|I Will Be Back, and I Will Be Millions!||Eddy Morrison looks at the colourful career of Eva Perón|
Eva Perón (real name Maria Eva Duarte de Perón), known throughout the world as Evita, especially after the success of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage play and film, lived only a very short life. Her impact on the politics of Argentina was, however, enormous; and it continues today more than fifty years after her death. Her name Eva became the affectionate 'Evita' or 'Our little Eva'.
Eva was venerated by the Argentine workers - her descamisados (meaning 'shirtless ones'); she was slated by the haute bourgeoisie of Buenos Aries society (the fifty oligarchic families who had dominated the Argentine and against whom Evita fought her whole life); and she was totally misunderstood by the military establishment, who thought she could be used as a pawn. Through all of this she came to symbolise a strong Argentina, full of national pride and nationalist expectations in the years following the Second World War.
Eva Perón's meteoric rise from her beginnings as a poor villager in the backwaters of a run-down country to a status as one of the most intriguing, charismatic and powerful figures in a male-dominated culture, is a story almost unique in political history.
Eva was born in the little village of Los Toldos in 1919, one of five children her mother bore to Juan Duarte. All the children were illegitimate - a social stigma in a staunch Catholic country. On her father's death, the family moved to the provincial town of Junin to start a new life. It was in Junin, at the age of 14, that she became determined to be an actress, and when she was given the chance to leave the backwater town she took it. She ran off to Buenos Aries, the cultural centre of South America, in the company of a young tango singer.
As an aspiring 15-year-old actress, Eva faced almost impossible odds in landing jobs in the theatre. She led a hand-to-mouth existence, often being ill and rarely having much to eat. Her opportunities took a dramatic leap forward when a well-off manufacturer fell in love with her and provided her with her own radio show. Shortly thereafter, Eva's voice became a regular feature on the airwaves of Buenos Aires.
Eva's energy was incredible: her pace of work was terrific, and she quickly made powerful friends. Her lack of training in acting did not seem to hinder her ability to attract some very important people to her cause. Among her admirers were the President of Argentina and, more importantly, the Minister of Communications, Colonel Imbert, who controlled all radio stations in the country.
Meeting with Perón
Eva met Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, the real power behind the new military government, at a fund-raising event for victims of the devastating 1944 San Juan earthquake, in which thousands died. She made a quick and favourable impression on the widowed colonel and started to see him regularly. Though exactly half Perón's 48 years, Eva, at numerous turns, assisted Perón's rise to power in ways that were beyond the imagination of even the most veteran politicians. When Perón became Minister of Labour and Welfare, Eva convinced him that his real power base should be the previously ignored masses of labourers living in the terrible slum conditions that then surrounded the otherwise glamorous Buenos Aires. Eva was fulfilling the real cause in her heart - social justice for the poor of the Argentine together, with Juan Perón's openly nationalist stance. Perón had spent some time in Mussolini's Italy and was impressed by the Fascist corporate state.
A stream of proclamations issued from the Juan Perón's ministry, bringing in for the first time a minimum wage; improved living conditions; salary increases and protection from the Oligarchy, the grand capitalists of the country. The working class, for the first time in the nation's history, began to see some of the profits of its hard work. As a master stroke, Perón empowered and guided the giant Confederation General del Trabajo (CGT, or General Confederation of Labour), which embraced many of the trade unions.
It did not take long before Eva had to call Perón's and her descamisados, the shirtless ones, to the aid of the man who was now her husband. Another reactionary army coup was on the point of success when Evita (as she was now popularly known) called in all her poor but hugely numerous supporters. Upwards of 200,000 descamisados entered the capital city and demanded that Perón be their Leader. Juan accepted the call of the Argentine people.
Evita solidified her ties with the workers by establishing her Social Aid Foundation. Through this charity, scores of hospitals and hundreds of schools were built, nurses trained, and money dispensed to the poor. Evita also furthered the cause of the women's political party, the Perónista Feminist Party, the women's arm of the Perónista party, as it had by then become known.
Even though a strong and inevitable personality cult was developing around her, Evita would always tell the people in her many speeches that all the real credit should go to her husband Juan, and that she would gladly sacrifice her life for him, as they should sacrifice theirs, and for their land and nation. Evita's finest personal and political moment came with her long tour of Europe, the aptly named 'Rainbow Tour', during which she met with Franco, the leader of Spain, Pope Pius XII, and the Italian and French foreign ministers. In Italy and France, however, she met some nasty Communist demonstrations. These were particularly vociferous in Italy, where the Reds called her a whore and a Nazi.
Still, she absolutely dazzled post-war Europe with her charismatic, movie star-like appeal and passionate speeches. Her rags-to-riches story was told over and over again in the press, and she made the cover of Time magazine.
Decline and death
By 1952, however, the people's heroine was dying, a victim of uterine cancer; but she kept up her work to the end. In her last speech, on May Day, Juan Perón had to hold her up as she spoke to the masses of descamisados assembled in tears to hear her farewell to her beloved nation.
Evita's death on July 26th 1952 brought the whole of Argentina to a standstill. The masses were dumbstruck - they had lost both their Madonna and their spokeswoman. Evita's body was embalmed, and at her funeral tens of thousands paid their last respects, travelling from all parts of Argentina.
In 1955, Evita's body disappeared, stolen by the military after they had deposed Juan Perón because they feared her even in death. Evita represented national salvation. The Oligarchs were taking their revenge on her and her politics of national social justice even when she was no longer alive! The body was spirited away to Germany and then to Italy, where it was buried in secret for 16 years under another name. Juan Perón, then in exile in Spain, finally had the body returned to him.
Evita's story came to an end when Juan Perón passed away in Argentina in 1974. Her body was brought from Spain and it lay in state next to that of her husband.
Though efforts to have her made into a saint have been turned down by the Vatican, Evita still holds near to saint status in Argentina. Slogans proclaiming Evita Vive! (Evita Lives!) can be seen everywhere even today in a new century. At her family crypt in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, supporters and pilgrims still leave flowers, and a continual guard is kept to prevent vandalism.
On her deathbed she spoke the prophetic words: "I will be back and I will be millions!" Her courage and her patriotism, together with the love of her people and her loyalty to her husband and his ideals through thick and thin, make her the seminal White Nationalist heroine.