, oversees law enforcement). It also made room for amenable wealthy industrialists (Central Bank President Miguel Miranda) and socialists such as José Figuerola, a Spanish economist who had years earlier advised that nation's ill-fated regime of Miguel Primo de Rivera. Intervention of their behalf by Perón's appointees encouraged the CGT to call strikes in the face of employers reluctant to grant benefits or honor new labour legislation. Strike activity (with 500,000 working days lost in 1945) leapt to 2 million in 1946 and to over 3 million in 1947, helping wrest needed labour reforms, though permanently aligning large employers against the Peronists. Labour unions grew in ranks from around 500,000 to over 2 million by 1950, primarily in the CGT, which has since been Argentina's paramount labour union. As the country's labour force numbered around 5 million people at the time, Argentina's labour force was the most unionized in South America.
President Perón (right
) signs the nationalization of British-owned railways watched by Ambassador Sir Reginald Leeper
, March 1948.
During the first half of the 20th century, a widening gap had existed between the classes; Perón hoped to close it through the increase of wages and employment, making the nation more pluralistic and less reliant on foreign trade. Before taking office in 1946, President Perón took dramatic steps which he believed would result in a more economically independent Argentina, better insulated from events such as World War II. He thought there would be another international war. The reduced availability of imports and the war's beneficial effects on both the quantity and price of Argentine exports had combined to create a US$1.7 billion cumulative surplus during those years.
In his first two years in office, Perón nationalized the Central Bank and paid off its billion-dollar debt to the Bank of England; nationalized the railways (mostly owned by British and French companies), merchant marine, universities, public utilities, public transport (then, mostly tramways); and, probably most significantly, created a single purchaser for the nation's mostly export-oriented grains and oilseeds, the Institute for the Promotion of Trade (IAPI). The IAPI wrested control of Argentina's famed grain export sector from entrenched conglomerates such as Bunge y Born; but when commodity prices fell after 1948, it began shortchanging growers. IAPI profits were used to fund welfare projects, while internal demand was encouraged by large wage increases given to workers; average real wages rose by about 35% from 1945 to 1949, while during that same period, labour's share of national income rose from 40% to 49%. Access to health care was also made a universal right by the Workers' Bill of Rights enacted on 24 February 1947 (subsequently incorporated into the 1949 Constitution as Article 14-b), while social security was extended to virtually all members of the Argentine working class.
From 1946 to 1951, the number of Argentinians covered by social security more than tripled, so that in 1951 more than 5 million people (70% of the economically active population) were covered by social security. Health insurance also spread to new industries, including banking and metalworking. Between 1945 and 1949, real wages went up by 22%, fell between 1949 and 1952, and then increased again from 1953 to 1955, ending up at least 30% higher than in 1946. In proportional terms, wages rose from 41% of national income in 1946–48 to 49% in 1952–55. The boost in the real incomes of workers was encouraged by government policies such as the enforcement of minimum wage laws, controls on the prices of food and other basic consumption items, and extending housing credits to workers.
Foreign policy and adversaries
Perón first articulated his foreign policy, the "Third Way", in 1949. This policy was developed to avoid the binary Cold War divisions and keep other world powers, such as the United States and the Soviet Union, as allies rather than enemies. He restored diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, severed since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and opened grain sales to the shortage-stricken Soviets.
U.S. policy restricted Argentine growth during the Perón years; by placing embargoes on Argentina, the United States hoped to discourage the nation in its pursuit of becoming economically sovereign during a time when the world was divided into two influence spheres. U.S. interests feared losing their stake, as they had large commercial investments (over a billion dollars) vested in Argentina through the oil and meat packing industries, besides being a mechanical goods provider to Argentina. His ability to effectively deal with points of contention abroad was equally hampered by Perón's own mistrust of potential rivals, which harmed foreign relations with Juan Atilio Bramuglia's 1949 dismissal.
The rising influence of American diplomat George F. Kennan, a staunch anti-communist and champion of containment, fed U.S. suspicions that Argentine goals for economic sovereignty and neutrality were Perón's disguise for a resurgence of communism in the Americas. The U.S. Congress took a dislike to Perón and his government. In 1948 they excluded Argentine exports from the Marshall Plan, the landmark Truman administration effort to combat communism and help rebuild war-torn European nations by offering U.S. aid. This contributed to Argentine financial crises after 1948 and, according to Perón biographer Joseph Page, "the Marshall Plan drove a final nail into the coffin that bore Perón's ambitions to transform Argentina into an industrial power". The policy deprived Argentina of potential agricultural markets in Western Europe to the benefit of Canadian exporters, for instance.
As relations with the U.S. deteriorated, Perón made efforts to mitigate the misunderstandings, which were made easier after President Harry Truman replaced the hostile Braden with Ambassador George Messersmith. Perón negotiated the release of Argentine assets in the U.S. in exchange for preferential treatment for U.S. goods, followed by Argentine ratification of the Act of Chapultepec, a centerpiece of Truman's Latin America policy. He even proposed the enlistment of Argentine troops into the Korean War in 1950 under UN auspices (a move retracted in the face of public opposition). Perón was opposed to borrowing from foreign credit markets, preferring to float bonds domestically. He refused to enter the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (precursor to the World Trade Organization) or the International Monetary Fund.
As president, Perón took an active interest in the development of sports in Argentina, hosting international events and sponsoring athletes such as the boxer, José María Gatica
Believing that international sports created goodwill, however, Perón hosted the 1950 World Basketball Championship and the 1951 Pan American Games, both of which Argentine athletes won resoundingly. He also sponsored numerous notable athletes, including the five-time Formula 1 world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, who, without this funding, would have most likely never competed in Europe. Perón's bid to host the 1956 Summer Olympics in Buenos Aires was defeated by the International Olympic Committee by one vote.
Growth and limitations
Economic success was short-lived. Following a lumbering recovery during 1933 to 1945, from 1946 to 1953 Argentina gained benefits from Perón's five-year plan. The GDP expanded by over a fourth during that brief boom, about as much as it had during the previous decade. Using roughly half the US$1.7 billion in reserves inherited from wartime surpluses for nationalizations, economic development agencies devoted most of the other half to finance both public and private investments; the roughly 70% jump in domestic fixed investment was accounted for mostly by industrial growth in the private sector. All this much-needed activity exposed an intrinsic weakness in the plan: it subsidized growth which, in the short term, led to a wave of imports of the capital goods that local industry could not supply. Whereas the end of World War II had allowed Argentine exports to rise from US$700 million to US$1.6 billion, Perón's changes led to skyrocketing imports (from US$300 million to US$1.6 billion), and erased the surplus by 1948.
Perón's bid for economic independence was further complicated by a number of inherited external factors. Great Britain owed Argentina over 150 million pounds Sterling (nearly US$650 million) from agricultural exports to that nation during the war. This debt was mostly in the form of Argentine Central Bank reserves which, per the 1933 Roca-Runciman Treaty, were deposited in the Bank of England. The money was useless to the Argentine government, because the treaty allowed Bank of England to hold the funds in trust, something British planners could not compromise on as a result of that country's debts accrued under the Lend-Lease Act.
The nation's need for U.S. made capital goods increased, though ongoing limits on the Central Bank's availability of hard currency hampered access to them. Argentina's pound Sterling surpluses earned after 1946 (worth over US$200 million) were made convertible to dollars by a treaty negotiated by Central Bank President Miguel Miranda; but after a year, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee suspended the provision. Perón accepted the transfer of over 24,000 km (15,000 mi) of British-owned railways (over half the total in Argentina) in exchange for the debt in March 1948. Due to political disputes between Perón and the U.S. government (as well as to pressure by the U.S. agricultural lobby through the Agricultural Act of 1949), Argentine foreign exchange earnings via its exports to the United States fell, turning a US$100 million surplus with the United States into a US$300 million deficit. The combined pressure practically devoured Argentina's liquid reserves and Miranda issued a temporary restriction on the outflow of dollars to U.S. banks. The nationalization of the Port of Buenos Aires and domestic and foreign-owned private cargo ships, as well as the purchase of others, nearly tripled the national merchant marine to 1.2 million tons' displacement, reducing the need for over US$100 million in shipping fees (then the largest source of Argentina's invisible balance deficit) and leading to the inauguration of the Río Santiago Shipyards at Ensenada (on line to the present day).
Repairs at the Río Santiago Shipyards
Exports fell sharply, to around US$1.1 billion during the 1949–54 era (a severe 1952 drought trimmed this to US$700 million), due in part to a deterioration in terms of trade of about a third. The Central Bank was forced to devalue the peso at an unprecedented rate: the peso lost about 70% of its value from early 1948 to early 1950, leading to a decline in the imports fueling industrial growth and to recession. Short of central bank reserves, Perón was forced to borrow US$125 million from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to cover a number of private banks' debts to U.S. institutions, without which their insolvency would have become a central bank liability. Austerity and better harvests in 1950 helped finance a recovery in 1951; but inflation, having risen from 13% in 1948 to 31% in 1949, reached 50% in late 1951 before stabilizing, and a second, sharper recession soon followed. Workers' purchasing power, by 1952, had declined 20% from its 1948 high and GDP, having leapt by a fourth during Perón's first two years, saw zero growth from 1948 to 1952. (The U.S. economy, by contrast, grew by about a fourth in the same interim). After 1952, however, wages began rising in real terms once more.
The increasing frequency of strikes, increasingly directed against Perón as the economy slid into stagflation in late 1954, was dealt with through the expulsion of organizers from the CGT ranks. To consolidate his political grasp on the eve of colder economic winds, Perón called for a broad constitutional reform in September. The elected convention (whose opposition members soon resigned) approved the wholesale replacement of the 1853 Constitution of Argentina with a new magna carta in March, explicitly guaranteeing social reforms; but also allowing the mass nationalization of natural resources and public services, as well as the re-election of the president.
Focus on infrastructure
Emphasizing an economic policy centerpiece dating from the 1920s, Perón made record investments in Argentina's infrastructure. Investing over US$100 million to modernize the railways (originally built on myriad incompatible gauges), he also nationalized a number of small, regional air carriers, forging them into Aerolíneas Argentinas in 1950. The airline, equipped with 36 new DC-3 and DC-4 aircraft, was supplemented with a new international airport and a 22 km (14 mi) freeway into Buenos Aires. This freeway was followed by one between Rosario and Santa Fe.
A hospital near Rosario
, one of hundreds built during the Perón years
Perón had mixed success in expanding the country's inadequate electric grid, which grew by only one fourth during his tenure. Argentina's installed hydroelectric capacity, however, leapt from 45 to 350 MW during his first term (to about a fifth of the total public grid). He promoted the fossil fuel industry by ordering these resources nationalized, inaugurating Río Turbio (Argentina's only active coal mine), having natural gas flared by the state oil firm YPF captured, and establishing Gas del Estado. The 1949 completion of a gas pipeline between Comodoro Rivadavia and Buenos Aires was another significant accomplishment in this regard. The 1,700 km (1,060 mi) pipeline allowed natural gas production to rise quickly from 300,000 m3 to 15 million m3 daily, making the country self-sufficient in the critical energy staple; the pipeline was, at the time, the longest in the world.
Propelled by an 80% increase in output at the state-owed energy firm YPF, oil production rose from 3.3 million m3 to over 4.8 million m3 during Perón's tenure; but since most manufacturing was powered by on-site generators and the number of motor vehicles grew by a third, the need for oil imports grew from 40% to half of the consumption, costing the national balance sheet over US$300 million a year (over a fifth of the import bill).
Perón's government is remembered for its record social investments. He introduced a Ministry of Health to the cabinet; its first head, the neurologist Ramón Carrillo, oversaw the completion of over 4,200 health care facilities. Related works included construction of more than 1,000 kindergartens and over 8,000 schools, including several hundred technological, nursing and teachers' schools, among an array of other public investments. The new Minister of Public Works, General Juan Pistarini, oversaw the construction of 650,000 new, public sector homes, as well as of the international airport, one of the largest in the world at the time. The reactivation of the dormant National Mortgage Bank spurred private-sector housing development: averaging over 8 units per 1,000 inhabitants (150,000 a year), the pace was, at the time, at par with that of the United States and one of the highest rates of residential construction in the world.
Production line at the state military industries facility, 1950; on line since 1927, Perón's budgets modernized and expanded the complex.
Perón modernized the Argentine Armed Forces, particularly its Air Force. Between 1947 and 1950, Argentina manufactured two advanced jet aircraft: Pulqui I (designed by the Argentine engineers Cardehilac, Morchio and Ricciardi with the French engineer Émile Dewoitine, condemned in France in absentia for collaborationism), and Pulqui II, designed by German engineer Kurt Tank. In the test flights, the planes were flown by Lieutenant Edmundo Osvaldo Weiss and Tank, reaching 1,000 km/h (620 mph) with the Pulqui II. Argentina continued testing the Pulqui II until 1959; in the tests, two pilots lost their lives. The Pulqui project opened the door to two successful Argentinian planes: the IA 58 Pucará and the IA 63 Pampa, manufactured at the Aircraft Factory of Córdoba.
Perón announced in 1951 that the Huemul Project would produce nuclear fusion before any other country. The project was led by an Austrian, Ronald Richter, who had been recommended by Kurt Tank. Tank expected to power his aircraft with Richter's invention. Perón announced that energy produced by the fusion process would be delivered in milk-bottle sized containers. Richter announced success in 1951, but no proof was given. The next year, Perón appointed a scientific team to investigate Richter's activities. Reports by José Antonio Balseiro and Mario Báncora revealed that the project was a fraud. After that, the Huemul Project was transferred to the Centro Atómico Bariloche (CAB) of the new National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) and to the physics institute of the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, later named Instituto Balseiro (IB). According to a recently aired History Channel documentary , the secrecy, Nazi connections, declassified US intelligence documents, and military infrastructure located around the remote facility all argue for the more likely objective of atomic bomb development. The Argentine navy actually bombed multiple buildings in 1955 - an unusual method of decommissioning a legitimate research facility.
Eva Perón's influence and contribution
First Lady Eva Perón (left
) tending to the needy in her capacity as head of her foundation
Eva Perón was instrumental as a symbol of hope to the common labourer during the first five-year plan. When she died in 1952, the year of the presidential elections, the people felt they had lost an ally. Coming from humble origins, she was loathed by the elite but adored by the poor for her work with the sick, elderly, and orphans. It was due to her behind-the-scenes work that women's suffrage was granted in 1947 and a feminist wing of the 3rd party in Argentina was formed. Simultaneous to Perón's five-year plans, Eva supported a women's movement that concentrated on the rights of women, the poor and the disabled.
Although her role in the politics of Perón's first term remains disputed, Eva introduced social justice and equality into the national discourse. She stated, "It is not philanthropy, nor is it charity... It is not even social welfare; to me, it is strict justice... I do nothing but return to the poor what the rest of us owe them, because we had taken it away from them unjustly."
In 1948 she established the Eva Perón Foundation, which was perhaps the greatest contribution to her husband's social policy. Enjoying an annual budget of around US$50 million (nearly 1% of GDP at the time), the Foundation had 14,000 employees and founded hundreds of new schools, clinics, old-age homes and holiday facilities; it also distributed hundreds of thousands of household necessities, physicians' visits and scholarships, among other benefits. Among the best-known of the Foundation's many large construction projects are the Evita City development south of Buenos Aires (25,000 homes) and the "Republic of the Children", a theme park based on tales from the Brothers Grimm. Following Perón's 1955 ousting, twenty such construction projects were abandoned incomplete and the foundation's US$290 million endowment was liquidated.
An August 1951 rally organized by the CGT for a Perón-Evita ticket failed to overcome military objections to her, and the ailing first lady withdrew.
The portion of the five-year plans which argued for full employment, public healthcare and housing, labour benefits, and raises were a result of Eva's influence on the policy-making of Perón in his first term, as historians note that at first he simply wanted to keep imperialists out of Argentina and create effective businesses. The humanitarian relief efforts embedded in the five-year plan were Eva's creation, which endeared the Peronist movement to the working-class people from which Eva had come. Her strong ties to the poor and her position as Perón's wife brought credibility to his promises during his first presidential term and ushered in a new wave of supporters. The first lady's willingness to replace the ailing Hortensio Quijano as Perón's running mate for the 1951 campaign was defeated by her own frail health and by military opposition. A 22 August rally organized for her by the CGT on Buenos Aires' wide Nueve de Julio Avenue failed to turn the tide. On 28 September, elements in the Argentine Army led by General Benjamín Andrés Menéndez attempted a coup against Perón. Although unsuccessful, the mutiny marked the end of the first lady's political hopes. She died the following July.
Opposition and repression
The first to vocally oppose Peron rule were the Argentine intelligentsia and the middle-class. University students and professors were seen as particularly troublesome. Perón fired over 2000 university professors and faculty members from all major public education institutions. These included Nobel laureate Bernardo Houssay, a physiologist, University of La Plata physicist Rafael Grinfeld, painter Emilio Pettoruti, art scholars Pío Collivadino and Jorge Romero Brest, and noted author Jorge Luis Borges who at the time was head of the National Library of Buenos Aires, was appointed "poultry inspector" at the Buenos Aires Municipal Wholesale Market (a post he refused). Many left the country and migrated to Mexico, United States or Europe. Weiss recalls events in the universities:
As a young student in Buenos Aires in the early 1950s, I well remember the graffiti found on many an empty wall all over town: "Build the Fatherland. Kill a Student" (Haga patria, mate un estudiante). Perón opposed the universities, which questioned his methods and his goals. A well-remembered slogan was, Alpargatas sí, libros no ("Shoes? Yes! Books? No!"). Universities were then intervened, the faculty was pressured to get in line and those who resisted where blacklisted, fired or exiled from the country. In most public universities Peronist puppets were appointed as administrator. Others were closed altogether.
The labour movement that had brought Perón to power was not exempt from the iron fist. In the 1946 elections for the post of Secretary General of the CGT resulted in telephone workers' union leader Luis Gay's victory over Perón's nominee, former retail workers' leader Ángel Borlenghi—both central figures in Perón's famed 17 October comeback. The president had Luis Gay expelled from the CGT three months later, and replaced him with José Espejo, a little-known rank-and-filer who was close to the first lady.
Union leader Cipriano Reyes
, jailed for years for turning against Perón
The meat-packers' union leader, Cipriano Reyes, turned against Perón when he replaced the Labour Party with the Peronist Party in 1947. Organizing a strike in protest, Reyes was arrested on the charge of plotting against the lives of the president and first lady, though the allegations were never substantiated. Tortured in prison, Reyes was denied parole five years later, and freed only after the regime's 1955 downfall. Cipriano Reyes was one of hundreds of Perón's opponents held at Buenos Aires' Ramos Mejía General Hospital, one of whose basements was converted into a police detention center where torture became routine.
The populist leader was intolerant of both left-wing and conservative opposition. Though he used violence, Perón preferred to deprive the opposition of their access to media. Interior Minister Borlenghi administered El Laborista, the leading official news daily. Carlos Aloe, a personal friend of Evita's, oversaw an array of leisure magazines published by Editorial Haynes, which the Peronist Party bought a majority stake in. Through the Secretary of the Media, Raúl Apold, socialist dailies such as La Vanguardia or Democracia, and conservative ones such as La Prensa or La Razón, were simply closed or expropriated in favor of the CGT or ALEA, the regime's new state media company. Intimidation of the press increased: between 1943 and 1946, 110 publications were closed down; others such as La Nación and Roberto Noble's Clarín became more cautious and self-censoring. Perón appeared more threatened by dissident artists than by opposition political figures (though UCR leader Ricardo Balbín spent most of 1950 in jail). Numerous prominent cultural and intellectual figures were imprisoned (publisher and critic Victoria Ocampo, for one) or forced into exile, among them comedian Niní Marshall, film maker Luis Saslavsky, pianist Osvaldo Pugliese and actress Libertad Lamarque, victim of a rivalry with Eva Perón.
In 1938, Perón was sent on a diplomatic mission to Europe. During this time he became enamoured of the Italian fascist model. Perón's admiration for Benito Mussolini is well documented. Likewise he took as model of inspiration the government of Ioannis Metaxas in Greece and Adolf Hitler in Germany, and his exact words in that respect were as follows:
Italian Fascism made people's organizations participate more on the country's political stage. Before Mussolini's rise to power, the state was separated from the workers, and the former had no involvement in the latter. [...] Exactly the same process happened in Germany, that is the state was organized [to serve] for a perfectly structured community, for a perfectly structured population: a community where the state was the tool of the people, whose representation was, in my opinion, effective.
— Juan Perón
During his reign, Perón and his administrators often resorted to organized violence and dictatorial rule. He often showed contempt for any opponents; and regularly characterized them as traitors and agents of foreign powers; subverted freedom of speech and sought to crush any vocal dissidents through such actions as nationalizing the broadcasting system, centralizing the unions under his control and monopolizing the supply of newspaper print. At times, Perón also resorted to tactics such as illegally imprisoning opposition politicians and journalists, including Radical Civic Union leader Ricardo Balbin; and shutting down opposition papers, such as La Prensa.
Most modern scholars categorise Peron as a fascist leader. Carlos Fayt states that Peronism was just "an Argentine implementation of Italian fascism". Paul M. Hayes, meanwhile, reaches the conclusion that "the Peronist movement produced a form of fascism that was distinctively Latin American".
Revisionist and historian, Felipe Pigna believes that no researcher who has deeply studied Perón should consider him a fascist. Pigna believes Perón was only a pragmatist who took useful elements from all modern ideologies of the time, such as fascism, but also the "New Deal" policies of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And that Perón was neither fascist nor anti-fascist, simply realist, and that the active intervention of the working class in politics, as he saw in those countries, was a definitive phenomenon.
Protection of Nazi war criminals
After World War II, Argentina became a haven for Nazi war criminals, with explicit protection from Perón, who even shortly before his death commented on the Nuremberg Trials:
In Nuremberg at that time something was taking place that I personally considered a disgrace and an unfortunate lesson for the future of humanity. I became certain that the Argentine people also considered the Nuremberg process a disgrace, unworthy of the victors, who behaved as if they hadn't been victorious. Now we realize that they [the Allies] deserved to lose the war.
Author Uki Goñi alleges that Axis Power collaborators, including Pierre Daye, met with Perón at Casa Rosada, the President's official executive mansion. In this meeting, a network would have been created with support by the Argentine Immigration Service and the Foreign Office. The Swiss Chief of Police Heinrich Rothmund and the Croatian priest Krunoslav Draganović also helped organize the ratline.
An investigation of 22,000 documents by the DAIA in 1997 discovered that the network was managed by Rodolfo Freude who had an office in the Casa Rosada and was close to Eva Perón's brother, Juan Duarte. According to Ronald Newton, Ludwig Freude, Rodolfo's father, was probably the local representative of the Office Three secret service headed by Joachim von Ribbentrop, with probably more influence than the German ambassador Edmund von Thermann. He had met Perón in the 1930s, and had contacts with Generals Juan Pistarini, Domingo Martínez, and José Molina. Ludwig Freude's house became the meeting place for Nazis and Argentine military officers supporting the Axis. In 1943, he traveled with Perón to Europe to attempt an arms deal with Germany.
After the war, Ludwig Freude was investigated over his connection to possible looted Nazi art, cash and precious metals on deposit at two Argentine banks, Banco Germanico and Banco Tornquist. But on 6 September 1946, the Freude investigation was terminated by presidential decree.
Examples of Nazis and collaborators who relocated to Argentina include Emile Dewoitine, who arrived in May 1946 and worked on the Pulqui jet; Erich Priebke, who arrived in 1947; Josef Mengele in 1949; Adolf Eichmann in 1950; Austrian representative of the Škoda arms manufacturer in Spain Reinhard Spitzy; Charles Lescat, editor of Je Suis Partout in Vichy France; SS functionary Ludwig Lienhardt; and SS-Hauptsturmführer Klaus Barbie.
Many members of the notorious Croatian Ustaše (including their leader, Ante Pavelić) took refuge in Argentina, as did Milan Stojadinović, the former Serbian Prime Minister of monarchist Yugoslavia. In 1946 Stojadinović went to Rio de Janeiro, and then to Buenos Aires, where he was reunited with his family. Stojadinović spent the rest of his life as presidential advisor on economic and financial affairs to governments in Argentina and founded the financial newspaper El Economista in 1951, which still carries his name on its masthead.
A Croatian priest, Krunoslav Draganović, organizer of the San Girolamo ratline, was authorized by Perón to assist Nazi operatives to come to Argentina and evade prosecution in Europe after World War II, in particular the Ustaše. Ante Pavelić became a security advisor of Perón, before leaving for Francoist Spain in 1957.
As in the United States (Operation Paperclip), Argentina also welcomed displaced German scientists such as Kurt Tank and Ronald Richter. Some of these refugees took important roles in Perón's Argentina, such as French collaborationist Jacques de Mahieu, who became an ideologue of the Peronist movement, before becoming mentor to a Roman Catholic nationalist youth group in the 1960s. Belgian collaborationist Pierre Daye became editor of a Peronist magazine. Rodolfo Freude, Ludwig's son, became Perón's chief of presidential intelligence in his first term.
Recently, Goñi's research, drawing on investigations in Argentine, Swiss, American, British and Belgian government archives, as well as numerous interviews and other sources, was detailed in The Real ODESSA: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón's Argentina (2002), showing how escape routes known as ratlines were used by former NSDAP members and like-minded people to escape trial and judgment. Goñi places particular emphasis on the part played by Perón's government in organizing the ratlines, as well as documenting the aid of Swiss and Vatican authorities in their flight. The Argentine consulate in Barcelona gave false passports to fleeing Nazi war criminals and collaborationists.
Tomás Eloy Martínez, writer and professor of Latin American studies at Rutgers University, wrote that Juan Perón allowed Nazis into the country in hopes of acquiring advanced German technology developed during the war. Martínez also noted that Eva Perón played no part in allowing Nazis into the country. However, one of Eva's bodyguards was in fact an ex-Nazi commando named Otto Skorzeny, who had met Juan on occasion.
Jewish and German communities of Argentina
The German Argentine community in Argentina is the fourth-largest immigrant group in the country, after the ethnic Spanish and the Italians. The German Argentine community predates Juan Perón's presidency, and began during the political unrest related to the 19th-century unification of Germany. Laurence Levine writes that Perón found 20th-century German civilization too "rigid" and had a "distaste" for it. Crassweller writes that while Juan Perón preferred Argentine culture, with which he felt a spiritual affinity, he was "pragmatic" in dealing with the diverse populace of Argentina.
While Juan Perón's Argentina allowed many Nazi criminals to take refuge in the country following World War II, the society also accepted more Jewish immigrants than any other country in Latin America. Today Argentina has a population of more than 200,000 Jewish citizens, the largest in Latin America, the third-largest in the Americas, and the sixth-largest in the world. The Jewish Virtual Library writes that while Juan Perón had sympathized with the Axis powers, "Perón also expressed sympathy for Jewish rights and in 1949 established diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, the first Latin American government to do so. Since then, more than 45,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel from Argentina."
Juan Perón and José Ber Gelbard
Evita and Juan Perón at the Plaza de Mayo, 1951. Raúl Apold
is visible behind Perón.
talks with Evita Perón on Meir's visit to Argentina, 1951.
Fraser and Navarro write that Juan Perón was a complicated man who over the years stood for many different, often contradictory, things. In the book Inside Argentina from Perón to Menem author Laurence Levine, former president of the US-Argentine Chamber of Commerce, writes, "although anti-Semitism existed in Argentina, Perón's own views and his political associations were not anti-Semitic...." Perón appointed several Jewish Argentinians as government advisers, such as his economic advisor, José Ber Gelbard, or the powerful Secretary of Media, Raúl Apold. Perón favoured the creation of institutions such as New Zion (Nueva Sión), the Argentine-Jewish Institute of Culture and Information, led by Simón Mirelman, and the Argentine-Israeli Chamber of Commerce. Also, he named Rabbi Amran Blum as the first Jewish professor of philosophy in the National University of Buenos Aires. Perón appointed Pablo Mangel, a Jew, as Argentina's first ambassador to that Israel. In 1946 Perón's government allowed Jewish army privates to celebrate their holidays, which was intended to foster Jewish integration.
Argentina signed a generous commercial agreement with Israel that granted favourable terms for Israeli acquisitions of Argentine commodities, and the Eva Perón Foundation sent significant humanitarian aid. In 1951 during their visit to Buenos Aires, Chaim Weizmann and Golda Meir expressed their gratitude for this aid.
U.S. Ambassador George S. Messersmith visited Argentina in 1947 during the first term of Juan Perón. Messersmith noted, "There is not as much social discrimination against Jews here as there is right in New York or in most places at home..." According to Raanan Rein, "Fewer anti-Semitic incidences took place in Argentina during Perón’s rule than during any other period in the 20th century.”
Second term (1952–1955)
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Perón and the ailing Evita during his second inaugural parade, June 1952. Eva died the following month.
Facing only token UCR and Socialist Party opposition and despite being unable to field his popular wife, Eva, as a running mate, Perón was re-elected in 1951 by a margin of over 30%. This election was the first to have extended suffrage to Argentine women and the first in Argentina to be televised: Perón was inaugurated on Channel 7 public television that October. He began his second term in June 1952 with serious economic problems, however, compounded by a severe drought that helped lead to a US$500 million trade deficit (depleting reserves).
Perón called employers and unions to a Productivity Congress to regulate social conflict through dialogue, but the conference failed without reaching an agreement. Divisions among Peronists intensified, and the President's worsening mistrust led to the forced resignation of numerous valuable allies, notably Buenos Aires Province Governor Domingo Mercante. Again on the defensive, Perón accelerated generals' promotions and extended them pay hikes and other benefits. He also accelerated landmark construction projects slated for the CGT or government agencies; among these was the 41-story and 141 m (463 ft) high Alas Building (transferred to the Air Force by a later regime).
Opposition to Perón grew bolder following Eva Perón's death on 26 July 1952. On 15 April 1953, a terrorist group (never identified) detonated two bombs in a public rally at Plaza de Mayo, killing 7 and injuring 95. Amid the chaos, Perón exhorted the crowd to take reprisals; they made their way to their adversaries' gathering places, the Socialist Party headquarters and the aristocratic Jockey Club (both housed in magnificent turn-of-the-century Beaux-Arts buildings), and burned them to the ground.
Designed and manufactured in Argentina, the Justicialist
was part of Perón's effort to develop a local auto industry.
A stalemate of sorts ensued between Perón and his opposition and, despite austerity measures taken late in 1952 to remedy the country's unsustainable trade deficit, the president remained generally popular. In March 1954, Perón called a vice-presidential election to replace the late Hortensio Quijano, which his candidate won by a nearly two-to-one margin. Given what he felt was as solid a mandate as ever and with inflation in single digits and the economy on a more secure footing, Perón ventured into a new policy: the creation of incentives designed to attract foreign investment.
Drawn to an economy with the highest standard of living in Latin America and a new steel mill in San Nicolás de los Arroyos, automakers FIAT and Kaiser Motors responded to the initiave by breaking ground on new facilities in the city of Córdoba, as did the freight truck division of Daimler-Benz, the first such investments since General Motors' Argentine assembly line opened in 1926. Perón also signed an important exploration contract with Standard Oil of California, in May 1955, consolidating his new policy of substituting the two largest sources of that era's chronic trade deficits (imported petroleum and motor vehicles) with local production brought in through foreign investment. Arturo Frondizi, who had been the centrist Radical Civic Union's 1951 vice-presidential nominee, publicly condemned what he considered to be an anti-patriotic decision; as president three years later, however, he himself signed exploration contracts with foreign oil companies.
As 1954 drew to a close, Perón unveiled reforms far more controversial to the normally conservative Argentine public, the legalization of divorce and of prostitution. The Roman Catholic Church's Argentine leaders, whose support of Perón's government had been steadily waning since the advent of the Eva Perón Foundation, were now open antagonists of the man they called "the tyrant." Though much of Argentina's media had, since 1950, been either controlled or monitored by the administration, lurid pieces on his ongoing relationship with an underage girl named Nélida Rivas (known as Nelly), something Perón never denied, filled the gossip pages. Pressed by reporters on whether his supposed new paramour was, as the magazines claimed, thirteen years of age, the fifty-nine-year-old Perón responded that he was "not superstitious."
Before long, however, the president's humor on the subject ran out and, following the expulsion of two Catholic priests he believed to be behind his recent image problems, a 15 June 1955 declaration of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation (not of Pope Pius XII himself, who alone had authority to excommunicate a head of state) was interpreted as declaring Perón excommunicated. The following day, Perón called for a rally of support on the Plaza de Mayo, a time-honored custom among Argentine presidents during a challenge. However, as he spoke before a crowd of thousands, Navy fighter jets flew overhead and dropped bombs into the crowded square below before seeking refuge in Uruguay.
Scene in the Plaza de Mayo following a failed coup attempt against Perón, 16 June 1955. He was deposed three months later.
The incident, part of a coup attempt against Perón, killed 364 people and was, from a historical perspective, the only air assault ever on Argentine soil, as well as a portent of the mayhem that Argentine society would suffer in the 1970s. It moreover touched off a wave of reprisals on the part of Peronists. Reminiscent of the incidents in 1953, Peronist crowds ransacked eleven Buenos Aires churches, including the Metropolitan Cathedral. On 16 September 1955, a nationalist Catholic group from both the Army and Navy, led by General Eduardo Lonardi, General Pedro E. Aramburu, and Admiral Isaac Rojas, led a revolt from Córdoba. They took power in a coup three days later, which they named Revolución Libertadora (the "Liberating Revolution"). Perón barely escaped with his life, leaving Nelly Rivas behind, and fleeing on the gunboat ARP Paraguay provided by Paraguayan leader Alfredo Stroessner, up the Paraná River.
At that point Argentina was more politically polarized than it had been since 1880. The landowning elites and other conservatives pointed to an exchange rate that had rocketed from 4 to 30 pesos per dollar and consumer prices that had risen nearly fivefold. Employers and moderates generally agreed, qualifying that with the fact the economy had grown by over 40% (the best showing since the 1920s). The underprivileged and humanitarians looked back upon the era as one in which real wages grew by over a third and better working conditions arrived alongside benefits like pensions, health care, paid vacations and the construction of record numbers of needed schools, hospitals, works of infrastructure and housing.
The new military regime went to great lengths to destroy both Juan and Eva Perón's reputation, putting up public exhibits of what they maintained was the Peróns' scandalously sumptuous taste for antiques, jewelry, roadsters, yachts and other luxuries. They also accused other Peronist leaders of corruption; but, ultimately, though many were prosecuted, none was convicted.Eduardo Lonardi, appointed a Civilian Advisory Board. However, its preference for a gradual approach to de-Perónization helped lead to Lonardi's ousting, though most of the board's recommendations withstood the new president's scrutiny.
The junta's first leader,
Lonardi's replacement, Lieutenant-General Pedro Aramburu, outlawed the mere mention of Juan or Eva Perón's names under Decree Law 4161/56. Throughout Argentina, Peronism and the very display of Peronist mementos was banned. Partly in response to these and other excesses, Peronists and moderates in the army organized a counter-coup against Aramburu, in June 1956. Possessing an efficient intelligence network, however, Aramburu foiled the plan, having the plot's leader, General Juan José Valle, and 26 others executed. Aramburu turned to similarly drastic means in trying to rid the country of the spectre of the Peróns, themselves. Eva Perón's corpse was removed from its display at CGT headquarters and ordered hidden under another name in a modest grave in Milan, Italy. Perón himself, for the time residing in Caracas, Venezuela at the kindness of ill-fated President Marcos Pérez Jiménez, suffered a number of attempted kidnappings and assassinations ordered by Aramburu.
Continuing to exert considerable direct influence over Argentine politics despite the ongoing ban of the Justicialist Party as Argentina geared for the 1958 elections, Perón instructed his supporters to cast their ballots for the moderate Arturo Frondizi, a splinter candidate within the Peronists' largest opposition party, the Radical Civic Union (UCR). Frondizi went on to defeat the better-known (but, more anti-Peronist) UCR leader, Ricardo Balbín. Perón backed a "Popular Union" (UP) in 1962, and when its candidate for governor of Buenos Aires Province (Andrés Framini) was elected, Frondizi was forced to resign by the military. Unable to secure a new alliance, Perón advised his followers to cast blank ballots in the 1963 elections, demonstrating direct control over one fifth of the electorate.
Perón's stay in Venezuela had been cut short by the 1958 ousting of General Pérez Jiménez. In Panama, he met the nightclub singer María Estela Martínez (known as "Isabel"). Eventually settling in Madrid, Spain under the protection of Francisco Franco, he married Isabel in 1961 and was admitted back into the Catholic Church in 1963.
Following a failed December 1964 attempt to return to Buenos Aires, he sent his wife to Argentina in 1965, to meet political dissidents and advance Perón's policy of confrontation and electoral boycotts. She organized a meeting in the house of Bernardo Alberte, Perón's delegate and sponsor of various left-wing Peronist movements such as the CGT de los Argentinos (CGTA), an offshoot of the umbrella CGT union. During Isabel's visit, adviser Raúl Lastiri introduced her to his father-in-law, José López Rega. A policeman with an interest in the occult, he won Isabel's trust through their common dislike of Jorge Antonio, a prominent Argentine industrialist and the Peronist movement's main financial backer during their perilous 1960s. Accompanying her to Spain, López Rega worked for Perón's security before becoming the couple's personal secretary. A return of the Popular Union (UP) in 1965 and their victories in congressional elections that year helped lead to the overthrow of the moderate President Arturo Illia, and to the return of dictatorship.
Perón became increasingly unable to control the CGT, itself. Though he had the support of its Secretary General, José Alonso, others in the union favored distancing the CGT from the exiled leader. Chief among them was Steel and Metalworkers Union head Augusto Vandor. Vandor challenged Perón from 1965 to 1968 by defying Perón's call for an electoral boycott (leading the UP to victories in the 1965 elections), and with mottos such as "Peronism without Perón" and "to save Perón, one has to be against Perón." Dictator Juan Carlos Onganía's continued repression of labour demands, however, helped lead to Vandor's rapproachment with Perón—a development cut short by Vandor's as-yet unsolved 1969 murder. Labour agitation increased; the CGTA, in particular, organized opposition to the dictatorship between 1968 and 1972, and it would have an important role in the May–June 1969 Cordobazo insurrection.
Perón began courting the far left during Onganía's dictatorship. In his book La Hora de los Pueblos (1968), Perón enunciated the main principles of his purported new Tricontinental political vision:
Mao is at the head of Asia, Nasser of Africa, De Gaulle of the old Europe and Castro of Latin America.
— Juan Perón, La Hora de los Pueblos
He supported the more militant unions and maintained close links with the Montoneros, a far-left Catholic Peronist group. On 1 June 1970, the Montoneros kidnapped and assassinated former anti-Peronist President Pedro Aramburu in retaliation for the June 1956 mass execution of a Peronist uprising against the junta. In 1971, he sent two letters to the film director Octavio Getino, one congratulating him for his work with Fernando Solanas and Gerardo Vallejo, in the Grupo Cine Liberación, and another concerning two film documentaries, La Revolución Justicialista and Actualización política y doctrinaria.
He also cultivated ties with ultraconservatives and the extreme right. He supported the leader of the conservative wing of the UCR, his erstwhile prisoner Ricardo Balbín, against competition from within the UCR itself. Members of the right-wing Tacuara Nationalist Movement, considered the first Argentine guerrilla group, also turned towards him. Founded in the early 1960s, the Tacuaras were a fascist, anti-Semitic and conformist group founded on the model of Primo de Rivera's Falange, and at first strongly opposed Peronism. However, they split after the 1959 Cuban Revolution into three groups: the one most opposed to the Peronist alliance, led by Catholic priest Julio Meinvielle, retained the original hard-line stance; the New Argentina Movement (MNA), headed by Dardo Cabo, was founded on 9 June 1961, to commemorate General Valle's Peronist uprising on the same date in 1956, and became the precursor to all modern Catholic nationalist groups in Argentina; and the Revolutionary Nationalist Tacuara Movement (MNRT), formed by Joe Baxter and José Luis Nell, who joined Peronism believing in its capacity for revolution, and without forsaking nationalism, broke from the Church and abandoned anti-Semitism. Baxter's MNRT became progressively Marxist, and many of the Montoneros and of the ERP's leaders came from this group.
Following Onganía's replacement in June 1970, General Roberto M. Levingston proposed the replacement of Argentina's myriad political parties with "four or five" (vetted by the Revolución Argentina regime). This attempt to govern indefinitely against the will of the different political parties united Peronists and their opposition in a joint declaration of 11 November 1970, billed as la Hora del Pueblo (The Hour of the People), which called for free and immediate democratic elections to put an end to the political crisis. The declaration was signed by the Radical Civic Union (UCRP), the Justicialist Party (Peronist Party), the Argentine Socialist Party (PSA), the Democratic Progressive Party (PCP) and the Partido Bloquista (PB).
The opposition's call for elections led to Levingston's replacement by General Alejandro Lanusse, in March 1971. Faced with strong opposition and social conflicts, General Lanusse declared his intention to restore constitutional democracy by 1973, though without Peronist participation. Lanusse proposed the Gran Acuerdo Nacional (Great National Agreement) in July 1971, which was to find an honorable exit for the military junta without allowing Peronism to participate in the election. The proposal was rejected by Perón, who formed the FRECILINA alliance (Frente Cívico de Liberación Nacional, Civic Front of National Liberation), headed by his new delegate Héctor José Cámpora (a member of the Peronist Left). The alliance gathered his Justicialist Party and the Integration and Development Movement (MID), headed by Arturo Frondizi. FRECILINA pressed for free and unrestricted elections, which ultimately took place in March 1973.
The new leader, General Eduardo Lonardi, waves in a 1955 newsmagazine cover. His gradualist approach to "de-Perónization" led to his prompt ousting.
First meeting of the Junta's Civilian Advisory Board, 1955. Despite great pressure to the contrary, the board recommended that most of Perón's social reforms be kept in place.
Student unrest in Rosario, 1969 (the Rosariazo). Unable to return on his volition, Perón began rallying besieged leftist students (the very people he had repressed in office).
UCR leader Ricardo Balbín, Conservative Horacio Thedy and Perón's delegate, Daniel Paladino (middle three) find rare common cause after General Levingston's 1970 power grab. Their joint Hour of the People statement helped lead to elections in 1973 (and to Perón's return).
Relationship with Che Guevara
Che Guevara and Perón were sympathetic to each other. Pacho O'Donnell states that Che Guevara, as Cuban minister, attempted to arrange for the return of Perón to Argentina in the 1960s and sent financial support for that end. However, Perón disapproved of Guevara's advocacy of guerrilla warfare as antiquated. In Madrid, Perón and Guevara met twice. These meetings, as the meetings Perón held with other leftists in Madrid (such as Salvador Allende), were arranged with great secrecy to avoid complaints or expulsion from Francoist Spain. According to Enrique Pavón Pereyra, who was present at the second meeting between Guevara and Perón in Madrid, Perón would have discouraged and warned Guevara of his guerrilla plans in Bolivia: "you will not survive in Bolivia. Suspend that plan. Search for alternatives. [...] Do not commit suicide."
Enrique Pavón Pereyra was only present for the first part of the meeting; he then served mate so that Perón and Guevara could drink together and left the meeting room to provide them with some privacy. Pavón Pereyra speculated about the conversation that followed in his absence: according to him, Perón would likely have explained to Guevara that he could not compromise support for his planned operations, but that "when" Guevara "moved activities" to Argentina he would provide Peronist support. After the encounter, Perón commented to a friend in a letter about meeting Guevara, calling him "an immature utopian – but one of us – I am happy for it to be so because he is giving the yankees a real headache."
Third term (1973–1974)
General elections were held on 11 March 1973. Perón was banned from running, but a stand-in, Dr. Héctor Cámpora, a left-wing Peronist and his personal representative, won the election and took office on 25 May. On 20 June 1973, Perón returned from Spain to end his 18-year exile. According to Página 12 newspaper, Licio Gelli, master of Propaganda Due, had provided an Alitalia plane to return Perón to his native country. Gelli was part of a committee supporting Perón, along with Carlos Saúl Menem (future President of Argentina, 1989–1999). The former Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti recalled an encounter between Perón, his wife Isabel Martínez and Gelli, saying that Perón knelt before Licio Gelli to salute him.
On the day of Perón's return, a crowd of left-wing Peronists (estimated at 3.5 million according to police) gathered at the Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires to welcome him. Perón was accompanied by Cámpora, whose first measures were to grant amnesty to all political prisoners and re-establish relations with Cuba, helping Fidel Castro break the United States embargo against Cuba. This, along with his social policies, had earned him the opposition of right-wing Peronists, including the trade-unionist bureaucracy.
Camouflaged snipers opened fire on the crowd at the airport. The left-wing Peronist Youth Organization and the Montoneros had been trapped. At least 13 people were killed and 365 injured in this episode, which became known as the Ezeiza massacre.
Cámpora and Vice President Vicente Solano Lima resigned in July 1973, paving the way for new elections, this time with Perón's participation as the Justicialist Party nominee. Argentina faced mounting political instability, and Perón was viewed by many as the country's only hope for prosperity and safety. UCR leader Ricardo Balbín and Perón contemplated a Peronist-Radical joint government, but opposition in both parties made this impossible. Besides opposition among Peronists, Ricardo Balbín had to consider opposition within the UCR itself, led by Raúl Alfonsín, a leader among the UCR's center-left. Perón received 62% of the vote, returning him to the presidency. He began his third term on 12 October 1973, with Isabel, his wife, as Vice President.
On Perón's advice, Cámpora had appointed José Ber Gelbard policy adviser to the critical Economy Ministry. Inheriting an economy that had doubled in output since 1955 with little indebtedness and only modest new foreign investment, inflation had become a fixture in daily life and was worsening: consumer prices rose by 80% in the year to May 1973 (triple the long-term average, up to then). Making this a policy priority, Ber Gelbard crafted a "social pact" in hopes of finding a happy median between the needs of management and labour. Providing a framework for negotiating price controls, guidelines for collective bargaining and a package of subsidies and credits, the pact was promptly signed by the CGT (then the largest labour union in South America) and management (represented by Julio Broner and the CGE). The measure was largely successful, initially: inflation slowed to 12% and real wages rose by over 20% during the first year. GDP growth accelerated from 3% in 1972 to over 6% in 1974. The plan also envisaged the paydown of Argentina's growing public external debt, then around US$8 billion, within four years.
The improving economic situation encouraged Perón to pursue interventionist social and economic policies similar to those he had carried out in the Forties: nationalizing banks and various industries, subsidizing native businesses and consumers, regulating and taxing the agricultural sector, reviving the IAPI, placing restrictions on foreign investment, and funding a number of social welfare programs. In addition, new rights for workers were introduced.
The 1973 oil shock, however, forced Ber Gelbard to rethink the Central Bank's projected reserves and, accordingly, undid planned reductions in stubborn budget deficits, then around US$2 billion a year (4% of GDP). Increasingly frequent collective bargaining agreements in excess of Social Pact wage guidelines and a resurgence in inflation led to growing strain on the viability of the plan by mid-1974, however.
Perón's third term was also marked by an escalating conflict between the Peronist left- and right-wing factions. This turmoil was fueled primarily by calls for repression against the left on the part of leading CGT figures, a growing segment of the armed forces (particularly the navy) and right-wing radicals within his own party, notably Perón's most fascist adviser, José López Rega. López Rega, appointed Minister of Social Welfare, was in practice given power far beyond his purview, soon controlling up to 30 percent of the federal budget. Diverting increasing funds, he formed the Triple A, a death squad that soon began targeting not only the violent left; but moderate opposition, as well. The Montoneros became marginalized in the Peronist movement and were mocked by Perón himself after the Ezeiza massacre. In his speech to the governors on 2 August 1973, Perón openly criticized radical Argentine youth for a lack of political maturity.
The rift between Perón and the far left became irreconcilable following 25 September 1973, murder of José Ignacio Rucci, the moderately conservative Secretary General of CGT. Rucci was killed in a commando ambush in front of his residence. His murder was long attributed to the Montoneros (whose record of violence was well-established by then), but it is arguably Argentina's most prominent unsolved mystery.
Enraged, Perón enlisted López Rega to target left-wing opponents. Shortly after Perón's attack on left-wing Peronism, the Montoneros went underground.
Another guerrilla group, the Guevarist ERP, also opposed the Peronist right-wing. They started engaging in armed struggle, assaulting an important Army barracks in Azul, Buenos Aires Province on 19 January, and creating a foco (insurrection) in Tucumán, a historically underdeveloped province in Argentina's largely rural northwest. In May 1973 the ERP claimed to have extorted $1 million in goods from the Ford Motor Company, after murdering one executive and wounding another. Five months after the payment, the guerrillas killed another Ford executive and his three bodyguards. Only after Ford threatened to close down their operation in Argentina altogether, did Perón agree to have his army protect the plant.
Perón's failing health complicated matters. He suffered from an enlarged prostate and heart disease, and by at least one account, he may have been senile by the time he was sworn in for his third term. His wife frequently had to take over as Acting President over the course of the next year. According to a CIA cable, Peron frequently alternated between lucidity and senility.
Perón maintained a full schedule of policy meetings with both government officials and chief base of support, the CGT. He also presided over the inaugural of the Atucha I Nuclear Power Plant (Latin America's first) in April; the reactor, begun while he was in exile, was the fruition of work started in the 1950s by the National Atomic Energy Commission, his landmark bureau. His diminishing support from the far left (which believed Perón had come under the control of the right-wing entorno (entourage) led by López Rega, UOM head Lorenzo Miguel, and Perón's own wife) turned to open enmity following rallies on the Plaza de Mayo on 1 May and 12 June in which the president condemned their demands and increasingly violent activities.
Perón was reunited with another friend from the 1950s – Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner – on 16 June to sign the bilateral treaty that broke ground on Yacyretá Hydroelectric Dam (the world's second-largest). Perón returned to Buenos Aires with clear signs of pneumonia and, on 28 June, he suffered a series of heart attacks. Isabel was on a trade mission to Europe, but returned urgently and was secretly sworn in on an interim basis on 29 June. Following a promising day at the official presidential residence of Quinta de Olivos in the Buenos Aires suburb of Olivos, Juan Perón suffered a final attack on Monday, 1 July 1974 and died at 13:15. He was 78 years old.
Perón's corpse was first transported by hearse to Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral for a funeral mass the next day. Afterwards the body, dressed in full military uniform, was taken to the Palace of the National Congress, where it lay in state over the next 46 hours, during which more than 130,000 people filed past the coffin. Finally, at 09:30 on a rainy Thursday, 4 July the funeral procession commenced. Perón's Argentine flag-covered casket was placed on a limber towed by a small army truck (escorted by cavalry and a large motorcade of motorcycles and a few armored vehicles) through the capital's streets back to Olivos. At least one million people turned out for Perón's funeral, some of whom threw flowers at the casket and chanted, "¡Perón! ¡Perón! ¡Perón!" as it passed by. Along the 10-mile route from the Palace to Olivos, hundreds of armed soldiers lining it were assigned to restrain the crowd. As many as 2,000 foreign journalists covered the ceremony. The funeral cortege reached its final destination two and a half hours later. There, the coffin was greeted by a 21-gun salute. Many international heads of state offered condolences to Argentina following the demise of President Perón. Three days of official mourning were declared thereafter. Perón had recommended that his wife, Isabel, rely on Balbín for support, and at the president's burial Balbín uttered an historic phrase: "The old adversary bids farewell to a friend."
Isabel Perón succeeded her husband to the presidency, but proved incapable of managing the country's political and economic problems, including the left-wing insurgency and the reactions of the extreme right. Ignoring her late husband's advice, Isabel gave Balbín no role in her new government, instead granting broad powers to López Rega, who started a "dirty war" against political opponents.
Isabel Perón's term ended abruptly on 24 March 1976, during a United States backed military coup d'état. A military junta, headed by General Jorge Videla, took control of the country, establishing the self-styled National Reorganization Process. The junta ramped up the "dirty war", combining widespread persecution of political dissidents with state terrorism. The death toll rose to thousands (at least 9,000, with human rights organizations claiming it was closer to 30,000). Many of these were "the disappeared" (desaparecidos), people kidnapped and executed without trial or record.
Perón hosts the head of the opposition UCR, Ricardo Balbín, at his home in preparations for the 1973 campaign.
José López Rega, Perón's personal secretary, proved a detrimental influence over the aging leader, leveraging this for corruption and revenge.
Perón greets supporters during a 12 June 1974 rally, his last.
Perón's stand-in, Héctor Cámpora, votes in the 1973 elections. Perón nominated Cámpora to placate the Left, but their support for Perón waned after the leader made them guilty by association for the growing wave of violence.
Relationship with Allende and Pinochet
Salvador Allende had actively rejected Perón's attempts of establishing cooperation between Chile and Argentina during the 1940s and 1950s. Allende received the election of Héctor Cámpora, who had previously lived in exile in Chile, as good news. Allende sent Aniceto Rodríguez to Buenos Aires to work on an alliance between the Socialist Party of Chile and the Justicialism. Later Allende attended the presidential inauguration of Campora. All of this was greeted favorably by Perón, who came to refer to Allende as "compañero". However, Perón also pointed to Allende as a cautionary example for the most radical of his followers. In September just a few days before the 1973 Chilean coup d'etat he addressed Tendencia Revolucionaria:
If you want to do as Allende, then look how it goes for Allende. One has to be calm.
— Juan Perón
Perón condemned the coup as a "fatality for the continent" stating that the coup leader Augusto Pinochet represented interests "well known" to him. He praised Allende for his "valiant attitude" of committing suicide. He took note of the role of the United States in instigating the coup by recalling his familiarity with coup-making processes.
On 14 May 1974 Perón received Augusto Pinochet at the Morón Airbase. Pinochet was heading to meet Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay so the encounter at Argentina was technically a stopover. Pinochet and Perón are both reported to have felt uncomfortable during the meeting. Perón expressed his wishes to settle the Beagle conflict and Pinochet his concerns about Chilean exiles in Argentina near the frontier with Chile. Perón would have conceded on moving these exiles from the frontiers to eastern Argentina, but he warned "Perón takes his time, but accomplishes" (Perón tarda, pero cumple). Perón justified his meeting with Pinochet stating that it was important to keep good relations with Chile under all circumstances and with whoever might be in government.
Mausoleum and legacy
Perón Street in midtown Buenos Aires, one of numerous streets and avenues named in his honor when democracy returned to Argentina in 1983. It refers to him as General and not President.
Perón was buried in La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires. On 10 June 1987, his tomb was desecrated, and his hands and some personal effects, including his sword, were stolen. Perón's hands were cut off with a chainsaw. A ransom letter asking for US$8 million was sent to some Peronist members of Congress. This profanation was a ritualistic act to condemn Perón's spirit to eternal unrest, according to journalists David Cox and Damian Nabot in their book Second Death, who connected it to Licio Gelli and military officers involved during Argentina's Dirty War. The bizarre incident remains unresolved.
On 17 October 2006, his body was moved to a mausoleum at his former summer residence, rebuilt as a museum, in the Buenos Aires suburb of San Vicente. A few people were injured in incidents as Peronist trade unions fought over access to the ceremony, although police were able to contain the violence enough for the procession to complete its route to the mausoleum. The relocation of Perón's body offered his self-proclaimed illegitimate daughter, Martha Holgado, the opportunity to obtain a DNA sample from his corpse. She had attempted to have this DNA analysis performed for 15 years, and the test in November 2006 ultimately proved she was not his daughter. Holgado died of liver cancer on 7 June 2007. Before her death, she vowed to continue the legal battle to prove she was Peron's biological child.
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El fascismo italiano llevó a las organizaciones populares a una participación efectiva en la vida nacional, de la cual había estado siempre apartado el pueblo. Hasta la ascensión de Mussolini al poder, la nación iba por un lado y el trabajador por otro, y éste último no tenía ninguna participación en aquella. [...] En Alemania ocurría exactamente el mismo fenómeno, o sea, un estado organizado para una comunidad perfectamente ordenada, para un pueblo perfectamente ordenado también; una comunidad donde el estado era el instrumento de ese pueblo, cuya representación era, a mi juicio, efectiva.
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