Eva Perón

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Political People

Eva Perón
Eva Perón speaking from the balcony of Argentina's government house, Casa Rosada, 1950.
Born May 7, 1919
Junín, Buenos Aires, Argentina (see below)
Died July 26, 1952
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Occupation actress, philanthropist, first lady
Spouse Juan Perón

María Eva Duarte de Perón ( May 7, 1919 – July 26, 1952) was the second wife of Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón (1895–1974) and the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. She is often referred to by the Spanish language diminutive Evita, which translates into English as "Little Eva".

In 1951, Evita launched a campaign to be allowed to run for the office of Vice-President of Argentina. The nation's military, elite, and Juan Perón himself all opposed and ultimately prevented Evita's candidacy. In 1952, Evita was given the official title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation".

Though she was never an officially elected political figure, most scholars agree that by her husband's second term in office Eva Perón had come to exercise more power and influence within the government than anyone but her own husband. This power derived from her leadership roles within the Pro-Peronist trade unions, the Eva Perón Foundation, and the Female Peronist Party. Many scholars agree that Evita was the most powerful woman in the history of her nation, and some claim that at the time of her death she was one of the most powerful women on earth.

Early life

Iln the biography Evita: The Real Life of Eva Perón Marysa Navarro and Nicholas Fraser write that Eva Perón was born on May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, a small town in the Pampas, one hundred and fifty miles from the capital of Argentina. Fraser and Navarro claim that Eva Perón's birth certificate and baptismal records have not survived, but that those who claim to have seen them before they were destroyed say that the first names entered on the certificates were Eva María and the surname was listed as Ibarguren. Tomás de Elia and Juan Pablo Queiroz, editors of the photobiography Evita: An Intimate Portrait of Eva Perón, agree that Eva Perón was born in Los Toldos. Eva Perón's own autobiography, which was originally published in Argentina in 1952 under the title La Razón de mi Vida (subsequently published in English speaking countries under the titles My Mission in Life and Evita by Evita), contains no dates, no reference to childhood occurrences, and does not list the location of Eva Perón's birth nor her name at birth.

Eva Perón spent her childhood in Junín, Buenos Aires Province, then a village in the Pampas. Her parents, Juan Duarte and Juana Ibarguren (often referred to as doña Juana), never married. Duarte was a rancher from nearby Chivilcoy, where he already had a wife and family. Fraser and Navarro claim that the "second marriage" that Duarte maintained with Ibarguren was not uncommon in rural Argentina and may in fact be related to the history of the region: "The circumstances of war, the imperatives of the frontier and the complete absence of records meant that in nineteenth-century rural Argentina settlers took Indian women and left them and their children behind as they moved onwards, from settlement to settlement and region to region."

In 1920, when Eva was one year old, Duarte returned to his legal family, leaving Juana Ibarguren and her family of five children impoverished. As a result of the impoverishment, Ibarguren and her family moved to the poorest area of Junín. As a means of supporting herself and her children, Ibarguren sewed clothes for neighbors. The family was stigmatized by the abandonment of the father. After Eva Perón became powerful, it would be claimed that during this period of their lives Ibarguren had run a brothel in which Eva Perón herself was a prostitute. Even Jorge Luis Borges, arguably Argentina's most celebrated writer, endorsed this belief. Most biographers, such as Tomas Eloy Martinez, write that such claims are not true.

Father's death

In 1926, Juan Duarte was killed in a car accident in Chivilcoy. Juana Ibarguren attended the funeral with her five children. Due to the conventions of early 20th century Argentina, the presence of Ibarguren and her children at Juan Duarte's funeral was seen as an affront. Legally, Ibarguren and her children did not exist for Duarte's married family. When the Ibarguren family arrived at the funeral, write Fraser and Navarro, a violent argument broke out between Ibarguren and Duarte's legal wife regarding the right of Ibarguren and her children to attend the funeral. It was only after the intervention of the wife's brother, Mayor of Chivilcoy, that Ibarguren and her children were allowed to view the body of Juan Duarte. After the wake, the Ibarguren family was not allowed to walk with the Duarte family behind Juan Duarte's hearse, but was required to walk with the undifferentiated crowd that followed the procession of the legally recognized family.

Much has been made about the importance of this episode in the development of the character of Eva Perón. The usual interpretation is that this incident implanted in Eva Perón a dislike, even hatred for, the middle and upper classes, and set her up for her future role as champion of the poor and lower classes of Argentines. For example, in the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Evita the title character sings: "Screw the middle classes/I will never accept them and they will never deny me anything again/My father's other family were middle class/And we were kept out of sight, hidden from view at his funeral." The closest Eva Perón herself ever came to referring to this incident was to write in her autobiography: "As far as I can remember the existence of injustice has hurt my soul as if a nail was being driven into it. From every period of my life I retain the memory of some injustice tormenting me and tearing me apart." Fraser and Navarro write that Eva Perón was likely too young at the time to understand why her mother would want the family to attend the funeral or why their presence was controversial, but that it was likely the first time Eva Perón had ever seen her family through the eyes of others. Fraser and Navarro speculate that rather than instilling in her an anger toward the upper classes, this incident may have instilled in Eva Perón an anger toward her own mother for putting the young Eva in a position where she would be subjected to such hostility. Though she would never write or speak about it publicly, Eva Perón is said to have been uncomfortable with her " illegitimate" birth.

"Neither Evita nor her sisters could ever confront the question of illegitimacy. As late as 1972 Erminda, the second youngest, would write that her mother and father were happily married, that he kissed her and her younger sister Eva María goodnight the night before he left the village on a business trip, and died. As for the 'legitimate' Duartes, Erminda simply suggests that they were her step-sisters and that they 'were more sad than we were, because with the death of their father they were orphans, since they had lost their mother some years before.'"

Move to Buenos Aires

At approximately the age of 15, Eva Duarte traveled to Buenos Aires. There is some disagreement about how she arrived. The most common account holds that Evita was taken to the capital city by the traveling tango singer Agustín Magaldi. This version was popularized in the musical Evita in which Magaldi is referred to as "the first man to be of use to Eva Duarte". Of Eva Duarte's arrival in Buenos Aires, De Elia and Queiroz write, "The most persistent legend involves the tango singer Agustín Magaldi, who would have accepted responsibility for the aspiring young artist, but the more plausible story is the one told by her family: Doña Juana took her daughter to Buenos Aires to audition at a radio station, and Eva arranged to stay on at the home of family friends, the Bustamontes." Biographers Fraser and Navarro also doubt that Magaldi and Eva Duarte ever had a relationship. Fraser and Navarro write that there is no record of Magaldi making an appearance in Junín the year that Eva Duarte is said to have met him; Magaldi, who was devoted to his mother, was known to tour with his wife; and it would be difficult to understand what a famous tango singer would see in the skinny 15-year-old. Whatever the means by which she arrived in Buenos Aires, most biographers agree that Eva Duarte did so in the early months of 1935.

"Buenos Aires in the 1930s was the continent's most cosmopolitan and elegant metropolis and soon became known as the 'Paris of South America.' As in any great European capital, the centre of the city was filled with cafés, restaurants, theaters, movie houses, shops, and bustling crowds. Eva was one of many people from the provinces, attracted by the process of industrialization, who came to the capital during the 1930s. When she arrived in 1935 with little more than a cardboard suitcase containing her few possessions, the bold teenager must have felt a wrenching sense of vulnerability and solitude. In direct contrast to the glamour of the city, the 1930s were also years of great unemployment, poverty, and hunger in the capital, and many immigrants from the interior were forced to live in tenements, squalid boardinghouses, and in outlying shantytowns that became known as villas miserias."

Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, Eva Duarte was faced with the difficulties of surviving without formal education and without connections. After years of struggle, she eventually found work as a radio and film actress, being credited as Eva Duarte. Eva Duarte later had leading roles in B-grade movie melodramas. She also became a leading radio soap opera actress for Radio El Mundo, which Fraser and Navarro claim was the most important radio station in the country. She regularly appeared on a popular historical-drama program Great Women of History in which she played Elizabeth I of England, Sarah Bernhardt and the last Tsarina of Russia. Eventually, Eva Duarte came to co-own the radio company. By 1943, Eva Duarte was earning five or six thousands pesos a month, making her one of the highest paid radio actresses in the nation during this time period. Pablo Raccioppi, who jointly ran Radio El Mundo with Eva Duarte, is said to have not liked Eva Duarte but to have noted that she was "thoroughly dependable".

Early relationship with Juan Perón

Juan Perón's military career

Juan Perón was born on October 8, 1895, in Lobos, Argentina. He spent his childhood in the desert of Patagonia at the southern tip of Argentina. He entered military school at age 16. He joined the Argentine Army in 1915. After graduation, Perón was posted to various garrisons in the interior of Argentina. In 1926, Perón was promoted to captain and moved to Buenos Aires. He played a minor role in the 1930 coup. Fraser and Navarro claim that the 1930 coup established a new relationship between the Army and the government. Within the military there was some debate as to whether military intervention in politics was appropriate, and whether it should impose the corporate state on Argentina.

Perón was appointed military attache to Chile in 1936. (His first wife, Aurelia Tizón, would die of cancer in 1938.) In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Perón was sent to Europe, where he would travel through Hungary, Austria, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. Fraser and Navarro claim that during this era Perón was exposed to the theatrics of Mussolini's pseudo-imperial Rome. Perón returned to Argentina in 1942. Fraser and Navarro also claim that Perón, along with much of Europe during this period, believed that the only real choice for Europe was the choice between communism and fascism.

"As a nationalist, of course, he welcomed the defeat of Britain, and he hoped the Axis powers would win the war. Yet he was not in the strictest sense a fascist, though he would frequently be called that; nor was the military lodge he helped found shortly after returning to Buenos Aires, the GOU (Grupo de Oficiales Unidos), concerned with strict implementation of fascism in Argentina along German or Italian lines. Its members, including Perón, at this stage were concerned with what they thought was a more practical question, namely what would happen after the war. Perón believed that Mussolini's Italy demonstrated that the interests of capital and labour could be reconciled by the state and it was this principle that he urged on his colleagues."

San Juan earthquake

On January 15, 1944, an earthquake struck the town of San Juan, Argentina. Six thousand people were killed. In response, Perón, who was the Secretary of Labour, established a fund to raise money to aid the victims. Perón devised a plan to have an "artistic festival", which included radio and film actors. As part of the festivities, actors walked through the streets of San Juan with collection boxes to encourage locals to donate money to aid the victims of the earthquake. After a week of fundraising, all participants met at a gala. It was at this gala, on January 22, 1944, that Eva Duarte first met Juan Perón. Evita referred to the day she met her future husband as her "marvellous day". In his own memoir, Juan Perón recalls his first impression of his future wife:

"There was a woman of fragile appearance, but with a strong voice, with long blonde hair falling loose to her back and fevered eyes. She said her name was Eva Duarte, that she acted on the radio and that she wanted to help the people of San Juan. I looked at her and felt overcome by her words; I was quite subdued by the force of her voice and her look. Eva was pale but when she spoke her face seemed to catch fire. Her hands were reddened with tension, her fingers knit tightly together, she was a mass of nerves."

Fraser and Navarro, however, claim that Juan Perón's memoirs are not always trustworthy. For example, Evita was not yet a blonde when she met Perón at the San Juan gala. Fraser and Navarro write that whenever Juan Perón spoke of his political life he was always concerned with placing himself in the best possible light, and this was certainly the case with Evita, who would become his most important political follower. Fraser and Navarro write that Juan Perón and Evita left the gala together at around two in the morning.

Shortly after meeting in San Juan, Eva Duarte and Juan Perón moved in together. This move is said to have scandalized some in Juan Perón's inner circle. During this time period in Argentina actors and politicians were seen as two distinct classes of people. Additionally, it was considered improper for an unmarried couple to live together. But Juan Perón introduced her to his inner circle of political associates and advisors. Juan Perón even allowed Eva Duarte to sit in on his meetings with close advisors and members of government.

"She would stay through the meeting, making the coffee, emptying the ashtrays or watching the guests in silence. Her presence among these educated men — graduates of the War College, doctors from the university or lawyer politicians — would not have been entirely accepted if she had been married to Perón; as it was, it was quite incomprehensible. Evita had little education, and the sort of work she did on the radio was not considered respectable.... But to allow her to be part of his life in this way was damaging for him as a soldier and as a politician. As a soldier his prospects for promotion would be curtailed; as a politician he would be involved in scandal."

Fraser and Navarro claim that Eva Duarte had no knowledge or interest in politics prior to her meeting of Juan Perón. Therefore, Eva Duarte never argued with Perón or any of his inner circle but merely absorbed what she heard. Juan Perón would later claim in his memoir that he purposefully selected Eva Duarte as his pupil and set out to create in her a "second I". Fraser and Navarro, however, suggest that Juan Perón allowed Eva Duarte such intimate exposure and knowledge of his inner circle because of his age. Juan Perón was 48 when he met the 24-year-old Eva Duarte. He had come to politics late in life and was therefore free of preconceived ideas of how his political career should be conducted.

In May of 1944 it was announced that broadcast performers must organize themselves into a union, and that this union would be the only one permitted to operate in Argentina. Shortly after the union was formed, Eva Duarte was elected its president. Fraser and Navarro speculate that Juan Perón made the suggestion that performers create a union, and the other performers likely felt it was good politics to elect his mistress. Shortly after her election as president of the union, Eva Duarte began a daily program called "Toward a Better Future" which dramatized in soap opera form the accomplishments of Juan Perón. Often, Perón's own speeches would be played during the course of the program. When she spoke, Eva Duarte spoke in ordinary language as a regular woman who wanted listeners to believe what she believed about Juan Perón.

October 17, 1945

Demonstration for Perón's release, on October 17, 1945.
Demonstration for Perón's release, on October 17, 1945.

By early 1945, the GOU had gained considerable influence within the Argentine government. President Pedro Pablo Ramírez became wary of Juan Perón's growing power within the government but was unable to curb that power. On February 24, 1944, Ramírez signed his own resignation paper which Fraser and Navarro claim was drafted by Juan Perón himself. Edelmiro Julián Farrell, a friend of Juan Perón's, became President. Juan Perón returned to his job as War Minister. Fraser and Navarro claim that by this point Perón was the most powerful man in the Argentine government.

Shortly before his marriage to Eva on October 23, 1945, Juan Perón was arrested by his opponents within the government who feared that due to the strong support of the descamisados, the workers and the poor of the nation, Perón's popularity might eclipse that of the sitting president.

Eva has often been credited with organizing the rally of thousands that freed Juan Perón from prison on 17 October 1945. This version of events was popularized in the movie version of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Evita". Most historians, however, agree that this is not likely. At the time of Perón's imprisonment, Eva was still merely an actress. She had no political clout with the various labor unions that supported Perón, and it is claimed that she was not well liked within Perón's inner circle, nor was she liked by many within the film and radio business at this point. When Juan Perón was imprisoned, Eva Duarte was suddenly disenfranchised. (Biographers Marysa Navarro and Nicholas Fraser claim that letters between the two during Juan Perón's imprisonment indicate that the couple actually considered leaving the country after Perón's release.) In reality, the massive rally that freed Perón from prison was organized by the various unions, such as General Labor Confederation, or CGT as they came to be known. To this day, the date of October 17th is something of a holiday for the Justicialist Party in Argentina (celebrated as Día de la Lealtad, or "Loyalty Day").

Juan Perón's first presidential campaign

After his release from prison, Juan Perón decided to campaign for the presidency of the nation. Evita campaigned heavily for her husband during his 1946 presidential bid. Using her weekly radio show she delivered powerful speeches with heavy populist rhetoric urging the poor to align themselves with Perón's movement. Although she had become wealthy from her radio and modeling success, she would highlight her own humble upbringing as a way of showing solidarity with the impoverished classes.

Along with her husband, Evita visited every corner of the country, becoming the first woman in Argentine history to appear in public on the campaign trail with her husband. (Incidentally, she was also the first woman in Argentine public life to wear trousers.) Eva's appearance alongside her husband often offended the establishment of the wealthy, the military, and those in political life. However, she was very popular with the public, who knew her from her radio and motion picture appearances, and therefore proved effective in getting attention from the poor and working class voters of Argentina. It was during this phase of her life that she first encouraged the Argentine population to refer to her not as "Eva Perón" but simply as "Evita", which is a Spanish diminutive or nickname roughly equivalent to "Little Eva".

European tour

After Juan Perón's first election to the presidency on March 28, 1946, Evita gradually took a prominent political role in the government, eventually overshadowing even the vice-president of the nation in all but military affairs.

In 1947, Evita embarked on a much-publicized "Rainbow Tour" of Europe, meeting with numerous heads of state, including Francisco Franco. It was aimed at being a massive public relations coup for the Perón regime, which in the post-World War II world was increasingly being viewed as fascist. She was well-received in Spain, where she visited the tombs of Spain's first absolutist monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. Francoist Spain had not recovered from the Spanish Civil War (the autarkic economy and the UN embargo meant that the country could not feed its people). During her visit to Spain, Evita handed out 100- peseta notes to every poor child she met on her journey. Evita later met the Pope in Rome, and then travelled to Paris. In France and Italy she received mixed reactions. Some Italian protestors claimed that she represented a new form of fascism.

The European tour was originally intended to include a trip to England to visit the royal family. Fraser and Navarro write that Evita called off the trip to England due to a sense of hurt vanity. When it was announced that the royal family was not able to meet Evita at the time she preferred, and that Evita's visit would not be treated by the royal family as being as important as the official state visit of United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Evita called off the trip to England. The official reason for not visiting England was exhaustion.

During her tour to Europe, Eva Perón was featured in a cover story for Time Magazine. The cover's caption — "Eva Perón: Between two worlds, an Argentine rainbow" — was a reference to the name given to Evita's European tour, The Rainbow Tour. This would be the first time in the periodical's history that a South American first lady appeared on its cover, and she remains the only South American first lady to have appeared there. However, the 1947 cover story was the first publication to mention that Evita had been born out of wedlock. In retaliation, the periodical was banned from Argentina for several months.

Charitable and feminist works

After returning to Argentina from Europe, Evita would never again appear in public with the complicated hairdos of her movie star days. She would henceforth appear with her hair pulled back into a bun. Additionally, her style of clothing became more simple after the tour. No longer would she wear the elaborate couture of the European fashion houses. Perhaps in an attempt to make herself appear as more of a serious political figure, Evita would henceforth appear in public wearing modest business dress suit combinations.

Evita came to be powerful within the Pro-Peronist trade unions. She also founded the Eva Perón Foundation, a charitable organization that built homes for the poor and homeless, and also provided free health care to citizens. Biographers Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro write, "Under the auspices of the Foundation, Evita built 1,000 schools in the poorest areas of the country and handed these over to the State to operate." Fraser and Navarro counter claims that Evita's Foundation was wasteful, though effective:

"Evita's social works have been persistently criticized for being wasteful, ill-conceived and unrelated to people's needs. The conservative military government that succeeded Perón concluded that the institutions of the Foundation were 'disproportionate to the aims, culture, and customs bringing about moral and family deviations.' However, although the Foundation adopted 'luxury' as a matter of policy, it did function better than many more rational and more frugal institutions. For the first time, there was no inequality in Argentine health care.... The work of the Foundation was deeply practical and personal, far more so than it might have been had it been bureaucractically exercised."

Eva Perón also created the Female Peronist Party, which was the first large female political party in the nation. Navarro and Fraser write that by 1952, the party had 500,000 members and 3,600 headquarters across the country. In the election of 1952, this base of support won Perón the election by sixty-three percent. Navarro and Fraser also write that Evita has often been given credit for gaining for women the right to vote, but that this is not the case. Nor was Evita, even by her own admission, truly a feminist. And yet her impact on women in Argentina, write Navarro and Fraser, was great.

"Yet Evita's effect on the condition of women in Argentina and on their political life was decisive; what she accomplished here was as important as anything else she did. A mass of women who cared little about women's rights and were indifferent to the concerns of middle-class feminists had entered politics because of Evita. They were the first Argentine women to be active in politics, they gave Perón a large majority in 1951 and they remained loyal to him and what they saw as the principles of Peronism long after their inspiration and figurehead had died."

Evita also helped to create a personality cult around her husband, whom she elevated to nearly divine status, often comparing him to Christ and saying that all Peronists must be ready to die for Perón. Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro say that this apotheosis was what ultimately corrupted Perón and debased the Peronist movement. In light of Evita's often verbose praise for her husband, the slightest criticism of Juan Perón was easily interpreted as unpatriotic. Evita even stated explicitly that only the Peronists were truly Argentine, and anyone who was anti-Peronist was not truly Argentine.

"Perón is the heart, the soul, the nerve, and the reality of the Argentine people. We all know that there is only one man in our movement with his own source of light. We all feed off of that light. And that man is Perón!" — 1951 speech by Eva Perón

Eventually, Evita became the centre of her own vast personality cult and her image and name soon appeared everywhere, with train stations, a city ("Ciudad Evita"), and even a star in the sky being named after her. Despite her dominance and political power, Evita was always careful to never undermine the important symbolic role of her husband. Evita was always careful to justify her actions by claiming they were "inspired" or "encouraged" by the wisdom and passion of Perón. And though she has often been interpreted as having been singularly ambitious in her own right, Navarro and Fraser claim (op. cit.) that everything Evita did was ultimately subordinate to the larger goals and aims of her husband's political agenda.

Campaign for vice-presidency

A crowd of an estimated two million gathers in 1951 to show support for the Perón-Perón ticket.
A crowd of an estimated two million gathers in 1951 to show support for the Perón-Perón ticket.

In 1951, Evita set her sights on earning a place on the ballot as candidate for vice-president. This move angered many military leaders who despised Evita and her increasing powers within the government. According to the Argentine Constitution, the Vice President automatically succeeds the President in the event of the President's death. The possibility of Evita becoming president in the event of Juan Perón's death was not something the military could accept.

Evita did, however, receive great support from the working class, the unions, and the Peronist Women's Party. The intensity of the support she drew from these groups is said to have surprised even Juan Perón himself. Fraser and Navarro write that the wide support Evita's proposed candidacy generated indicated to him that Evita had become as important to members of the Peronist party as Juan Perón himself was.

On August 22, 1951 the unions held a mass rally of two million people called "Cabildo Abierto". (The name "Cabildo Abierto" was a reference and tribute to the first local Argentine government of the May Revolution, in 1810.) The Peróns addressed the crowd from the balcony of a huge scaffolding set up near the Casa Rosada, the official government house of Argentina. Overhead were two large portraits of Eva and Juan Perón. It has been claimed that "Cabildo Abierto" was the largest public display of support in history for a female political figure . At the mass rally, the crowd demanded that Evita publicly announce her official candidacy as vice president. Evita pleaded for more time to make her decision. The exchange between Evita and the crowd of two million became, for a time, a genuine and spontaneous dialogue, with the crowd chanting, "¡Evita, Vice-Presidente!". When Evita asked for more time so she could make up her mind, the crowd demanded, "¡Ahora, Evita, ahora!" ("Now, Evita, now!"). Eventually, they came to a compromise. Evita told the audience that she would announce her decision over the radio a few days later.

Eventually, Evita declined the invitation to run for vice-president, saying her only ambition was that in the large chapter of history that would be written about her husband, she hoped that in the footnotes there would be mention of a woman who brought the "hopes and dreams of the people to the president", who eventually turned those hopes and dreams into "glorious reality". In Peronist rhetoric, this event has come to be referred to as "The Renouncement", portraying Evita as having been a selfless woman in line with the Hispanic myth of marianismo. Most biographers, however, postulate that Evita did not so much renounce her ambition but rather caved to pressure from her husband, the military, and the wealthy, who preferred that she not enter the race.

By 1951, it had also become evident that her health was rapidly deteriorating. In early 1950, Evita fainted in public and underwent surgery few days later. Although it was reported that she had undergone appendectomy, Evita had developed advanced cervical cancer. Fainting continued through 1951 (including the evening after "Cabildo abierto"), with extreme weakness and severe vaginal bleeding. Although her diagnosis was withheld from her by Juan, she knew she was not well, and a bid for the vice-presidency was not practical in light of her condition. Only a few months after "the Renouncement," Evita underwent a secret radical hysterectomy in an attempt to cure her of her advanced cervical cancer.

The Peróns take part in Buenos Aires parade to celebrate Juan Perón's second inauguration on June 4, 1952.
The Peróns take part in Buenos Aires parade to celebrate Juan Perón's second inauguration on June 4, 1952.

On June 4, 1952, Evita rode with Juan Perón in parade through Buenos Aires in celebration of his re-election as President of Argentina. (This was the first election in which Argentine women had been allowed to vote. Evita had organized women voters into the first truly powerful female political party in the country's history.) Evita was by this point so ill that she was unable to stand without support. Underneath her oversized fur coat was a frame made of plaster and wire that allowed her to stand. She took a triple dose of painkillers before the parade, and took another two doses when she returned home.

In an official ceremony a few days after Juan Perón's second inauguration, Evita was given the official title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation".


Despite having undergone hysterectomy by the preeminent American surgeon, George T. Pack, MD, Evita's cancer returned rapidly. She developed lung metastasis and was the first Argentinian to undergo chemotherapy (a novel treatment at that time). Despite all available treatment, she became emaciated, weighing only 36 kg by June of 1952. Evita died at the age of 33, at 8:27 p.m. on July 26, 1952. The news was immediately broadcast throughout the country, and Argentina went into mourning: all activity in Argentina stopped: movies stopped playing, restaurants were closed and patrons were shown to the door. A radio broadcast interrupted the broadcasting schedule, with the announcer reading, "It is my sad duty to inform you that today at 8:25 p.m. Eva Perón, Spiritual Leader of the Nation, entered immortality". Eva Perón was granted an official state funeral. Evita's time of death was officially stated as 8:25 p.m. because it was felt that this time would be easier to remember.

According to a Time magazine article published on Aug. 11, 1952 titled "In Mourning", the Peronist government enforced the beginning of daily periods of five minutes of mourning, following the daily radio announcement. This article also published the following list which it referred to as the "extravagant tributes" offered during the mourning period:

  • "The Union of Workers and Employees of the Food Industry cabled a request to Pope Pius XII to canonize Evita.
  • "Minister of Public Health Ramon Carrillo ordered a 220-lb. candle, the height of Evita (5 ft. 5 in.), to be installed in the ministry and lighted for an hour on the 26th day of every month (the day Evita died). Carrillo thought the candle would last 100 years or more.
  • "Schoolkids got prizes for poems and essays praising Evita. They were also told that she "got sick because she kissed the ill, the lepers, the consumptives."
  • "Carlos Aloé, super-Peronista governor of Buenos Aires province, fired an employee who refused to wear a black tie. A Buenos Aires youth was arrested for laughing on a streetcar. "Attitudes like this are antisocial," said Aloé.
  • "Eva's political cronies in high office, who stand to retain power if they can keep her memory alive, formed an "Association of Friends of Eva Perón" and asked, "What would Christ have been without his disciples?" (Eva's disciples, presumably, will be wanting to look after the more than $100 million which annually pours into her Social Aid Foundation, a "charity" which is Argentina's biggest business and keeps no accounting of funds.) Deprived thereafter of her tremendous popularity and imposing presence, the regime was increasingly forced to resort to repressive measures to compensate for the lost magnetism and popular support that Evita generated." (From )

Upon her death, the Argentine public was told that Evita's age was only 30. The discrepancy was meant to dovetail with Evita's earlier tampering with her birth certificate. After becoming the first lady in 1946, Evita had her birth records altered to read that she had been born to married parents, and placed her birth date three years forward, making herself younger.

Shortly before Evita's death, Dr. Pedro Ara was approached to embalm the body. Fraser and Navarro write that it is doubtful that Evita herself ever expressed a wish to be embalmed and suggest that it was most likely Juan Perón's decision. Dr. Ara was a professor of anatomy who had studied in Vienna and maintained an academic career in Madrid. His work was occasionally referred to as "the art of death". His highly advance embalming technique consisted of replacing the blood of the cadaver with glycerine, which retained all organs including the brain and created a very lifelike appearance, giving the corpses the appearance of "artistically rendered sleep". Dr. Ara was known in Buenos Aires society for his work. Among the people he had embalmed was Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. Dr. Ara claims that his embalming of Evita's corpse began on the night of her death and that by the next morning "the body of Eva Peron was completely and infinitely incorruptible" and therefore suitable for display to the public.

The public procession of Evita's coffin through downtown Buenos Aires
The public procession of Evita's coffin through downtown Buenos Aires

In the book Perón and the Enigmas of Argentina, biographer Robert D. Crassweller claims that the Anglo Saxon nations of North America and Europe largely misunderstood Argentina's response to the death of Eva Perón as well as the ornate funeral she was granted. Crassweller attributes this misunderstanding to the unique cultural makeup of the Peróns and Argentina itself.

"Almost lost among the memories of Evita that have caught the imagination of the world there was another that has been little noted but whose importance is considerable: the legacy of incomprehension. Her brief and dazzling years were so successful because, in good part, she was so profoundly of the ethos. 'I have the body and the soul and the blood of the people.' But it was the ethos of the old, Hispanic- Creole tradition, born in the interior out of Lima and nurtured on the Pampas. Like Perón, she was wholly indigenous in origin and formation and spirit; like him, she was distrusted and misunderstood in the Argentina of the Liberal System and in the outside world that knew only that Argentina."

"The same was true with regard to Evita's dramatized death during her last ten months, the dying in public that she sought as confirmation of her devotion. Such an attitude toward mortality is a variation of the old Hispanic preoccupation with death and with the dignity and splendor associated with it. It had by then faded away in most of the European Catholic societies and it is unknown in the Anglo-Saxon nations. Therefore, many saw her ordeal and the responses of Perón and the vast public as elements in an essentially political passion play, an attempt to milk some sympathy and benefit out of what should have been a private tragedy."

Disappearance and return of corpse

Shortly after her death, plans were made to construct a monument in Evita's honour. The monument, which was to be a statue of a man representing the " Descamisados", was projected to be larger than the Statue of Liberty. Evita's body was to be stored in the base of the monument and, in the tradition of Lenin's corpse, to be displayed for the public. Before the monument to Evita was completed, Juan Perón was overthrown in a military coup, the Revolución Libertadora, in 1955. Perón hurriedly fled the country and did not make arrangements to secure Evita's body.

A military dictatorship took power in Argentina. The new authorities removed Evita's body from display and its whereabouts remained a mystery for years. From 1955 until 1971, the military dictatorship of Argentina issued a ban on Peronism. It became illegal not only to possess pictures of Juan and Eva Perón even in one's home, but to even speak their names. After sixteen years, the military finally revealed the location of Evita's body. It had been buried in a crypt in Milan, Italy, under the name "María Maggi". In 1995, Tomás Eloy Martínez published " Santa Evita", which detailed many previously unknown facts about the escapades of Evita's corpse, such as the fact that many wax copies were made of the corpse. Martínez claimed that the corpse was damaged with a hammer and that one officer even committed necrophiliac acts on one of the copies of the corpse.

Eva Perón's tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery in the Buenos Aires district of Recoleta
Eva Perón's tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery in the Buenos Aires district of Recoleta

In 1971, Evita's body was exhumed and flown to Spain, where Juan Perón maintained the corpse in his home. In 1973, Juan Perón came out of exile and returned to Argentina, becoming president for the third time. Perón died in office in 1974. Isabel Perón, who had been elected vice-president, thus became the first female president in the world. It was Isabel who had Evita's body returned to Argentina and (briefly) displayed beside Juan Perón's. The body was later buried in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires. Extra measures were taken by the government to secure Evita's tomb. There is a trapdoor in the tomb's marble floor, which leads to a compartment that contains two coffins. Under the first compartment is a second trapdoor and a second compartment. That is where Evita's coffin rests. Biographers Marysa Navarro and Nicholas Fraser write that the claim is often made that Evita's tomb is so secure that it could withstand a nuclear attack. "It reflects a fear," they write, "a fear that the body will disappear from the tomb and that the woman, or rather the myth of the woman, will reappear."


Popular culture

In the epilogue for the 1996 reissue of Evita: The Real Life of Eva Perón Nicholas Fraser commented on Evita's late 20th century reemergence as a figure in popular culture:

"'I will come again, and I will be millions,' Evita had said in one of her apocalyptic last speeches just before her death; but even she could not have foreseen her sudden transformation, from Latin American politician and religiose national cult figure to late-twentieth-century popular culture folk heroine."

By the late 20th century, Eva Perón had become the subject of numerous articles, books, stage plays, and musicals, ranging from the biography The Woman with the Whip, to the B-grade film "Little Mother" , and a 1981 TV movie called "Evita Peron" with Faye Dunaway in the title role. The most successful rendering of Eva Perón's life has been the musical production Evita. The musical began as a concept album co-produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, with Julie Covington in the title role. Elaine Paige would later be cast in the title role when the concept album was adapted into a musical stage production in London's West End. In 1980, Patti LuPone won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance as the title character. Nicholas Fraser claims that to date the musical stage production has been performed on every continent (except Antarctica) and has generated over $2 billion in revenue.

As early as 1978, the musical was considered as the basis for a movie, with everyone from Patti LuPone, to Liza Minnelli, to Michelle Pfeiffer, to Meryl Streep, being considered for the title role. After a nearly 20-year production delay, Madonna was cast in the title role for the film version of the musical. Madonna would later win the Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy". In response to the movie starring Madonna, and in an alleged attempt to offer a more politically accurate depiction of Evita's life, an Argentine film company released "Eva Perón: The True Story". The Argentine production starred actress Esther Goris in the title role. This movie was the 1996 Argentine submission for the Oscar in the category of "Best Foreign Film".

"In her own country her story is at last part of history, arousing the sort of peaceful controversy one might expect from so astonishing a career. In the rest of the world, however, she has attained the condition of apotheosis — becoming a deity in the new world pantheon of electric celebrity."

Nicholas Fraser suggests that Evita is the perfect popular culture icon for our times because her career foreshadowed what by the late 20th century had become common. During Evita's time it was considered scandalous for a former entertainer to take part in public political life. Her detractors in Argentina had often accused Evita of turning public political life into show business. But by the late 20th century, Fraser claims, the public had become engrossed in the cult of celebrity and public political life had become insignificant. Former actors and entertainers, from Ronald Reagan to Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Glenda Jackson, have often taken public political offices. In this regard, Evita was perhaps ahead of her time. Fraser also writes that Evita's story is appealing to our celebrity obsessed age because her story confirms one of Hollywood's oldest cliché, the rags to riches story.

In the book Eva Perón: The Myths of a Woman, cultural anthropologist Julie M. Taylor claims that Evita has remained intriguing to people in Argentina and around the world due to the combination of four unique factors. Taylor writes:

"In the images examined, the three elements consistently linked — femininity, mystical or spirituality power, and revolutionary leadership — display an underlying common theme. Identification with any one of these elements puts a person or a group at the margins of established society and at the limits of institutional authority. Anyone who can identify with all three images lays an overwhelming and echoing claim to dominance through forces that recognize no control in society or its rules. Only a woman can embody all three elements of this power."

The fourth element in Evita's appeal, claims Taylor, is related to her status as a dead woman and the power that death holds over the public imagination. Further, Taylor claims that Evita's embalmed corpse is analogous to the incorruptibility of various Catholic saints, such as Bernadette Soubirous, and therefore holds powerful symbolism within the largely Catholic cultures of Latin America.

"To some extent her continuing importance and popularity may be attributed not only to her power as a woman but also to the power of the dead. However a society’s vision of the afterlife may be structured, death by its nature remains a mystery, and, until society formally allays the commotion it causes, a source of disturbance and disorder. Women and the dead — death and womanhood — stand in similar relation to structured social forms: outside public institutions, unlimited by official rules, and beyond formal categories. As a female corpse reiterating the symbolic themes of both woman and martyr, Eva Perón perhaps lays double claim to spiritual leadership."

Tomás Eloy Martínez suggests that Eva Perón has remained an important cultural icon for the same reasons as fellow Argentine Ché Guevara:

"Latin American myths are more resistant than they seem to be. Not even the mass exodus of the Cuban raft people or the rapid decomposition and isolation of Fidel Castro's regime have eroded the triumphal myth of Che Guevara, which remains alive in the dreams of thousands of young people in Latin America, Africa and Europe. Che as well as Evita symbolize certain naive, but effective, beliefs: the hope for a better world; a life sacrificed on the altar of the disinherited, the humiliated, the poor of the earth. They are myths which somehow reproduce the image of Christ."

Allegations of fascism

In the book Evita: The Real Life of Eva Perón authors Marysa Navarro and Nicholas Fraser write, "Around no historical figure in modern times are there such complicated myths as those that exist around Eva, second wife of Juan Domingo Perón." One of the most complicated aspects of Eva Perón's legacy regards her alleged connection to nazism, fascism, and her alleged role in aiding Nazi war criminals in escaping prosecution and living in anonymity in Argentina. Some authors and biographers have claimed that these allegations are true, while others claim they are merely among the many complicated myths to which Navarro and Fraser refer.

The book The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón's Argentina depicts Eva Perón on the cover along with Juan Perón. The 1980 made-for-TV movie Evita Peron, starring Faye Dunaway, also portrays Eva as a Nazi conspirator. Movie critic Roger Ebert wrote, "(Eva Perón) let down the poor, shirtless ones by providing a glamorous facade for a fascist dictatorship, by salting away charity funds, and by distracting from her husband's tacit protection of Nazi war criminals." It has been claimed that Eva Perón's alleged support for Nazism is largely responsible for the negative portrayal of Eva Perón in the Broadway version of the musical "Evita" . When the musical debuted in London on June 21, 1978, the portrayal of Evita was comparatively sympathetic. By the time of musical's debut in New York City in 1979, the structure of the production had been reworked considerably, with some songs being omitted entirely. In literature about the production of the musical it has been speculated that this reworking of the musical to portray Evita as a villain rather than as a heroine was in large part done in response to the fear of reprimand, perhaps even boycotts, by the large Jewish population of New York City. (In contrast to London, New York City has one of the largest Jewish populations in the world.) The producers were perhaps fearful that if they portrayed Evita too kindly in the musical then they would be accused of glorifying a supporter of nazism and fascism.

In 1997, Time Magazine published an article by Tomás Martínez, Director of the Latin American program at Rutgers University, titled "The Woman Behind the Fantasy: Prostitute, Fascist, Profligate — Eva Peron was Much Maligned, Mostly Unfairly". In this article, Martínez writes that Eva Perón was not a nazi or a fascist and that she played no role in aiding Nazi criminals escape post-war prosecution:

"She was not a fascist—ignorant, perhaps, of what that ideology meant.... The difficulty in understanding Peronism and its two protagonists — Perón and Evita — stems above all from the fact that Perón sympathized with the Axis powers in 1944 and 1945, when he was a colonel and Minister of War. That blunder made him unacceptable to the U.S. The seeds of the idea that Evita shared his sentiments were also planted during that time. But Evita was more or less Perón's clandestine lover then and thought only of holding on to her man and surviving. She lacked not only any political ideology but also influence and power in either Perón's household or the political life of Argentina.... It is true that Perón facilitated the entrance of Nazi criminals to Argentina in 1947 and 1948, thereby hoping to acquire advanced technology developed by the Germans during the war. But Evita played no part."

Lawrence Levine, the former president of the U.S.-Argentine Chamber of Commerce, writes that in contrast to Nazi ideology, the Peróns were not anti-semitic. In the book Inside Argentina from Perón to Menem: 1950-2000 from an American Point of View, Lawrence Levine writes:

"The American government demonstrated no knowledge of Perón's deep admiration for Italy (and his distaste for Germany, whose culture he found too rigid). Nor did they appreciate that although anti-Semitism existed in Argentina, Perón's own views and his political associations were not anti-Semitic. They paid no attention to the fact that Perón sought out the Jewish community in Argentina to assist in developing his policies and that one of his most important allies in organizing the industrial sector was Jose Ber Gerbald, a Jewish immigrant from Poland."

Historian Robert D. Crassweller, author of Perón and the Enigmas of Argentina, does not address the allegations of Eva Perón's involvement with Nazi war criminals. However, Crassweller does address the allegation of Peronism's ties with nazi and fascist political ideology. Crassweller writes, "Peronism was not fascism", and "Peronism was not nazism." Crassweller also refers to the comments of U.S. Ambassador George S. Messersmith. While visiting Argentina in 1947, Messersmith made the following statement: "There is not as much social discrimination against Jews here as there is right in New York or in most places at home..."

In his dissertation titled "The Jews and Perón: Communal Politics and National Identity in Peronist Argentina, 1946-1955", Lawrence D. Bell writes, "Despite the claims of Perón's detractors in the United States and elsewhere that he was anti-Semitic and in sympathy with European Fascism, Perón in fact demonstrated a considerable amount of pragmatism in his dealings with Argentina's 250,000 strong Jewish population."

Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro claim that Perón's detractors forged documents that were circulated around Argentina and England during Peron's first term. These documents made it appear that Evita had met with Nazis in Patagonia to arrange for the smuggling of Nazi loot into the country. Fraser and Navarro claim that the allegedly forged documents address a period of Evita's life when she was still an actress and Perón's mistress, and therefore any political action of any type was unlikely for Evita.

In Argentina

In the book Eva Perón: The Myths of a Woman cultural anthropologist Julie M. Taylor notes that the precise nature of Eva Perón's power in Argentina is difficult to define because Eva Perón never held an official political office. Taylor also claims that Eva Perón's continuing importance in Argentine politics is directly related to her unofficial and uninstitutionalized position. Taylor suggests that because she was not an officially elected political leader, Eva Perón's power is often interpreted as existing not within the domain of politics but is often seen as aligned with, and deriving from, her very womanhood. Taylor argues that within Argentina Eva Perón has become the screen onto which many constrasting and complicated archetypes of womanhood are projected. For Argentines Eva Perón is often interpreted not as a politician but as either a corruption of, or the very embodiment of, "the feminine ideal". For Peronists, Eva Perón is often depicted as a mother figure, while anti-Peronists, such as Jorge Luis Borges, often claimed that Eva Perón was a prostitute.

Fraser and Navarro claim that because Eva Perón died at the peak of her popularity, her myth has remained intact and she remains one of the most important symbols of Peronism. Though it is not an official government holiday, the anniversay of Evita's death is marked by Argentines every year. Additionally, Eva Perón has been featured on Argentine coins, and a form of Argentine currency called "Evitas" was named in her honour.

On July 26, 2002, the 50th anniversary of Eva Perón's death, a museum opened in her honour called "Museo Evita". The museum, which was created by her great-niece Cristina Alvarez Rodriquez, houses many of Eva Perón's clothes, portraits, and artistic renderings of her life. It has become a popular tourist attraction. The museum was opened in a building that was once used by the Eva Perón Foundation.


  • In 2003, The Simpsons parodied the musical Evita in an episode called " The President Wore Pearls". In this episode, Lisa Simpson seeks to be the president of the Springfield Elementary student body. The episode contains five songs, all of which are parodies of songs from Evita. For example, one song Lisa Simpson sings is called "Don't Cry for Me, Kids of Springfield," which is a parody of Evita's most famous song " Don't Cry for Me, Argentina". The episode ends with the following disclaimer: "On the advice of our lawyers, the producers would like to stress that they have never heard of a musical based on the life of Eva Perón."
  • On his official website, psychologist David Keirsey PhD. suggests that Eva Perón was the Extraverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving personality type. Dr. Keirsey, author of the book Please Understand Me, one of the most popular books on typology, refers to the ESTP personality type as "The Promoter". Dr. Keirsey suggests that pop singer Madonna is the same psychological type as he believes Eva Perón to have been.

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