(LATIN AMERICA – continued)

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Peron's Decline and Evita's Death, 1950-52

Beginning in 1950, good times for the Perons began to fade. A drought began that was to last into 1953, and Argentina's position in the world economy was declining. The Marshall Plan had made Western Europe more self-supporting and European purchases of Argentine beef and other foodstuffs were falling. Agriculture on the international market had been a major source of wealth for Argentina, while Argentina was still in need of oil and other imports -- such as the coal and iron needed for industrialization. The reduced income from exports hampered investment in industry. And Perón was not willing to try a program of austerity.

The government had spent much of its financial reserves buying up industries, including British-owned railways. British investors had been making less of a return on the railway than could be made with ordinary bank interest. Much of the railway track was in poor repair or obsolete. The government was in need of cash and spending more money than it was taking in. Argentina's economy was suffering from a steep climb in prices.

Political unrest was on the rise, and in September, 1951, a coup against Perón was attempted. It failed miserably. Perón responded with more repression. His regime restricted public meetings and forbade talk of politics on the radio -- except for the regime's political messages, which were presented as "informational." And to protect the regime, Evita suggested the creation of an armed workers' militia.

The elections slated for 1952 were pushed forward to 1951, and, during the campaign, one of the candidates for the presidency was arrested and another was shot. Evita – now in a hospital and being treated for cancer – proclaimed that anyone who did not vote for Perón was a traitor. Thirty-six percent of those voting in November met Evita's criterion for treason – Perón receiving 64 percent of the votes cast, according to official accounts. All of those elected to Argentina's governorships and all elected to the Senate were Peronists. And 90 percent of those elected to the House of Representatives were Peronists.

By June 1952 Evita was out of the hospital but weighed only 80 pounds. Vast crowds surrounded the presidential home. Women were on their knees, weeping and praying for Evita's recovery. On 26 July 1952, Evita died. Two million attended her funeral, and it was marked by hysterical mourning.

Perón's labor unions asked Pope Pius XII to begin proceedings for Evita Perón's canonization, but the Pope had no such intentions.


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