Eva Duarte de Perón, a.k.a. Evita

Evita died four years before I was born and my family was 'anti-peronista' (against Perón, who by then had turned a tyrant). Actually, I was born about two weeks after the military coup that kicked him out. Thus, it is a little difficult for me to tell about Evita, since all I heard at home was bad.

Anyhow, Evita is very much loved by millions, and she was (somewhat) fortunate to have died in the peak of their affection to her. When she died (without being an elected official) her embalmed body was placed in the Congress and millions of people went by, day and night, for three days. The newsreels of the time are amazing, I have never seen so many people in those places I know so well. Now the city has doubled the population, and you wouldn't be able to gather so many people for three continuous days and nights.

History says that by 1943 the constitutional 'Radical' government was in deep trouble. Radical in name only, since they had been a party for half a century and you cannot keep being radical for too long. As the recent and last Radical government (the previous to Menem) they had grown overcomplacent with their situation and were doing plain nothing, while the country was falling apart. That is when we had our first military coup, a tradition we've been keeping until recently. Several civilians or military were placed by the Army on the high seat, but none knew what to do. In the meantime, Perón, an Army Colonel who had been assigned to the Secretary of Public Welfare as well as Secretary of State, started taking some very radical measures. It was much like the New Deal and Perón became as popular as FDR. Some group within the army became jealous of Perón's popularity so they jailed him for some excuse or other. In the meantime, while he had dismissed the military side, Perón had been building his network on the civilian side, with the Unions and politicians. On October 17, Perón was brought from the military base where he was jailed, to the Army Hospital, here in Buenos Aires on some silly excuse about a sore throat. Thousands of people gathered by the Unions were already in Plaza de Mayo, while Perón was being 'inadvertently' released from the Hospital and joined them. The government had to call for elections and Perón won by a landslide early next year, 1946.

The war in Europe had just ended and there was a whole world to feed, and Argentina had that food. There was also a huge territory to populate, and Europe had refuges enough to do it. In Perón's own words (more or less) it was impossible to walk through the aisles in the Central Bank since they were piled high with gold. He made good use of that gold, and that brings us to Evita. She headed the Fundación Eva Perón, which was funded with government money, and it was a sort of parallel Ministry of Welfare (the actual Minister did what she told him). A lot of welfare benefits, funded with government money, were handed under the name of the 'Fundación' (still now, when you say 'La Fundación' it means that one). A law was passed enabling the women to vote, so, for the 1952 election (which she couldn't witness) she headed the campaign to get the female vote. She was a very passionate orator, in a time when most politicians got lost on rhetoric. She really talked to the people. Both Perón’s dressed very simple. He often appeared in shirtsleeves, thus the term 'descamisados' which means un-shirted, though un-jacketed would have been more proper, since the 'descamisados' were dressing shirts. Perón and Evita often talked from the balconies of the pink house (the presidential palace) in a very simple way, very passionate and dressed just like the people in the Plaza de Mayo, the square below.

All this welfare couldn't last. Even as much gold as Perón found in the aisles of the Central Bank, it couldn't last. His 6 year term ended in 1952 and he had reformed the constitution in 1949 to allow for his own re-election. He delayed the reforms until after the re-election, (too late) while Evita went full ahead doing her welfare thing, like distributing cider and sweet bread for Christmas in the poorest neighborhoods, with full press coverage, of course.

She died in the middle of that pre-electoral gift-giving frenzy, and her death was turned part of the campaign. Of course, Perón won again, but the money had run out long ago and things started getting tough. Evita's death really affected Perón, and so did the state of the economy, which didn't allow for his 'generosity'. His discourses started getting contradictory and somewhat angry. The Plaza de Mayo started filling up less and less, though the Unions forcibly got the workers on trucks to fill up the square. By 1955, the coup that threw him out didn't find a lot of resistance, no such thing as people building barricades to defend him. Still, the decline of the country fell upon the following government (which wasn't a good one anyway) and people forgot that Perón had actually caused it, so, they remember the good times with him.

I think Evita was really true to what she did. She didn't have a clue about economy (neither did Perón) so none of them had the slightest idea that money, even in a country as rich as Argentina, would run out. They were both new rich kids and handed out money without a second thought. They both came from very humble families, and both knew hardship. Evita really worked hard and even while her decease was consuming her, she kept on going. Some say that Perón poisoned her, because she was becoming more popular than him. I don't think that would have been necessary. Though women could vote, it was still unthinkable for a woman to become President, there was no doubt Perón would be reelected. They could both walk the aisles of the Central Bank and see that there was no gold left, only a huge debt. But they were both drunk with power and I'm not sure Evita would have faced the evidence: they were just out of money. Perón hardly did recognize it, and started finger pointing elsewhere, which didn't fix anything and brought enemies from everywhere, like my family. They were grocers and inflation started around that time. People could see the prices rising and the visible face were my grandparents. Perón finger pointed to 'unscrupulous merchants' in one of his discourses so, suddenly, my grandparents were 'the enemy', though they had to pay ever increasing amounts of hard cash to their suppliers, while most customers got their purchases 'wrote down' in the store notebook.

Evita's brother, Juan Duarte, was caught in some dirty business some months after her death, he 'committed suicide' shortly after. That fueled stories about her being poisoned, or her being involved in dirty business. I don't think it was so. Juan Duarte simply worked under the protection of his family name. Nobody dared upset Evita, but if someone had told her, perhaps she would have done more or less the same as Perón did. Once she was dead, the balance of power within the inner circle had to be rearranged, and Juan lost.

So, I guess that is a most complete answer, ain't it? Anyway, that's the story of a humble couple raised to a position of power, with a lot of good intentions, going drunk with power until they couldn't handle it anymore. She died while still at the top. He was kicked out before the full weight of his mismanagement was felt, so he was reelected once more in 1973 and died a year after. His funeral, though impresive, wasn't as much as Evita's.