Juan Domingo Perón (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈxwan doˈmiŋɡo peˈɾon]; October 8, 1895 – July 1, 1974) was an Argentine military officer and politician. After serving in several government positions, including those of Minister of Labour and Vice President of the Republic, he was three times elected as President of Argentina, serving from June 1946 to September 1955, when he was overthrown by a coup d'état, and from October 1973 to July 1974.
During his first presidential term (1946-1952), Perón was supported by his second wife, Eva Duarte ("Evita"), and the two were immensely popular among many Argentines. 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 Hector 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.
Juan and Evita Perón are still considered icons by the Peronists. The Peróns' followers praised their efforts to eliminate poverty and to dignify labor, 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.
Childhood and youth
Perón was born in Lobos, Buenos Aires Province, on October 8, 1895. He was the son of Juana Sosa Toledo and Mario Tomás Perón. Juana Sosa was descended from indigenous Tehuelche from Patagonia in Argentina's south and his father, Mario Perón's forbears emigrated to Argentina from Spain, and the Italian island of Sardinia; in later life Perón would publicly express his pride in his Sardinian roots. The Perón branch of his family originated in Sardinia, from which his great-grandfather emigrated in the 1830s. He became a successful shoe merchant in Buenos Aires, and Perón's grandfather was a prosperous physician; his death in 1889 left his widow nearly destitute, however, and Perón's father relocated 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 migrated to the Patagonia region that year, where he later purchased a sheep ranch. Perón 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.
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 labor conflict in 1920 at La Forestal, then a leading firm 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 January 5, 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 September 10 at age 29; 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 Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Albania and Yugoslavia, and Spain. 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
A June 4, 1943 coup d'état was led by General Arturo Rawson against conservative President Ramón Castillo, who had been fraudulently elected to office. 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 Labor. Perón's work in the Labor 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 labor unions. This caused his power and influence to increase in the military government.
After the coup, socialists from the CGT-Nº1 labor union, through mercantile labor leader Ángel Borlenghi and railroad union lawyer Juan Atilio Bramuglia, made contact with Perón and fellow GOU Colonel Domingo Mercante. They established an alliance to promote labor laws that had long been demanded by the workers' movement, to strengthen the unions, and to transform the Department of Labor into a more significant government office. Perón had the Department of Labor elevated to a cabinet-level secretariat in November 1943.
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 marshalled 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 Labor portfolio. As Minister of Labor, Perón established the INPS (the first national social insurance system in Argentina), settled industrial disputes in favor of labor unions (as long as their leaders pledged political allegiance to him), and introduced a wide range of social welfare benefits for unionized workers. Employers were forced to improve working conditions and to provide severance pay and accident compensation, the conditions under which workers could be fired 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 and vacations were generalised to the entire workforce. Peron 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 organise themselves. From 1943 to 1946, real wages grew by only 4%, but in 1945 Peron 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 unionize, Peron became increasingly thought of as presidential timber.
On September 18, 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 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 October 9, 1945, he was forced to resign by opponents within the armed forces. Arrested four days later, he was released due to mass demonstrations organized by the CGT and other supporters; October 17 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 labor and women's groups. She and Perón were married on October 22.
Domestic policy and first term (1946–1952)
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 February 24, 1946 presidential elections.
Perón's candidacy on the Labor Party ticket, announced the day after the October 17, 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, Communist Party of Argentina 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 December 8, 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, U.S. Ambassador Spruille Braden published a white paper 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 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.
When Perón became president on June 4, 1946, his two stated goals were social justice and economic independence. These two goals avoided Cold War entanglements from choosing between capitalism over socialism, but he had no concrete means to achieve those goals. Perón instructed his economic advisors 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 Conference of Labour (CGT) was given overwhelming support by the new administration, which introduced labour courts and filled its cabinet with labor 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 labor 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 labor reforms, though permanently aligning large employers against the Peronists. Labor 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 labor union. As the country's labor force numbered around 5 million people at the time, Argentina's labor force was the most unionized in South America.
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, labor'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 February 24, 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.
In 1949 Perón first articulated his foreign policy, the "Third Way", 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 1918, and opened grain sales to the shortage-stricken Soviets.
As relations with the U.S. deteriorated, Perón made efforts to mitigate the misunderstandings, which was made easier after Truman replaced the hostile Braden with Ambassador George Messersmith. He 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. 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. His bid to host the 1956 Olympic Games in Buenos Aires was defeated by the International Olympic Committee by one vote.
Economic success was short-lived. Following a lumbering recovery during 1933 to 1945, from 1946 to 1948 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$450 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).
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 1948, 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.
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 a myriad of 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.
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. Oil production, however, rose only by about a fourth. As 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.
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).
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 Bramuglia's 1949 dismissal.
The rising influence of 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 of 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.
Eva Perón's influence and contribution
Eva Perón was instrumental as a symbol of hope to the common laborer 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, Evita supported a women's movement that concentrated on the rights of women, the poor and invalids.
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."
She established the Eva Perón Foundation in 1948, 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.
The portion of the five-year plans which argued for full employment, public healthcare and housing, labour benefits, and raises are 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 are 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. An August 22 rally organized for her by the CGT on Buenos Aires' wide Nueve de Julio Avenue failed to turn the tide. On September 28, elements in the Argentine Army attempted a coup against Perón. Although unsuccessful, the mutiny marked the end of the first lady's political hopes. She died the following July.
Perón's government also sponsored the five-time Formula 1 world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, who, without this funding, probably would've never made it to Europe.
Opposition and repression
Among upper-class Argentines, improvement of the workers' situation was a source of resentment; industrial workers from rural areas had formerly been treated as servants. It was common for better-off Argentines to refer to these workers using classist slurs like "little black heads" (cabecitas negras, the name of a bird), "greased" (grasas which came from people with grease on their hands or fingernails, i.e. blue-collar workers), "un-shirted" (descamisados, since they doffed their shirts to perform manual labor). Conservative Radical Civic Union Congressman Ernesto Sammartino mused that Perón's voters were a "zoological flood" (aluvión zoológico). In the 1940s, upper-class students were the first to oppose Peronist workers, with the slogan: "No to cheap shoe dictatorship" (No a la dictadura de las alpargatas). A graffiti revealing the strong opposition between Peronists and anti-Peronists appeared in upper-class districts in the 1950s, "Long live cancer!" (¡Viva el cáncer!), when Eva Perón was ill. She died of cervical cancer in 1952 at the age of thirty-three.
At a time when credentialed teaching personnel were in short supply, Perón had fired more than 1,500 university faculty who opposed him. 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 was appointed "poultry inspector" at the Buenos Aires Municipal Wholesale Market (a post he refused). Many faculty left the country and migrated to Mexico or the United States. 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'. In some, a Peronist mediocre was appointed principal. Others were closed for years."(Weiss, 2005, p. 45)
The labor movement that had brought Perón to power was not exempt from the iron fist. Elections in 1946 to 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 October 17 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. This was done on unsubstantiated charges that he had colluded with Perón's enemy, the former U.S. Ambassador Spruille Braden.
The meat-packers' union leader, Cipriano Reyes, turned against Perón when he replaced the Labor 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 comedienne Niní Marshall, film maker Luis Saslavsky, pianist Osvaldo Pugliese and actress Libertad Lamarque, victim of a rivalry with Eva Perón.
Perón and Fascism
In 1938 Perón was sent to many countries of Europe, to study them. At his return, he would explain that he had a positive impression about national syndicalism during the government of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany. By that year, he thought that those countries would become social democracies. His exact words were as follows:
Italian Fascism led popular organizations to an effective participation in national life, which had always been denied to the people. Before Mussolini's rise to power, the nation was on one hand and the worker on the other, and the latter had no involvement in the former. [...] In Germany happened exactly the same phenomenon, meaning, an organized state for a perfectly ordered community, for a perfectly ordered population as well: a community where the state was the tool of the nation, whose representation was, under my view, effective. I thought that this should be the future political form, meaning, the true people's democracy, the true social democracy.
After the end of World War II and the rise of Perón to a popular leader, antiperonist politicians and authors would point that Perón once manifested support for Mussolini and Hitler, implying that such support involved the whole of their governments or the paths actually taken by Italy or Germany after 1938. One of the most famous examples was when Spruille Braden did so during the 1946 election, leading to the "Braden or Perón" slogan that was key of the Peronist victory.
However, historian Felipe Pigna states that no researcher who has deeply studied Perón would consider him fascist. Pigna identifies Perón as a pragmatist who took useful elements from all modern ideologies of the time, such as fascism, but also the "New Deal" policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "national defense" principles, social views from religion, and even some socialist principles. According to historian Tulio Halperín Donghi, Perón was driven by strong convictions but not by full support to any mainstream ideology; although he did not try to hide his old admiration of fascist Italy, it wasn't a strong influence on him. Arturo Jauretche said that Perón was neither fascist or 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. Author Uki Goñi alleges that Axis Power collaborators, including Pierre Daye, met with Perón at Casa Rosada (Pink House), the President's official residence. 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 Roman Catholic 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 meetingplace for Nazis and Argentine military officers supporting the Axis. In 1943, he traveled with Perón to Europe to attempt an arms deal with Germany.
And 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 Tournquist. But on September 6, 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, former Commandant of Sobibor and Treblinka death camps Franz Stangl, Austrian representative of Spitzy in Spain Reinhard Spitzy, Charles Lescat, editor of Je Suis Partout in Vichy France, SS functionary Ludwig Lienhardt, German industrialist Ludwig Freude, 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 collaborationist 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.
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. Milan Stojadinović founded El Economista (The Economist magazine) in 1951, which still carries his name on its masthead.
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. Recently declassified files from Brazil and Chile reveal that during WWII Péron sold 10,000 blank Argentine passports to ODESSA – the organisation set up to protect former SS men in the event of defeat.
Perón and the Jewish and German communities of Argentina
When I realized that Perón, contrary to previous governments, gave Jewish citizens access to public office, I began to change my way of thinking about Argentine politics...
—Ezequiel Zabotinsky, president of the Jewish-Peronist Organizacion Israelita Argentina, 1952–1955
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...." Laurence also writes that one of Perón's advisors was a Jewish man from Poland named José Ber Gelbard. 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..."
Perón sought out other Jewish Argentines as government advisers, besides Ber Gelbard. The powerful Secretary of Media, Raúl Apold, also Jewish, was called "Perón's Goebbels." He 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. After Argentina became the first Latin American government to acknowledge the State of Israel, Perón appointed Pablo Mangel, a Jewish man, as ambassador to that country. Education and Diplomacy were the two strongholds of Catholic nationalism, and both appointments were highly symbolic. The same goes for the 1946 decision of allowing Jewish army privates to celebrate their holidays, which was intended to foster Jewish integration in another traditionally Catholic institution, the army.
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.
The German Argentine community in Argentina is the third-largest ethnic 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 established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949. Since then, more than 45,000 Jews have immigrated to Israel from Argentina."
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.
Perón's second term
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 Atlas Building (transferred to the Air Force by a later regime).
Opposition to Perón grew bolder following the first lady's July 26, 1952, passing. On April 15, 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.
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 Vice-Presidential elections 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. The centrist Radical Civic Union's 1951 Vice-Presidential nominee, Arturo Frondizi, 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 "Nelly" Rivas, 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 June 15, 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, Péron 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.
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 September 16, 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. Taking 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 the President's 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, no one was convicted. The junta's first leader, 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 stood the new president's scrutiny.
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 cadaver 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 Peronism or 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 165 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 labor demands, however, helped lead to Vandor's rapproachment with Perón—a development cut short by Vandor's as-yet unsolved 1969 murder. Labor 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 June 1, 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 conservatives and the far 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 anti-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 June 9, 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 November 11, 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 third term (1973–1974)
General elections were held on March 11, 1973. Perón was banned from running, but a stand-in, Héctor Cámpora, a left-wing Peronist and his personal secretary, was elected and took office on May 25. On June 20, 1973, Perón returned from Spain to end his 18-year exile. According to Página 12 newspaper, Licio Gelli, headmaster 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) 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 October 12, 1973, with Isabel, his wife, as Vice President.
Upon Cámpora's inaugural, Perón had him appoint a trusted policy adviser to the critical Economy Ministry, José Ber Gelbard. 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 labor. 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 labor 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 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 August 2, 1973, Perón openly criticized radical Argentine youth for a lack of political maturity.
The rift between Perón and the far left became irreconcilable following the September 25, 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 January 19, 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 Peron 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.
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 May 1 and June 12 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 June 16 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 June 28, he suffered a series of heart attacks. The vice-president, on a trade mission in Europe, returned urgently, secretly sworn in on an interim basis on June 29. Following a promising day, Perón suffered a final attack on July 1, 1974. He was 78.
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 March 24, 1976, during a 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.
Mausoleum and legacy
Perón was buried in La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires. On June 10, 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 La segunda muerte (Peron's Second Death), who connected it to Licio Gelli and military officers involved during Argentina's Dirty War. The bizarre incident remains unresolved.
On October 17, 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 June 7, 2007. Before her death, she vowed to continue the legal battle to prove she was Peron's biological child.
His namesake Peronist movement, to the present day a struggle of ideologically diverse and competing interests, remains the central political development of Argentina since 1945.
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