Evita: Saint Or Sinner?

Evita: Saint Or Sinner?

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Evita: Saint or Sinner?


     The story of Eva Peron is a fascinating one . Evita, as she is known,
enjoyed a rise to power like no other. The details of this ascension are often
disputed, making Santa Evita's tale all the more intriguing. . .
     Maria Eva Duarte was born on May 7, 1919,1 the fifth and youngest
illegitimate child of Juan Duarte and his mistress, Juan Ibarguen. The week of
her birth was known as Tragic Week, when the army massacred striking workers,
perhaps a foreshadow of what was to come in her life.2
     Eva spent her childhood in an adobe farmhouse, with farm animals and
earthen floors. In the farming trade, Juan Duarte incurred many debts,
eventually leaving him with nothing. Thus, early in her life, Eva learnt the
humiliation of poverty.
     The Duartes were further put down by the stiff Argentine caste system,
which divided the poor from the wealthy. Being a bastard child, Eva and her
four sisters were seen as 'brats,' and were stopped from associating with the
other village children. Rejection, thrown upon young Eva through no fault of her
own, would not be forgotten nor forgiven.3
     At age fifteen, Eva Duarte set out to become a radio actress. She knew
she could be like the women in the movie magazines she either stole or borrowed
from her friends. Eva met singer Agustin Magaldi, and, packed her bags and
sneaked out of her mother's boarding house to the city of Buenos Aires.
     Once Eva learned the rules of the 'casting couch,' she dropped Magaldi
and began her ascent to stardom. For years she wandered the streets, auditioned,
and did whatever she had to do, no matter how distasteful. Eva gained modeling
work and small parts in radio plays, frequenting nightclubs, and began to find
better work.
     After several jobs in theatres, she was interviewed by the magazine
Sintonia. After Eva started an affair with the magazine's owner, he began to
give her good exposure. This led to jobs in the film industry. Though she made
several, she had no talent to be seen in any of her films.4
     Eva's body was what sold her to the masses. She could have any man that
she wanted, and soon set her sights on Colonel Juan Peron, who had political
ruthlessness, a passion for younger women (especially good-looking actresses),
and was a 48-year-old widower.5
     On January 15, 1944, San Juan Argentina was hit by a terrible earthquake.
A gala benefit show was held to support the relief effort, where Eva and
Colonel Peron first met. They were seen leaving the gala together.

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6
     Their attraction was not kept secret. Evita- what she liked to be
called, now that she was a celebrity- and Peron became inseparable. Their
attraction became a personal bond as well as a political alliance. She was
active in formation of policy and penned plays about the Peronist 'Revolution.'
By her account, Juan himself was responsible for the coup of 1943. This and
other similar events disturbed military officers greatly.
     The U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Spruille Braden, openly criticized the
Argentine government, and schemed to overthrow it. Peron labeled his opposition
as foreign intervention, and made his own cause a national one.7
     This helped Peron become the most important man in the government, and
thus a target of much criticism. Military officers hated him, and the President
ordered him to resign his position. They decided to arrest Peron and place him
under 'protective custody.' It was October 12, 1945.
     Peron, while in prison, won the support of the labor unions. Strikes
took place, and the workers took to the streets. The government had
underestimated Peron's popularity. On October 16, Peron's release was
successfully bargained for. On October 17, he was back in Buenos Aires.
However, he would not make and appearance to the public. The 'descamisados,' or
'shirtless ones,' still filled the streets.
     The President needed Peron to speak to the people. Having little choice,
he met Peron's extreme demands. This included a new cabinet, and everyone in it
would be a Peron supporter. After terms were settled, Peron made his appearance,
and was cheered like no Argentine before him.8
     When Peron ran for President in 1946, he won by the largest electoral
vote in Argentine history.9
     Juan Peron and Eva were married on October 21, 1945. Evita was an
active first lady. She campaigned for women's suffrage, yet her view of
feminism was different than that of today. Evita believed in a traditional
woman's responsibilities, a woman who directed her activism toward the cause of
man. "For women, to be a Peronist means, above all, loyalty to Peron,
subordination to Peron, and blind trust in Peron."10
     Speaking on Juan's behalf to the 'descamisados,' Eva is quoted as saying
"He is God for us. . .we cannot conceive of heaven without Peron. He is our sun,
our air, our water, our life. . ."11
     Evita was a hero to 'los descamidos,' as she herself had been poor and
knew what poverty meant. She had her own court for them. The poor would
disclose their troubles to Evita. If money was their problem, they were handed
at least a 100 peso note. Any problem would be dealt with. Jobs would be found
for the unemployed. Evita's strong men would seek a husband who had left his
wife (he would rarely refuse to return). She truly was a saint to them, Santa
Evita.12
     Evita developed a strong following with women. She gave them the right
to vote, set up homes for single working girls, and introduced the idea of a
career woman.
     Santa Evita was now more popular than Peron himself. Evita attempted to
use this popularity to run for Vice President. However, major army officers
feared she would succeed the President, and stopped her nomination. The
military still hated her, and could not stand for her to be thought of as
commander-in-chief.13
     In January of 1951, surgeons noticed the beginnings of uterine cancer.
Eva rejected medical advice and refused to undergo a hysterectomy. Her health
worsened rapidly, and finally had surgery. It was too late. Eva Duarte de
Peron died on July 26, 1952 and Argentina wept. Hundreds of thousands lined the
streets. Peron himself was shocked. "I did not know they loved her so much."14
     Newspapers could use all the paper they desired in reporting the life
and death of Evita, despite a paper shortage. The news of her passing was
rebroadcast at 15-minute intervals. The country came to a halt.15
     Evita's tomb was planned. It would be lined with 16 statues of her. A
140-foot tall statue of a 'descamido' would tower along the Buenos Aires skyline.
     While the tomb was being erected, Evita's temporary resting place was
the Labor Confederation Headquarters. In 1955, agents of the new President,
Pedro Arambulu, stole the corpse, placed it into the army lorry, and drove away.
     The remains of Eva Peron could be used as a powerful symbol against any
government, and the location of them became a primary concern of Argentines.
Rumors stated that she had been incinerated, that her body was in Chile with her
mother and sisters, that she was not in fact dead, but living in exile with
Peron. For years rumors circulated, until, in time, Evita became a memory, a
lost symbol of hope to the poor of Argentina.

* * *

     On September 2, 1971, Juan Peron was reunited with the body of his
second wife, Evita. He openly wept. "She is not dead. She is sleeping. . .
Only sleeping!"
     Evita's blonde hair had been cut off at the neck. Further examination
showed that cuts were present all over her body, her nose was broker, both knees
broken, and the chest was marked with six holes.
     Later repaired, the body was placed in a new coffin, upstairs in Peron's
cottage.
     Evita had been missing seventeen years.
     The embalmed body was put on display in December of 1974, beside General
Peron's sealed coffin. Twenty-four years after Eva's death, In October 1976,
the body of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron was returned to the family, and now lies
in an armored private vault fifteen feet underground, in Buenos Aires.
     Evita's body should not be stolen again. It is not in the actual vault,
but one underneath the family tomb. Beneath three steel plates, each locked
with a different combination, in total silence and darkness, in another chamber
lies the corpse of Eva Peron.
     "I will return. And I will be millions."16
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