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Juan Peron

Juan Perón (October 8, 1895 – July 1, 1974)

Juan Perón was born in the town of Lobos, not far from Buenos Aires. As a young man he entered a military academy and found the life of a soldier to his liking. He was considered a promising young officer and rose through the ranks quickly. In 1938 he was sent to Europe as a military observer, and it was here that he developed his outspoken admiration for Benito Mussolini and his politics.

Back in Argentina, he was part of a 1943 coup against the government of Juan Castillo. Perón was an army colonel at the time. The years between 1943 and 1946 were very turbulent in Argentina, and Perón spent time both as Vice President of the nation and political prisoner. In 1944, he married his second wife (his first had passed away a few years before), Eva “Evita” Duarte. Perón was elected President in 1946.

Perón’s base was always the blue-collar Argentines: the upper class despised him. He strengthened unions while his wife dedicated schools and gave away state money to the poor. He was a great supporter of industry and many new factories were built during his tenure. His administration was also known for its friendliness towards Axis war criminals: dozens of prominent Nazis and French collaborators found their way to Argentina in the years following World War II, the most infamous of which was probably Dr. Josef Mengele.

Perón’s regime was marked by repression of opposition and favoritism of unions and the working class: it was a liberal dictatorship of sorts, but the common people generally loved him and Evita. Perón was re-elected in 1952, but the death of Evita at the age of 33 due to uterine cancer and a series of domestic terrorist attacks weakened his government, and in 1955 he was ousted in a coup and forced to go into exile in Spain.

Perón remained in Spain for years, as Argentina suffered through a series of ineffective administrations. His brand of politics – by now known as Peronism – was forbidden, and for a time even speaking his name was illegal. But Perón still had his supporters, who remembered his administration as one of stability, growth and support for the working class. Meanwhile, a cult of personality had developed around Evita, now considered almost a saint by working-class Argentines.

Continued problems at home paved the way for an elderly Perón to return to Argentina in 1972. He ran for President and won, with his third wife Isabel serving as his Vice-President. His return would not last long, however, as he died of a heart attack in 1974. Isabel, an ineffective president, tried her best, but was removed by a military coup in 1976, replaced by a government that would eventually be responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in the infamous “Dirty War.”

Perón and Evita are gone, but their legacy lives on. The image of Evita is everywhere in Argentina: even fifty years after her death she is a hero to the poor and working classes of Buenos Aires. Peronism as a political entity is still around: the Justicialist Party is unabashedly Peronist, advocating for liberal policies, nationalization of industries and strong unions. Perón cast a long shadow, and Argentina is still not out of it.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Argentina: Highlights, Beers at the End of the World, What’s in A Name?, Safety, Tips for Luxury Travelers, Services, Tips for Budget Travelers, Useful Argentine Slang, When to Go and Argentina Cinema.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
27 Feb 2008

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