Saga Of Eva Peron: 12 Years To Power
Ambitious, Beautiful, Ruthless, She Began in Obscurity and Rose to the Heights
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Ambitious, ruthless, untiring, clever and strikingly beautiful, Maria Eva
Peron had in large measure many of the qualities needed to lift her in a dozen
short years from obscurity to fame, wealth and power on the unpredictable
currents of Argentine political life.
The child of a poor village landowner who had been separated from his first
wife, she rose meteorically through a brief radio and motion picture career to
become the first lady of her land and one of the most influential women in the
Senora Peron's ascent and her important role in
governmental affairs and propaganda were all the more remarkable for the
contrast that they presented to the conservative social traditions of Latin
America, where women previously were seldom seen, and never heard, in
No less than her husband, Senora Peron was a controversial figure. To her
supporters, among whom were the many recipients of her highly publicized
charities, she approached the stature of a dazzling goddess. She was "la dama
de la esperanza," the lady of hope.
For her opponents, political and social, however, there were not words
enough to express their dislike and envy of this blonde upstart, who seemed
to have virtually taken over the country.
The controversial aspect of the role of Senora Peron was by no means limited
to Argentina. She became a truly international figure, a world-wide topic of
conversation and invariably a subject of conjecture.
Countless anecdotes--factual as well as apocryphal--pointed this up. The
inevitably humorless way in which she lent herself to the promulgation of
absolute peronismo was never better illustrated than on the day she had to
undergo minor surgery.
One of the Buenos Aires newspapers owned outright by the Government ran
a front-page box, allegedly describing the moment that she was being wheeled
into the operating room.
"Before they put me to sleep," she was quoted as having said, "if I do
She was born May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, a village of Buenos Aires
province, youngest of five children of Juan Duarte and Juana Ibarguren. Her
father died while she was still a child, and her mother moved to the near-by
town of Junin and opened a boarding house.
After two years of high school, still in her mid-teens, the slim blonde
to Buenos Aires on her own to seek an acting career. Through characteristic
persistence, she was able to land a permanent job with Radio Belgrano, a
major station, after several fruitless excursions into both radio and motion
Finding favor with her employers and several government officials, she
from a starting salary of $35 a month to about $1,000 a month in 1943, and
seven times that figure the next year. In 1944 her monthly income was
reportedly $15,000, half of which was paid for her motion-picture
It was in 1943 that she met at a studio party Col. Juan D. Peron, a
49-year-old widower who was Under-Secretary of the War Ministry and a
rising figure on the political scene. Both evidently were impressed, for a close
association resulted, and they were married secretly in October, 1945.
Aided Radio Employees Union
Even before her marriage, Evita, as she preferred to be known, began to
broaden her interests to suit those of her future husband. While he was
becoming the champion of the "decamisados," originally the shirtless, and later
the shirtsleeved ones, as Minister of Labor, she helped organize a radio
employee's union and undertook her first campaigns for the underprivileged.
When Colonel Peron was forced to resign from the Government in October,
1945, Senorita Duarte was dismissed from her radio post. Within a week,
however, he had returned to power, and four months later he was elected
President and took Senora Peron, then 26, to the executive mansion as his
From then on her activities, wealth and influence expanded rapidly. She
offices in the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, there holding daily
audiences and distributing food, medicine and money to petitioners. In 1947
she incorporated the Maria Eva Duarte de Peron Welfare Foundation, which
carried on much of this work.
Spreading with her welfare work was her personal propaganda machinery.
Large pictures of the handsome "presidenta" appeared throughout Argentina.
Many of her gifts were accompanied by highly colored speeches emphasizing
her warm heart, generosity and affection for the people. These sentiments
were echoed by a large part of the Argentine press, which was coming under
Peronista control financially as well as politically.
Growth of Political Influence
Although Senora Peron insisted repeatedly that she was only interested
social work, political observers began to credit her with influence in
Government affairs that was second only to her husband's--if indeed that.
In 1947 Senora Peron made a tour of Europe that was considered highly
significant politically. She was feted with great enthusiasm in Madrid and
decorated by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. In Rome she had a half-hour
audience with Pope Pius XII, and was the subject of several leftist
demonstrations. She was received by President Vincent Auriol in Paris, but
canceled plans to visit England.
One of Senora Peron's several legislative triumphs was won in September,
1947, when a bill giving women the right to vote in Argentina was approved.
This brought another round of eulogies from the press.
The first lady's power to control unfavorable press commentary was
considerable. Time magazine was banned in Argentina for four months after it
published an article on Senora Peron that was not considered flattering. In
1948 her press campaign became avowedly personal with the publication of a
weekly signed column, "Eva Peron Says."
Her political influence was credited as being instrumental in forcing the
resignation of the entire minority bloc in the Argentine Parliament in August,
1948. She took an active part in the campaign to "reform" the Argentine
Constitution four months later.
For nearly a month early in 1949 Army officials exerted pressure on the
President to curb his wife's activities, but the movement was unsuccessful, and
two months later she played an important role in the resignation of Dr. Juan
Bramugha as Foreign Minister.
In the fall of 1950 reports were circulated in Buenos Aires that Senora
had ambitions for elective office. The rumors hinted that she would seek the
Vice Presidency in the 1952 election on the ticket with her husband.
Early in 1951 the Perons started a high-pressure campaign to have themselves
drafted as a husband and wife team to run the country. By late August they
had "agreed" to "accept" the nominations for President and Vice President of
the Peronista party.
After taking four days to make up her mind, Evita told a demonstration
audience of 250,000 in Plaza Moreno that she and her husband would "do
what the people want."
Then on the last day of the month, she changed her mind and declined the
nomination. In a choked voice on the same broadcast that on which she had
announced her decision, Senora Peron said she had hoped history would say:
"There was a woman alongside General Peron who took to him the hopes
and needs of the people to satisfy them, and her name was Evita."
Senora Peron's book: "The Purpose of My Life," published in 1951, had the
widest distribution of any book printed in Spanish in Argentina, and the
Chamber of Deputies later made it compulsory reading in the schools.