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(ARGENTINA – continued)

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ARGENTINA (4 of 8)

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Happy Days

Eva Duarte Peron. Click to enlarge.

Eva Peron, soon after her marriage
to Juan.

Eva Peron

Hear me Argentina

Perón's regime is said to have had the support of a coalition of business and labor. Perón described his goal as a free, just and independent Argentina – independent economically from foreign influence. He embarked on a five-year plan to industrialize the country. His regime started building Argentina's steel and iron industries and subsidizing the manufacture of farm and industrial machinery. Argentina began making airplanes and ships for its merchant marine.

The government began buying railways that had been British owned – 70 percent of Argentina's rails, denounced as an embodiment of British imperialism. And the government bought the British owned trolley system. Perón nationalized the U.S. owned telephone company, IT&T, and he nationalized other key sectors of the economy. He put limits on the amount of profits that foreign-owned firms could take out of the country. And a dramatic drop followed in foreign investing in Argentina.

But the economy was booming. Vacation colonies for workers were built, and paid vacations became standard, as did free medical care. Medical clinics were built in working-class districts. Orphanages and housing for transients were built. Schools were built. So too were homes for the elderly, and homes for girls who left home – as Eva had at sixteen.

Perón increased the size of the army, gave it modern equipment and increased its pay scale, and the army was happy with him. Radical students supported Perón because of his stand for social justice and against U.S. imperialism. Perón was popular enough to rule without oppression. But he held onto methods of the past and his fear of opposition. He continued government indoctrination and the crushing of selected opposition. He had the justices of the Supreme Court removed and replaced by people who were more docile – one of whom was Eva's brother-in-law. Universities were put under the direction of rectors appointed by the government. Political activity on campus was forbidden. Around 70 percent of the professors were purged. But, in keeping with Perón's support of common folk, university fees were abolished. Money was no longer a barrier to higher education. The universities were opened to all who could qualify.

Eva Perón was by now in charge of the nation's welfare program. With a loan from the nationalized Central Bank and help from a wealthy friend, Eva bought a newspaper called Democracia, which became a mouthpiece for the Perón regime and featured flattery of the First Lady – Evita (as she was now called). She and friends bought up more newspapers in Buenos Aires, along with a radio network and magazines.

In March 1949, Perón created a new constitution permitting the president to succeed himself, and Perón's political party re-nominated him as its presidential candidate for 1952. Opposition parties and the press became increasingly critical, and, in September, Perón's majority in Congress retaliated against this criticism by legislation that provided prison terms for persons who showed disrespect for government leaders. Many opponents of the Perón regime were jailed. Opposition newspapers were repressed, and restrictions were imposed on the anti-Peronista parties.

Evita was not generous toward the Peron regime's critics, and she had little recognition of shared power. In Congress an independent-minded representative, Ernesto Sammartino, said that it was not the place for him and his fellow congressmen "to bow reverently or to dance jigs to please Madame Pompadour." Sammartino found it prudent to flee to Uruguay.

The landed wealthy, industrialists and financiers were hostile to the Peróns, but Juan Perón let them be. He was not about to eliminate the landed wealthy by confiscating their property – as had the Bolsheviks. Nor was he about to open an assault against industrialists or to attack those few in the military who disliked him or his wife. Perón did not need to crush them. He enjoyed solid support of the common people, the middle classes and the Army. He and Evita declared their love for the masses. The two arms of Peronism, declared Juan Perón, were social justice and social aid. "With them," he said, "we give to the people an abrazo of justice and love."

Between the two Peróns, Juan was cooler in intellect. He was the designer while Evita was the passionate true-believer. She championed and succeeded in giving women the vote. She launched a woman's Peronist political party. She advocated glamour for the common woman – a look of wealth and fine clothes that justified her own tastes – which included a vast wardrobe of a hundred or so furs and a multitude of new Dior dresses. The poor, she claimed, deserved the best. Also she preached that women should follow their traditional roles of subservience to their husbands and devotion to their families.

Despite the economic boom and government generosity, some people still suffered. By radio, people were invited to write to Evita's welfare foundation, and about 12,000 wrote each day. Some of them were granted appointments with Evita. And after rising late, Eva spent many of her working days and into the evenings listening to the woe's of at least a hundred women or old folks who had lined up and waited for hours for advice or help. She embraced them all, and gave them the money needed for their fare back home.

Sources

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