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Juan Domingo Perón (Spanish pronunciation: [?xwan do?mi??o pe??on]; October 8, 1895 – July 1, 1974) was an Argentine military officer and politician. After serving in several government positions, including those of Minister of Labor and Vice President of the Republic, he was three times elected as President of Argentina although he managed to serve only one full term in this function. Perón's last term as President of the Republic began in 1973 and lasted for just nine months, until his death in 1974, whereupon he was succeeded by his third wife, the Vice President of the Republic, María Estela Martínez.
Perón and his second wife, Eva Duarte, were immensely popular among many Argentines. They 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.
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 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. Uki Goñi alleged in his 2002 book, The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron's Argentina, that Nazis and French and Belgian collaborationists, including Pierre Daye, met Perón in the President's official residence, the Casa Rosada (Pink House). 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 Draganovi? 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, his adjutant 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 Paveli?) took refuge in Argentina, as did Milan Stojadinovi?, the former collaborationist Prime Minister of monarchist Yugoslavia. In 1946 Stojadinovi? went to Rio de Janeiro, and then to Buenos Aires, where he was reunited with his family. Stojadinovi? 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 Draganovi?, 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 Paveli? 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 Stojadinovi? 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.
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 (ironically) called "Perón´s Goebbels." He favoured the creation of institutions like New Zion (Nueva Sión), the Argentine-Jewish Institute of Culture and Information, presided by Simón Mirelman, and the Argentine-Israeli Chamber of Commerce. Also, he named Rabbi Amran Blum the first Jewish professor of philosophy in the National University of Buenos Aires. After being the first Latin American government to acknowledge the State of Israel, he sent a Jewish ambassador, Pablo Mangel, 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 aimed at fostering the Jewish position 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 also the Eva Perón Foundation sent significant humanitarian aid. Chaim Weizmann and Golda Meir expressed their gratitude during their visit to Buenos Aires in 1951.
The German Argentine community in Argentina is the third largest ethnic group in the country, after the Spanish Argentines and the Italian Argentines. The German Argentine community predates Juan Perón's presidency, going back as far as the time of the unification of Germany. Laurence Levine writes that Perón found German civilization too "rigid" and therefore had a "distaste" for it. Crassweller writes that while Juan Perón's own personal preference was for argentine culture, with which he felt a spiritual affinity, Perón was "pragmatic" in dealing with the diverse populace of Argentina.
While Juan Perón's Argentina allowed many Nazi criminals to take refuge in Argentina, Juan Perón's Argentina also accepted more Jewish immigrants than any other country in Latin America, which in part accounts for the fact that Argentina to this day has a population of over 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, professor of Latin American studies at Rutgers University, writes that Juan Perón allowed Nazi criminals into the country in hopes of acquiring advanced German technology developed during the war. Martínez also notes 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 inaugurated 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 witty, 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, Perón was excommunicated by Pope Pius XII on June 15, 1955. 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 sumptous 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. Its preference for a gradual approach to de-Perónization helped lead to Lonardi's ousting, however (though most of the board's recommendations stood the new president's scrutiny).
Lonardi's replacement, General Pedro Aramburu, decreed the mere mention of Juan or Eva Perón's name to be illegal. Throughout Argentina, Peronism and the very display of Peronist mementoes 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.”
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 indefintely 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.
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 irreconciliable following the September 25, 1973, murder of José Ignacio Rucci, the moderately conservative Secretary General of CGT.
Enraged, Perón enlisted López Rega to target left-wing opponents. Shortly after Perón's attack on left-wing Peronism, the Montoneros went underground. The murder itself, a commando ambush in front of Rucci's Buenos Aires residence long attributed to the Montoneros (whose record of violence had been well-established by then), remains arguably Argentina's most prominent unsolved mystery. Another guerrilla group, the Guevarist ERP, also opposed the Peronist right-wing. The 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.
Perón's somewhat precarious 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). Arriving in Asunción during an autumn rainstorm, he refused an umbrella while reviewing the honor guard. 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.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Juan Perón", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.