In 1949 the most familiar scene in Argentina was the one played out
almost daily at the Ministry of Labor in Buenos Aires. There, under the glare of
camera lights, a former radio star and movie actress, now the most powerful
woman in South America, would enter her office past a crush of adoring,
impoverished women and children. Evita Peron, the wife of President Juan Peron,
would sit at her desk and begin one of the great rituals of Peronism, the
political movement she and her husband created. It was a pageant that sustained
them in power. She would patiently listen to the stories of the poor, then reach
into her desk to pull out some money. Or she would turn to a minister and ask
that a house be built. She would caress filthy children. She would kiss lepers,
just as the saints had done. To many Argentines, Evita Peron was a flesh-and-
blood saint; later, 40,000 of them would write to the pope attesting to her
She was born on May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, and baptized Maria Eva, but
everyone called her Evita. Her father abandoned the family shortly after her
birth. Fifteen years of poverty followed and, in early 1935, the young Evita
fled her stifling existence to go to Buenos Aires. Perhaps, as some have said,
she fell in love with a tango singer who was passing through.
She wanted to be an actress, and in the next few years supported herself
with bit parts, photo sessions for titillating magazines and stints as an
attractive judge of tango competitions. She began frequenting the offices of a
movie magazine, talking herself up for mention in its pages. When, in 1939, she
was hired as an actress in a radio company, she discovered a talent for playing
heroines in the fantasy world of radio soap opera.
This was a period of political uncertainty in Argentina, yet few people
were prepared for the military coup that took place in June 1943. Among the many
measures instituted by the new government was the censorship of radio soap
operas. Quickly adapting to the new environment, Evita approached the officer in
charge of allocating airtime, Colonel Anibal Imbert. She seduced him, and Imbert
approved a new project Evita had in mind, a radio series called Heroines of
History. Years later, people would say that Evita had been...
... middle of paper ...
...cancer had spread. In
June 1952, Peron's congress named Evita the Spiritual Leader of the Nation. Her
own final contribution to that deification came in her will, in which she wrote
that she wanted "the poor, the old, the children, and the workers to continue
writing to me as they did in my lifetime." She died on July 26, 1952, at the age
A specialist was brought in to embalm the body and make it "definitively
incorruptible." Evita's body lay in state for 13 days-and even then the crowds
showed no sign of diminishing.
In the decades that followed, Peronism continued to occupy a place in
Argentine political life, taking the form mainly of anti-government terrorism.
In 1971, after a number of demands by terrorists, the Argentine government
agreed to return Evita's body. It was shipped to Peron in Spain.
That year, Peron was allowed to return to Argentina; two years later he
was president again. He died in office, and it was his wife and successor,
Isabel, who brought Evita's body back to Argentina, in the hope that the aura of
a saint would again dazzle the public.
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