(ARGENTINA – continued)

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Military Rule, Elections, Unrest and Peron's Return

Major General Eduardo Lonardi took office in September 1955 as provisional president and promised to restore democratic government. In less than two months, Lonardi was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by Major General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, because, it was said, Lonardi had been unwilling to suppress Peronism in the army and among the workers. Major-General Aramburu's government was seen as a caretaker government until elections slated for 1956. His regime hoped that widespread discontent could be contained. They auctioned Evita's jewelry collection – greater it has been said than Cleopatra's. The regime described it as representing corruption and embezzlement.

In 1956 inflation was rampant, with the cost of living index that year rising 34 per cent. In an effort to check inflation, Aramburu kept wages frozen, and occasionally he crushed revolts by outraged workers. Thousands were arrested. Thirty-eight alleged Peronists were executed, and scores were imprisoned on charges of plotting to overthrow the new regime.

In January, 1957, Perón moved from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic, ruled by the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. In July, 1957, Argentina held elections for seats in a Constituent Assembly, and the assembly opened in September and unanimously readopted Argentina's constitution of 1853. General elections were held in February, 1958. A left-of-center candidate, Arturo Frondizi, won the presidency, with Peronist and Communist support, and Frondizi's Intransigent Radical Party won a majority in the legislature.

Frondizi believed that no one should be persecuted for his political ideas, and his general amnesty bill was passed by the legislature. In this new atmosphere, labor unrest continued, and impatient Peronist labor unions called a nationwide strike, which Frondizi broke with military force.

In early 1959, economic stability was advanced by foreign loans and credits. The International Monetary Fund extended to Argentina what then was the largest loan ever to any Latin American government. Argentina's participation in the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA), founded in 1960, helped foster a growing trade with other countries. Meanwhile the government's austerity program remained unpopular. Frondizi's popularity declined through 1961, and he endured numerous threats to his life.

By 1960 the Trujillo regime was in trouble, and Perón moved to Spain. The dictator there, Francisco Franco, never met with him, Franco disliking Perón's attacks upon the Church back in 1954 and '55. In Spain, Perón lived in modest comfort, except that he was bothered by the loud parties of a neighbor, the Hollywood movie star Ava Gardner.

In elections held in Argentina in March 1962, Peronists polled 35 percent of the total vote. The military was still hostile to Peronism. They saw danger and declared the elections invalid. They imagined that their intervention would be good for the country. The military deposed Frondizi and elevated the president of the Senate, Jose Maria Guido, to the presidency.

New elections were held in July, 1963. The idea of leaving people express their political will as they wished had diminished. Peronists and Communists were barred from running for office. A moderate, Arturo Illia, was elected president. He announced a program of national recovery and the regulation of foreign investment. He tried to stop inflation by more price fixing, and he appealed to labor by passing a minimum-wage law.

In 1965, Peronist candidates were allowed to run again. Perón, almost 70, sent his third wife, Isabel – 34-years old – to Argentina to rally his followers. She had a grade school education and was a former dancer in what some described as a "girlie show." She had met Peron in Panama. They had been living together in Spain, and the story goes that he married her, in November 1961, because the Church didn't approve of their living together with benefit of holy matrimony. In Argentina, Isabel drew only small crowds.

In the elections of 1965, President Illia's political party retained a plurality in the lower house of the legislature. Labor unrest continued into 1966, and the Peronists continued to win victories in bi-elections. In June, 1966, the military intervened again, still afraid of Peronism and thinking they were needed to keep the country orderly and proper. For the rest of the decade the military remained the power behind whomever it chose as president. A new president in 1966 was General Juan Carlos Onganía – a conservative who hated seeing mini-skirts on women and hated the Left. The country was in chaos with armed revolutionary groups making an appearance: the People's Revolutionary Army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Montoneros. The Montoneros kidnapped and executed the former president, Pedro Aramburu.

The military overthrew Onganía in 1970. In 1972, at the age of seventy-eight, Perón returned to Argentina, the military hoping that he could help restore a unity of sorts.


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