Following on from the lengthy case study, Case Study #6, which focused on John Fitzgerald Kennedy, comes Case Study #7, which will now focus on the Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Argentina, Eva Perón. This case study will focus on Eva Perón’s life as it unfolded, featuring specific moments and highlights of her career up until her death at the age of 33 on the 26th July 1952.
María Eva Duarte de Perón (7th May 1919 – 26th July 1952)
Eva Person was the second wife of the Argentinian President, Juan Perón (1895 – 1974) and had also served as the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. She is also best known by the name, Evita.
She was born in the rural village of Los Toldos, in Pampas, as the youngest of 5 children and at the age of 15 in 1934, Eva Perón had moved to the nation’s capital of Buenos Aires to pursue a career as a stage, radio and film actress. There, she had met the Colonel, Juan Perón on the 22nd January 1944 during a charity event at the Luna Park Stadium to benefit the victims of the San Juan Earthquake in Argentina.
Both Eva & Juan Perón were married the following year, and Juan Perón was elected as the President of Argentina in 1946. During the course of the last 6 years of her life, Eva Perón had become a powerful figure within the pro-Perónist trade unions, primarily for speaking on behalf of the labor rights. She had also ran the Ministries of Labor and Health, where she had founded and ran the charitable Eva Perón Foundation, championed the women’s suffrage in Argentina, and had also founded and also ran the nation’s first large-scale female political party, which was the Female Perónist Party.
In 1951, Eva Perón had announced her candidacy for the Perónist nomination for the office of Vice President of Argentina, where she had received a lot of great support from the Perónist political base, low-income and working-class Argentines, who were ultimately referred to as the descamisados, or the “shirtless ones“. However, her opposition from the nation’s military and bourgeoisie, which coupled also with her declining health, had ultimately forced her to withdraw her candidacy. In 1952, shortly just before her death from Ovarian Cancer at the age of 33, Eva Perón was given the title of the “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” by the Argentine Congress, and just after her death, Eva Perón was given a state funeral, a prerogative that was generally reserved for the heads of state.
Eva Perón has become a massive part of international popular culture, most famously as the subject of the musical, Evita (1976). Cristina Álvarez Rodríguez, who was Evita’s great-niece, claimed that Evita had never left the collective consciousness of Argentines, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was the first elected female President for Argentina, claimed that the women of her generation owe a debt to Eva Perón for “her example of passion and combativeness”. She had also elicited some controversy for how she would wield the power and the control that she had at her peak.
Eva Perón’s Early Life (Her Early Childhood, Junin and the Move to Buenos Aires)
Eva Perón’s autobiography, La Razón de mi Vida, contains no dates or even any references to her childhood occurrences, and the autobiography doesn’t list her birth place or even her name at birth. According to Junin’s civil registry, a birth certificate had shown that one Maria Eva Duarte was born on the 7th May 1922. Her baptismal certificate, however, listed another date of birth of the 7th May 1919 under the name, Eva Maria Ibarguren. It is thought, however, that in 1945, the adult Eva Perón had created a forgery of her birth certificate for her marriage.
Eva Perón had spent her childhood in Junin, in the Buenos Aires Province. Her parents, Juan Duarte, and Juana Ibarguren (sometimes referred to as Doña Juana), were descended from Basque immigrants. Juan Duarte, a wealthy rancher from nearby Chivilcoy, already had a wife and family there, and at that time in rural Argentina, it wasn’t uncommon for a wealthy man to have multiple families.
When Eva was a year old, Duarte had returned permanently to his legal family, leaving Juana Ibarguren and her children in severe penury. Ibarguren and her children were forced to move to the poorest area of Junin. Los Toldos was a village in the dusty region of Las Pampas, with a reputation as a desolate place of abject poverty. To support herself and her children, Ibarguren had sewed clothes for neighbours. The family, however, was stigmatised by the abandonment of the father and by the illegitimate status of the children under Argentine law, and was consequently somewhat isolated. A desire to expunge this part of her life may have been the motivation for Eva Perón to arrange the destruction of her original birth certificate in 1945.
When Duarte had suddenly died and his mistress and their children sought to attend his funeral, there was an unpleasant scene at the church gates. Although Juana and the children were permitted to enter and pay their respects to Duarte, they were promptly directed out of the church, and Mrs. Juan Duarte did not want her husband’s mistress and children at the funeral, and, as those of the legitimate wife, her orders were respected.
“In all of Latin America, only one other woman has aroused an emotion, devotion and faith comparable to those awakened by the Virgin of Guadalupe. In many homes, the image of Evita is on the wall next to the Virgin.” — Fabienne Rousso Lenoir
In his essay, which was titled: “Latin America”, which was published in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, John McManners had claimed that the appeal and success of Eva Perón were related to the Latin American mythology and concepts of divinity. McManners had also claimed that Eva Perón had consciously incorporated the aspects of the theology of the Virgin and of Mary Magdalene into her public persona. The Historian, Hubert Herring, has described Eva Perón as being “Perhaps the shrewdest woman yet to appear in public life in Latin America.”
In a 1996 interview, Tomás Eloy Martínez had referred to Eva Perón as: “the Cinderella of the tango and the Sleeping Beauty of Latin America.” He has also suggested that she has remained as an important cultural icon for the same reasons as the fellow Argentine, Che Guevara, by saying that:
“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.” – Tomás Eloy Martínez
Although it wasn’t a government holiday, the anniversary of Eva Perón’s death is marked by many Argentines each year, and additionally, Eva Perón has been featured on Argentine coins, and a form of an Argentine currency, called “Evitas” was named in her honour. Ciudad Evita (Evita City), which was established by the Eva Perón Foundation in 1947, is located just outside of Buenos Aires.
Cristina Kirchner, who was the first elected female President in Argentine history, is a Perónist who was occasionally referred to as “The New Evita.” Kirchner has said that she doesn’t want to compare herself to Evita, by claiming that she was a unique phenomenon in Argentine history. Kirchner has also said that the women of her generation, who had come of age in the 1970s, during the military dictatorships in Argentina, owe a debt to Evita for offering an example of passion and combativeness.
On the 26th July 2002, the 50th Anniversary of Eva Perón’s death, a museum was opened in her honour, which was called the Museo Evita, and the museum, which was created by her great-niece, Cristina Alvarez Rodriquez, houses many of Eva Perón’s clothes, portraits, as well as artistic renderings of her life, which has also become a popular tourist attraction. The museum was opened in a building that was once used by the Eva Perón Foundation.
In the book: “Eva Perón: The Myths of a Woman”, the cultural anthropologist, Julie M. Taylor, had claimed that Evita has remained important in Argentina due to the combination of three unique factors, by saying that:
“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.” – Julie M. Taylor
Julie M. Taylor also argued that the fourth factor in Evita’s continued importance in Argentina related to her status as a dead woman, and the power that death would hold over the public’s imagination. She also suggested that Evita’s embalmed corpse is analogous to the incorruptibility of various Catholic saints, such as Bernadette Soubirous, and also has powerful symbolism within the largely Catholic cultures of Latin America, by also saying that:
“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.” – Julie M. Taylor
John Balfour was the British Ambassador in Argentina during the Perón regime, and described Evita’s popularity, by saying that:
“She was by any standard a very extraordinary woman; when you think of Argentina and indeed Latin America as a men dominated part of the world, there was this woman who was playing a very great role. And of course she aroused very different feelings in the people with whom she lived. The oligarchs, as she called the well-to-do and privileged people, hated her. They looked upon her as a ruthless woman. The masses of the people on the other hand worshipped her. They looked upon her as a lady bountiful who was dispensing Manna from heaven.” – John Balfour
In 2011, two giant murals of Evita were unveiled on the building facades of the current Ministry of Social Development, which is located on 9 de Julio Avenue. These works were painted by the Argentine artist, Alejandro Marmo, and on the 26th July 2012, to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Evita’s death, the notes were issued in a value of 100 pesos.
The controversial effigy of Julio Argentino Roca was replaced by that of Eva Duarte Perón, which made her the first actual woman to be featured on the currency of Argentina. The image in the notes were based on a 1952 design, whose sketch was found in the Mint, was made by the engraver, Sergio Pilosio with the artist, Roger Pfund. The printing had totalled 20 million notes; it isn’t clear whether the government will replace the notes that feature Roca and the Desert Campaign.
The biographers, Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro wrote that Juan Perón’s opponents had, from the start, accused Perón of being a fascist, though Spruille Braden, who was a diplomat from the United States, who was also greatly supported by Juan Perón’s opponents, campaigned against Juan Perón’s first candidacy on the platform that Juan Perón was a fascist and also a Nazi.
Fraser and Navarro had also theorised that the perception of the Perón’s as fascists was enhanced during Evita’s 1947 European tour, during which she was a guest of honour of Francisco Franco. By 1947, Franco became politically isolated as one of the few remaining fascists to retain power, and was therefore in desperate need of a political ally. With nearly a third of Argentina’s population of Spanish descent, it had seemed natural for Argentina to have diplomatic relations with Spain.
Commenting on the international perception of Evita during her 1947 European tour, Fraser and Navarro wrote that: “It was inevitable that Evita be viewed in a fascist context. Therefore, both Evita and Perón were seen to represent an ideology which had run its course in Europe, only to re-emerge in an exotic, theatrical, even farcical form in a faraway country.”
Laurence Levine, who was the former President of the U.S-Argentine Chamber of Commerce, wrote that in contrast to the Nazi ideology, the Perón’s were not anti-Semitic. In the book: “Inside Argentina from Perón to Menem: 1950-2000 from an American Point of View”, Laurence Levine wrote that:
“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 José Ber Gelbard, a Jewish immigrant from Poland.” – Laurence Levine
The biographer, Robert D. Crassweller, wrote that: “”Peronism was not fascism”, and that “Peronism was not Nazism.” He also referred to the comments of the U.S Ambassador, George S. Messersmith, and while he visited Argentina in 1947, Messersmith had 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.”
TIME Magazine had published an article that was made by Tomás Eloy Martínez—the Argentine writer, journalist, and the former director of the Latin American program at Rutgers University—which was titled: “The Woman Behind the Fantasy: Prostitute, Fascist, Profligate—Eva Peron Was Much Maligned, Mostly Unfairly”. In this article, Martínez wrote that the accusations that Eva Duarte Perón was a fascist, a Nazi, and a thief had been made against her for decades, and he also wrote that the allegations were untrue, by saying that:
“She was not a fascist—ignorant, perhaps, of what that ideology meant. And she was not greedy. Though she liked jewelry, furs and Dior dresses, she could own as many as she desired without the need to rob others…. In 1964 Jorge Luis Borges stated that ‘the mother of that woman [Evita]’ was ‘the madam of a whorehouse in Junín.’ He repeated the calumny so often that some still believe it or, more commonly, think Evita herself, whose lack of sex appeal is mentioned by all who knew her, apprenticed in that imaginary brothel. Around 1955 the pamphleteer Silvano Santander employed the same strategy to concoct letters in which Evita figures as an accomplice of the Nazis. It is true that (Juan) 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.” – Tomás Eloy Martínez
In his 2002 doctoral dissertation at the Ohio State University, Lawrence D. Bell had written that the governments that had preceded Juan Perón had been anti-Semitic, but that his government wasn’t. Juan Perón had “eagerly and enthusiastically” attempted to recruit the Jewish community into his government and set up a branch of the Perónist Party for the Jewish members, known as the Organización Israelita Argentina (OIA).
Perón’s government was the first to court the Argentine Jewish community, and was also the first to appoint the Jewish citizens to public office. Kevin Passmore had written that the Perónist regime, more than any other in Latin America, was accused of being fascist. But he says that the Perónist regime was not being fascist, and what had passed for fascism under Perón never took hold in Latin America. Additionally, because of the fact the Perónist regime had allowed rival political parties to exist, it cannot be described as being totalitarian.
By the late 20th Century, Eva Perón had become the subject of numerous articles, books, stage plays and even musicals, which ranged also from the biography: “The Woman with the Whip” to a 1981 Television movie called Evita Perón with Faye Dunaway being in the title role. The most successful rendering of Eva Perón’s life was the musical production, Evita.
The musical had begun as a concept album, which was co-produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1976, with Julie Covington being in the title role. Elaine Page was later on case in the title role when the concept album was adapted into a musical stage production in London’s West End and won the 1978 Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Musical for her performance as the title character in the Broadway production. Nicholas Fraser had claimed that to date: “the musical stage production has been performed on every continent except Antarctica and has generated over $2 billion in revenue.”
From as early as 1978, the musical was considered as the basis for a movie, and after almost 20 years of the film’s production being delayed, the Queen of Pop, Madonna, was cast as Eva Duarte Perón in the 1996 version of the film, Evita. As a result of the film, Madonna won the Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.” In response to the American film, and in an alleged attempt to offer a more politically accurate depiction of Evita’s life, an Argentinian film company released the film, Eva Perón: The True Story. The Argentinian production had starred the actress, Esther Goris, in the title role. This movie was the 1996 Argentinian submission for the Oscar in the category of “Best Foreign Language Film.”
Nicholas Fraser wrote that Evita was the perfect popular culture icon for our times, because her career had foreshadowed, by the late 20th Century, what had become common. During Evita’s time, it was considered as being scandalous for a former entertainer to take part in public political life, though her detractors in Argentina had often accused her of turning public political life into a show business. However, Nicholas Fraser had claimed that the public had become engrossed in the cult of celebrity and that the public political life had become insignificant.
In this regard, Evita was perhaps ahead of her time, but Fraser had also written that Evita’s story appeals to our celebrity-obsessed age because her story confirmed one of Hollywood’s oldest clichés, the rags to riches story. By reflecting on Eva Perón’s popularity more than half a century after her death, Alma Guillermoprieto wrote that: “Evita’s life has evidently just begun.”
This Case Study on Eva Duarte Perón now comes to a remarkable close, and is the last offical standard article for 2015. Check back very soon for the final article, where I will take a full look-back on 2015, on this entire year in review.