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Argentina, from Juan and Eva Peron to the Disappeared

Perón and the Coup of 1943 | Eva meets Juan | Juan Peron Takes Power | Happy Days | Peron's Decline and Eva's Death | Peron's Fall, 1953-55 | Military Rule, Elections, Unrest and Peron's Return | More Military Rule, War with Britain, and the Disappeared, 1972-88

Perón and the Coup of 1943

In the thirties and into the forties, Argentina had an authoritarian government. Political power was largely with the landed aristocracy, which was allied with the Catholic Church against bourgeois society. Democracy was too modern for them and seen as involving demagogic, self-interested politicians. Authority was still seen as best for the masses. Communism was anathema, and, in the early forties, some still viewed the fascist powers as a bulwark against Communism, while the government remained neutral regarding World War II.

In June 1943, an almost bloodless military coup interrupted Argentine politics – a coup against Ramón Castillo. General Arturo Rawson was named president, but, when it was discovered that he actually favored the Allies and wanted to include civilians in the government, he was replaced with General Pedro Ramirez. The coup leaders spoke of honor, loyalty and of that held dear by totalitarians: unity. The military regime began a war against what they called subversion. Organizations that favored the Allies were suspended on the charge that they were communistic. Communist-led labor unions were closed. Professors were fired and demonstrations suppressed. Textbooks were required to praise Argentina and the military. Movie houses were required to show a patriotic newsreel with their regular presentations. Newspapers were suppressed and editors jailed. All publishers and journalists had to be registered with the government. In the schools, religious education was compulsory. And, by the end of the year, all political parties were banned.

The coup leaders were isolationist and nationalistic regarding the economy. They erected barriers against imports, ending the import-export strategy of the landowners and men of commerce who had been making money selling beef and other agricultural products abroad. The new military leaders wanted Argentina to start building its own industries rather than buy from foreign manufacturers – especially from the United States.

One of the men in the new military government was Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, an army officer since 1913. Perón had always been affectionate toward the enlisted men under his command, and respected by his men – different from the distant formality of most officers. The army assigned him to a military academy, where he wrote on the military history of the war between Russia and Japan and about World War I. He was sent to Italy for a year beginning in February 1939, and there he admired Mussolini's skill in appealing to the masses and Mussolini's social reforms.

As a colonel, Perón had been a member of the secret organization officers (the GOU) that had planned the right-wing coup of 1943. After the coup, Perón became secretary to the minister of war and vice president, General Edelmiro Farrell. And Perón took a position that no one else wanted: head of the Labor Department. Perón appealed to workers, a patriotic appeal as an alternative to the Marxist tradition and Communist infiltration in the labor movement – not unlike the attempted appeals to workers attempted by Europe's fascists. It matched the traditional criticism of capitalists by the landed aristocracy in Europe and those in power in Argentina.

Perón encouraged the creation of strong unions among meat packers and those who worked on sugar plantations. Under Perón's leadership a minimum wage was given to field hands, and wages rose for other workers. The eight-hour day was established. Rents were frozen. Workers received paid vacations. The workers received protection through restrictions on firings, and they were given an opportunity to voice complaints in labor courts. It was all done in the name of unity rather than the divisiveness of class struggle advocated by Marxists. And employers were not unhappy with it, enjoying the security if gave them from Communist subversion within their work force.

The military regime could afford being generous to laborers. This was a time of affluence for Argentina. The Argentineans had been doing well selling their beef abroad.


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