3 minute read

Juan Perón: 1895-1974: Former Argentine President

Courted Argentine Workers

Perón emerged from the coup, first as the Labor Secretary, then Minister of War, and Vice President. He held these roles consecutively. At this time he actively—and very successfully—began to build a constituency among the working classes through his support of labor unions. However, there was still no indication of the powerful leader Perón was to become. According to Alexander, at the time "Perón appeared to be an early middle-aged army officer of no great distinction. He appeared to be brighter than some, but perhaps not as bright as others. He was completely untried in the civilian arena, and there did not seem to be any reason to believe that he would be especially successful in it."

The latter half of the 1940s would profoundly change the course of Perón's life and subsequently that of Argentina. In 1944 Perón met Eva María Ibarguren Duarte—a stunning actress and the woman who would become Argentina's beloved Evita. They soon began a much-discussed affair. Meanwhile Perón was becoming very powerful. He already held important offices in the new government and his support of the trade unions—including the establishment of health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid vacations for workers—brought him widespread popularity among the laboring classes. The descamisados had never had it so good. However, as his acclaim grew among the workers, it began to frighten the military government.

On October 9, 1945, another coup took place—this time against Perón. He was forced to resign from the government and then sent to a secluded prison isle. Meanwhile, October 12th, which had been established as a paid holiday by Perón during his tenure as Secretary of Labor, was quickly declared by factory owners to no longer be a valid holiday. The workers, in the face of this palpable threat to the advances they had gained under Perón, were outraged. The union leaders called for a march on Buenos Aires. On October 17th, hundreds of thousands of workers descended on the capital calling for the release of Perón. He was released that night and later stood on the balcony of the Casa Rosada and declared to the adoring crowds, "I have returned!" Four days later he wed Eva Duarte. The next month his campaign for presidency was announced and in February of 1946, Perón won the election with 54 percent of the vote. More importantly, his follow-ers—members of the newly christened Perónist political party—took more than two-thirds of the congressional votes, ensuring Perón unchallenged political power.

"When Juan Perón became President of Argentina on June 4, 1946," wrote Alexander, "he had full opportunity to make his regime either democratic or dictatorial." The fact that he chose the latter would not only carve generation-long divisions in Argentine society, but also color his reign throughout history, obscuring the great things he did for his country while highlighting the bad. Upon his ascension to the presidency Perón implemented a five-year economic plan designed to eliminate national debt, revitalize the Argentine economy, and increase industrialization. Continuing to support the working classes on whom his rule depended, Perón instituted a number of actions, including: universal social security; free education; low-income housing; free medical care; ample pregnancy leave with pay; and the creation of resorts throughout the country complete with swimming pools, movie theaters, and cabins, available to all workers for a nominal fee. Perón further cemented public support with a massive propaganda campaign built around himself and the beautiful Evita. Everything from school books to postage stamps, billboards to building placards, heralded some beneficial act bestowed by the Perón's upon their people. After women were granted the vote, Evita organized the Women's Perónist Party which encouraged total faith in Perón.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - PersonalJuan Perón: 1895-1974: Former Argentine President Biography - Began Military Training, Courted Argentine Workers, Ascension Of Saint Evita