| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
Juan Domingo Perón (1895–1974) was President of Argentina from 1946 to 1955, and again from 1973 to 1974. The charismatic founder of a Third Positionist, vaguely socialist, nationalist, and populist ideology known as Justicialism or Peronism, he remains an influential and controversial figure in his country.
As a seasoned officer and published author of many books on military topics, he took part in the 1930 coup d'état against President Hipólito Yrigoyen, which marked the beginning of the conservative Infamous Decade. Perón later served as a military observer in various European countries, including Fascist Italy. He came back to Argentina with a very positive and very skewed impression of fascism, which he erroneously perceived as something closer to social democracy than to totalitarianism. Maybe he was too busy banging Italian donnas to notice the difference, who knows.
The now Colonel Perón participated in another military coup, the 1943 "Revolution", which installed a nationalist military dictatorship and ended the Infamous Decade (hey, full circle!). Even though the coup was carried out by the GOU, a military secret society inspired by Perón's "fascist" ideas, instead of proclaiming himself "Supreme Duce and Generalissimo of the Argentine Reich" or something wacky like that, Perón asked to work as head of the insignificant Department of Labor (later renamed Secretariat of Labor and Forecast, Secretaría de Trabajo y Previsión). This was a calculated move, however, as his direct interactions with workers and his push for social reforms designed to improve working conditions made him very popular among the traditionally ignored and marginalized working class. His relationships with syndicalists and union leaders also helped him take control of the CGT, the country's largest trade union federation.
After the devastating 1944 San Juan earthquake, Perón organized several fundraising events with celebrities and radio stars. During one such event, he first met his future wife, María Eva Duarte, later known as Eva Perón or simply
Madonna Evita. His growing popularity didn't sit well with the members of the junta, so he was forced to resign and was jailed in Martín García, a naval prison island. On October 17, 1945, less than a week later, a mass demonstration organized by the CGT, Evita, and the working class descamisados ("shirtless ones", they were too poor to afford brown shirts) led to his liberation. Perón and Evita married shortly after that.
First two terms
In 1946, Perón ran for the presidency on an anti-imperialist, anti-oligarchic, pro-social justice and populist platform, supported by the CGT. He portrayed himself as a nationalist hero, and his opponent, José Tamborini, as a puppet of US Ambassador Spruille Braden (his campaign slogan was, in fact, "Braden or Perón"). However, Perón was no stinkin' commie (he remained, at least officially, neutral during the Cold War), and both the Communist and the Socialist parties supported Tamborini. Perón won by a landslide.
After World War II, with Europe in ruins, Perón's ambition was to transform Argentina into a superpower. He nationalized/expropriated several foreign companies (mostly British-owned) in order to achieve complete autarky, launched a five-year plan, focused on economic growth and infrastructure, and started developing a nuclear program on Huemul Island. He remained sympathetic to fascism, and granted asylum to many Nazi war criminals and collaborators as part of his own version of Operation Paperclip, most notably Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, Croatian dictator Ante Pavelić (leader of the Ustaše, a fascist and ultranationalist terrorist organization so sadistic and violent, even the fucking Nazis told them to knock it off) and Otto Skorzeny, the former Hitler bodyguard and SS officer who rescued Benito Mussolini from house arrest in 1943; Skorzeny was Perón's close advisor and Evita's bodyguard (and, presumably, even her lover). However, Perón himself wasn't anti-semitic.
Perón's regime was certainly repressive and intolerant of opposition, but contrary to what The Simpsons may have led you to believe, not in a murderous way. He favored media suppression, and intimidation, persecution, imprisonment and torture of prominent critics both left and right over straight-up forced disappearances. But then there's the 1947 Rincón Bomba massacre, a brutal eviction of members of the indigenous Pilagá people, which technically constitutes genocide.
Despite not being exactly a feminist icon, Perón granted women the right to vote and promoted Evita's social labor. His wife revealed herself as a very skilled politician in her own right and was considered by many to be the regime's second-in-command. She was loved by the poor, the sick and the elderly, and hated by the elite (the Peróns and their supporters derisively referred to them as "gorillas").
Both Perón and Evita developed a personality cult. One children's public school book contained Orwellian lines such as, "In the new Argentina, everyone is happy. Everyone feels happy. This is because of Perón's government. That's why every Argentine loves the Leader with all their soul". In 1947, Perón established Ciudad Evita, a city near Buenos Aires whose street layout was intentionally designed in the shape of Evita's profile. August 31, the day Evita gave a shocking radio speech announcing that she would not run as her husband's Vice-President in 1951 (because of her health problems), was made an unofficial national holiday ("Renunciamiento Day"). And from 1952 to 1955, the city of La Plata was briefly renamed Eva Perón.
In 1951, Perón was re-elected for a second term. However, things started to get rough. Economic growth stagnated, his anti-intellectual stance made him a lot of enemies among the Argentine upper-class intelligentsia (including writer Jorge Luis Borges, who had been "promoted" from library attendant to "poultry inspector" for opposing Perón), his progressive reforms (including a divorce law) infuriated conservatives and the Catholic Church, and perhaps most importantly, his wife Evita died of cancer.
On June 1955, members of an ultra-Catholic faction of the Air Force wrote Cristo Vence ("Christ is Victorious") on their airplanes and decided to rebel against the Peronist regime by bombing Plaza de Mayo, an important square in Buenos Aires adjacent to the Casa Rosada presidential palace, killing hundreds of innocent civilians. The attempted coup failed, anti-Catholic riots and church burnings by Perón supporters followed, but the dictator was finished. He was overthrown three months later by the so-called Revolución Libertadora ("Liberating Revolution"), a military coup better known by Peronists as the Revolución Fusiladora ("Shooting Revolution") for obvious reasons.
The Libertadora went to extreme lengths to destroy Perón and his legacy. They executed over 150 suspected Peronist sympathizers, renamed or banned all Peronist organizations, burned books and portraits of Perón and Evita, and made it illegal to even mention Perón's name. Evita's embalmed body was removed by the military junta from its resting place (the CGT headquarters), and the corpse was desecrated, mutilated and sexually abused; it would later be taken to Milan, Italy, and buried in secret under a fake name for almost 15 years. They also exaggerated Perón's crimes and sought to portray him as a degenerate monster, although they also legitimately exposed some dark aspects of Perón, like, for example, his sexual relationship with a thirteen-year-old girl.
Juan Perón would spend the next 18 years in exile as guest of some of the most infamous tyrants in Ibero-American history: Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Marcos Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in Dominican Republic, and Francisco Franco in Spain. The only democratic (although heavily militarized and US-controlled) country he lived in was Panama, where he met his third wife,[note 1] Argentine dancer María Estela Martínez, later known as Isabel Perón.
Meanwhile, the Peronists in Argentina would start a years-long resistance against the military dictatorships to allow Perón to come back from exile, which often included terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and political assassinations. Some neo-fascist, anti-semitic, Peronist terrorist groups like Tacuara or that of Rodolfo Galimberti,[note 2] would later be absorbed by the Montoneros, the radical left-wing arm of the Peronist movement. Their most famous action was the 1970 kidnapping and execution of former dictator Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, in retaliation for the 1956 massacre of 31 Peronists in a garbage dump near the town of José León Suárez.
Perón supported direct action. He held secret meetings in Spain with Montonero leaders and even hinted a leftward turn by expressing admiration for Marxist revolutionary leaders like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Mao Zedong.
Following a failed attempt to return to his country (his plane was stopped in Brazil and then sent back to Spain), Perón sent his wife Isabel to Argentina as his "personal delegate" to meet with Peronist leaders, in order to stop a growing "neo-Peronist" movement within the syndicalists, known as "Peronism without Perón". There, Isabel was introduced to the infamous José López Rega, a far-right former police officer and bodyguard of Perón in the 1950s, known as El Brujo (The Warlock) because he was also a self-practising astrologist. López Rega would exercise such Rasputin-like authority over the weak Isabel that, after winning her trust, he moved to the Peróns' home in Spain to work as private secretary, valet, butler, nurse and bodyguard to Juan Perón; he would even give Perón prostate massages after the old dictator was diagnosed with prostate cancer. López Rega also told Isabel that, using the now-recovered mummified body of Evita, he was able to channel the spirit of Perón's dead wife to guide her and give her self-confidence.
López Rega's influence over the Peróns would be far more sinister than it seemed. Using his new political contacts, he would create a far-right paramilitary terrorist organization responsible for various crimes against humanity, known as the Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance), with the purpose of purging the Peronist movement of its leftist elements.
Return, third term and death
In 1973, Perón was finally allowed to return to Argentina. He arrived on a plane paid for by a friend of López Rega, Licio Gelli, Italian fascist leader of the shady-as-fuck Masonic lodge Propaganda Due, later involved in several scandals and human rights violations in Italy and South America. Perón was barred from participating in that year's presidential election, so his
puppet personal delegate, the nominally leftist Héctor J. Cámpora, ran in his place and won. Socialist presidents Salvador Allende of Chile and Oswaldo Dorticós of Cuba attended the inauguration ceremony. President Cámpora would predictably resign two months later, paving the way for Perón to return to power after 18 years. His wife Isabel would assume the Vice-Presidency and his loyal secretary José López Rega was appointed Minister of Social Welfare.
However, Perón's long-awaited return was not the socialist utopia that Montoneros and the Peronist left in general were expecting. They were mercilessly targeted, with Perón's implicit approval, by López Rega's Triple A death squad, reaching its climax during an incident known as the Ezeiza massacre, in which right-wing Peronist snipers opened fire on a mass of left-wing Peronists that had gathered near Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires to greet their leader, killing 13 people. At least 1,122 people were murdered by the Triple A, and death threats forced many prominent left-wing Peronist to leave the country.
During the 1974 May Day rally at Plaza de Mayo, Perón confirmed that his leftist revolutionary enthusiasm was just a farce by expelling the Montoneros from the plaza and calling them "stupid". Moreover, his May 1974 meeting with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (despite Perón's admiration for Salvador Allende and condemnation of the 1973 Chilean military coup), has been considered the beginning of Operation Condor. A few month after the meeting, General Carlos Prats, former commander-in-chief of the Chilean army and Minister under Allende, was assassinated with his wife in Argentina.
On June 1974, Perón caught pneumonia after visiting his old friend, Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner and later suffered a heart attack. Isabel Perón was sworn-in as interim President, but Juan never recovered and died on July 1st, despite López Rega's best wootastic efforts.
Isabel Perón's misgovernment, José López Rega's state terrorism, and the Montoneros' underground activities against the increasingly oppressive regime would lead to the US-backed 1976 military coup, which established the worst dictatorship in Argentina's history.
The hands of Perón
In 1987, thirteen years after his death, a group of still unidentified people broke into the heavily secured tomb of Perón and stole his hands, along with his cap, sword, and a poem written to him by Isabel Perón. The leader of the Peronist party, Vicente Saadi, received two typewritten letters signed by "Dr. Hermes Iai and the 13", along with fragments of the poem, demanding an $8 million ransom in exchange for the hands, but Saadi refused to pay. The items were never recovered.
Some people involved in the investigation, including the examining magistrate, Jaime Far Suau, have allegedly died under "suspicious" circumstances (freak accidents, asthma attacks, unsolved murders and the like). Despite numerous conspiracy theories linking the incident to the powerful Freemason lodge Propaganda Due, López Rega's esoteric buddies, the CIA, Argentine military intelligence agents, Sardinian bandits, etc. the enigma remains unsolved.
Similarly to what happened in Brazil with Getúlio Vargas, Perón's political ambiguity (too pro-working class, anti-oligarchic, anti-imperialist and anticlerical to be considered right-wing, yet too pro-fascist, anti-Marxist and socially conservative to be left-wing) led to his ideology being reclaimed by both sides of the spectrum. Right-wing Peronists like neoliberal former President Carlos Menem consider themselves the true heirs of Perón, although they reject the crimes of López Rega and the Triple A. Left-wing Peronists like former Presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, on the other hand, remain nostalgic of the Montoneros and cling to their romantic vision of the "socialist" Perón from the 1960s to 1973. Even Pope Francis' social and political activity is considered to be influenced by Peronism.
Maybe that's the reason why unlike his Latin American contemporaries and imitators (Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo in Chile, Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru, José María Velasco Ibarra in Ecuador, Marcos Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela, Omar Torrijos in Panama, etc.) Perón's legacy is still alive and well.
- Huey Long
- Gamal Abdel Nasser
- Muammar al-Gaddafi
- António de Oliveira Salazar
- Hugo Chávez
- Rodrigo Duterte (another far-right demagogue pretending to be a socialist to score political points)
- See the Wikipedia article on Huemul Project.
- E Pluribus Wiggum § Controversy
- See the Wikipedia article on Bombing of Plaza de Mayo.
- See the Wikipedia article on Decree Law 4161/56.
- See the Wikipedia article on Expulsion of Montoneros from Plaza de Mayo.
- See the Wikipedia article on Hands of Perón.