Argentina’s Populist Power Couple
Juan Perón and his wife Evita
have been lionized by some, while they have been accused of many evil things by
others. Were the Peróns really so bad? Or have they merely been smeared because
the populist Perón was not unfriendly to the Third Reich?
By Robert K. Logan
Understandably, the mainstream media have chosen
to ignore the first results of the much-ballyhooed “CEANA” investigations into
Argentina’s alleged Nazi past. CEANA is the Argentine “Commission of Inquiry
into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina” (Comisión Para el Esclarecimiento
de las Actividades del Nazismo en la Argentina).
After more than three years of investigations,
CEANA effectively exonerates the Argentine government of incessant malicious
charges, accusations and insinuations—generated by the media—of having
deliberately harbored countless Nazi war criminals, and ill-gotten art
treasures and gold, confiscated from Jewish victims of World War II. Aside from
the unfounded media re ports, sensational books of fiction like Frederick
Forsyth’s The Odessa File and Jorge Camarasa’s Odessa al Sur suggested that a
vast network had been established, with the complicity of the Vatican and Juan
Perón’s administration, to funnel former SS men and Nazi gold into Argentina. A
veritable hysteria, fed by the media, over the alleged presence of Nazis in
Argentina has prevailed since World War II. These falsehoods are now being ex
On November 11, 1999, CEANA, an official board of
inquiry, issued preliminary findings after a comprehensive and exhaustive
investigation. Established by Argentine Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella in 1997
to determine the truth about the extent of Nazi infiltration and stolen gold
hoards allegedly brought to Argentina by German submarines during the closing
days of the war, CEANA was staffed by a team of international scholars, chosen
for a belief in their integrity, who, to further ensure their findings would be
accepted by the world, were monitored by Jewish academic and media shepherds. The
CEANA commission was granted full access to the state archives of the nations
of Argentina, the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy,
France, Belgium and Portugal.
The researchers, with the concurrence of the
Jewish members, found that in fact very few Nazis and Nazi collaborators had
entered Argentina. For example, respected historian Carlota Jakisch estimated
that some 65 alleged war criminals, including the much-publicized Adolf
Eichmann and Josef Mengele, had succeeded in entering Argentina and thereby
escaping Allied “justice,” i.e., the hangman. German historian Holger Meding
was able to find that only 45 Nazi war criminals had escaped the victors’
justice by slipping into Argentina. The researchers also verified that 36
French and Belgian and 52 Croatian collaborators had also managed to escape
justice in Argentina. Thus, a grand total of fewer than 200 Nazis and Nazi
collaborators, of whom only a few could be considered dangerous war criminals,
was determined to have entered Argentina.
Admittedly, Austrian Bishop Alois Hudal and other
priests were found to have aided several wanted individuals in their time of
need, just as they helped Jews earlier, when they were threatened. Some gold
and valuables belonging to dubious individuals may have been transferred from
Europe to Argentina, the land of silver, but certainly not large quantities. Concerning
gold transfers, CEANA reports unequivocally that “Nazi gold never entered the
country physically . . . and that any complicity of Argentina Central Bank in
transactions related to Nazi gold was, in any case, very marginal.” Further, no
official records involving the Perón administration on the matter of gold
transfers or looted art have been revealed.
Quite naturally, many Germans, who saw no future
in Germany in 1945, chose to emigrate to Argentina. Moreover, Argentina, as a
Catholic country, has a long tradition, shared with other Latin countries, of
permitting its churches to grant sanctuary to individuals in need and of
granting defeated military personnel the privilege of seeking safety in exile.
The continued animosity of the Anglo-American
Establishment directed against the persons of Juan Domingo Perón and his wife,
Eva Duarte de Perón (known as “Evita”), which borders on the pathological,
deserves special attention. This enduring animus would be incomprehensible
without understanding the history of British imperialism in Argentina and the
sociopolitical revolutions of the first half of the 20th century.
The underlying cause of the continuing UK/U.S.
hostility toward Argentina stems from the Peróns’ success in freeing the
country, albeit temporarily, from its traditional economic dependence on
foreign markets and capital, initially British but later American. British and
U.S. companies eventually held a virtual monopoly over the Argentine
meat-packing, railroad, electric power, pharmaceutical and other industries. In
1933, the controversial Roca-Runciman Treaty seemed to seal the special
Argentine-British relationship. It would also have kept Argentina in a
quasi-colonial status as agricultural supplier to Britain.
Several unforeseen events upset this special
relationship. First, the onset of World War II cut Argentina off from its
traditional markets and investment sources and forced the country to become
more self-sufficient by developing its own industrial and financial base. With
modernization and industrialization, the labor unions grew ever more powerful. The
long-reigning Argentine oligarchy, with which the British had always dealt,
began to lose its privileged position. The very word “autarky” (i.e., national
self-sufficiency) is, of course, anathema to international moneylenders.
In 1943 a military coup overthrew the corrupt
Castillo government. A young, charismatic colonel, Juan Perón, assumed control
of the Ministry of Labor and Welfare of the economically foundering nation.
With the indispensable assistance of a fellow colonel, Domingo Alfredo
Mercante, who assumed control of the vital Buenos Aires province, Perón’s
organizational and leadership qualities won him the support of the working
class that be came his main political base.
The bulk of the population in Argentina is of
Italian and Spanish extraction. It was quite natural in the Great Depression of
the 1930s, when American and British capitalism was on the rocks, which the
military and the common people in Argentina turned to Mussolini’s Fascist Italy
and National Socialist Germany as models. Moreover, like Italy, Argentina was a
Catholic country with mores and a spirit quite different from those of
As Perón’s power increased (he became vice
president and minister of war in 1940), the oligarchs and others whose status
was now being threatened staged a coup in early October 1945 that ousted Perón
from the government. However, the insurgents miscalculated badly, and within a
few days Perón’s followers were able to regroup and fight back. Under the
leadership of the labor leaders in Buenos Aires and Perón’s loyal friend, Col.
Mercante, whom Evita was later to call “the heart of Perón,” massive street
demonstrations were staged.
With World War II concluded and Britain an
economic basket case, Perón pushed ahead with his domestic industrialization
program, including nationalizing foreign-owned businesses. Joining and
reinforcing Perón in this major restructuring of the Argentine economy was
Evita, whom he married. A woman fiercely dedicated to her husband and his
program, Evita proved a tremendous asset to Perón, who, by 1946, had become
president of Argentina. Contrary to American public opinion, Juan Perón’s power
did not derive from Evita, but Evita’s from Juan’s.
Perón himself was referred to as the leader and
standard bearer of the descamisados (“the shirtless ones,” i.e., the workers).
Perón’s political doctrine was justicialismo (“social justice”) and “the Third
Position,” which was opposed to the oligarchs, the communists and the
imperialists. Evita Perón, who had a successful career in radio, movies and
theater before her marriage to Perón, soon won the affection of the Argentine
people. Evita was an extremely effective public speaker, arguing emotionally
and dramatically on behalf of Perón’s policies.
Evita almost single-handedly took over all welfare
in Argentina, opening hospitals, schools, housing projects, orphanages,
libraries, homes for the elderly, shelters for the indigent and social security
programs—all under the auspices of her Social Aid Foundation. In doing so, she
in effect re placed charity with a government aid program. Equally important
and long lasting were her support of women’s rights and her championship of the
law that gave Argentine women the right to vote.
To have accomplished so much in Argentinian
society at tests to Evita’s unusual appeal and tact. In her speeches she al
ways presented herself modestly as Perón’s “bridge to the people,” never
ceasing to defer to and praise her husband, El Presidente. For his part Perón
could only be most thankful for his wife’s loyalty and support. Evita’s
activities further incurred the wrath of the oligarchs, especially the wealthy
Ladies of Beneficence, who had traditionally managed charitable operations in
Juan and Evita were a perfect team: he, the
strong, macho military leader fighting against communism and imperialism for an
independent Argentina; she, childless, frail in appearance, in failing health,
the wife and main supporter of her revered husband. Upon her death on July 26,
1952, the government announced: “It is our sad duty to inform the people of the
republic that Eva, the spiritual leader of the nation, died at 8:25 p.m.”
Perón’s fortunes began to decline following his
wife’s death. Europe recovered from World War II, and its industries were again
working overtime—supplying South American countries. The United States was now
not only helping the British reestablish their pre-Perón privileges but also
intervening in Argentine affairs. (The total diplomatic and logistical support
the U.S. government gave Britain during the Falkland Islands War in 1982
demonstrated clearly the commonality of U.S-UK policy vis-a-vis Argentina,
whose claims to the islands are at least as valid as Britain’s.) Perón’s hopes
to establish home industries eventually foundered. Economic distress was soon
followed by political action against Perónism.
In 1955 Perón was ousted in a military coup. The
new regime, backed by the oligarchy and other enemies of the Peróns, undertook
to dismantle as many of Evita’s innovations and institutions (shelters,
schools, hospitals) as it could, especially those bearing her name. Even her
body was disinterred and transported out of the country. Perón himself went
into exile in Spain.
To discredit Perónism, a campaign of calumny and
slander concerning the private lives and character of both Juan and Evita was
started, and it continues to this day. He was accused of living with teenage
girls and of being a Nazi sympathizer. Evita was maliciously denounced as a
common prostitute who stole money from the Eva Duarte Foundation. But the
campaign of hate and vilification against the Peróns failed completely in
Argentina and most of the Latin world, though the allegations continue to
titillate British and American scandalmongers.
Juan Perón was returned to power in 1974, and
Evita’s body was finally laid to rest in her native land. The Perónist Party
continues to exist, but, without an effective leader, it has become very
fragmented. While Evita never quite became “Santa Evita,” she is nonetheless
fondly remembered by many in present-day Argentina.
After the war many immigrants from Europe arrived
in Argentina seeking to start new lives, as they did in the United States. For
historical, ethnic and religious reasons the Argentine government chose not to
seek out, pursue, arrest or indict “suspect” Germans who arrived as immigrants
after World War II. Was this so terrible? For their own reasons, the United
States, Britain and France have themselves elected not to seek out, pursue,
arrest, indict or deport Russians, Ukrainians or Jews who were involved in
communist crimes, not even those associated with the infamous Gulag system,
even though communist crimes lasted over a much longer period, involved
millions more victims and were of much more recent origin.
During the war the United States was an active
belligerent, allied with the Soviet Union, while Argentina, remained neutral as
long as possible with obvious sympathies for the Italian and German people. Not
until March 27, 1944, under great pressure from the United States, did
Argentina finally declare war against Germany. None other than Juan Domingo
Perón, then minister of war, signed the declaration of war. Moreover, most
Argentine exports of raw materials during World War II went to the United
States and Britain, not to Germany and Italy.
The international CEANA commission has proved
extremely useful in demystifying and dispelling many misconceptions about the
extent of Nazi influence in Argentina. The selection of honest, independent and
unbiased researchers, with the participation of open-minded Jews, combined with
the cooperation of involved states, seems the perfect vehicle for resolving
lingering doubts about other controversial events of World War II. It is to be
hoped that a similar international commission is established to define—once and
for all—the exact parameters of Jewish losses in the holocaust.
Half a century after Eva and Juan Perón
established the populist Perónist movement, Perónistas, admittedly of varying
convictions and authenticity, continue to control the Argentine Congress and
most of Argentina’s provinces. But in his day and awash himself in party power
struggles, Juan Perón liked to compare the various warring Perónist factions to
cats having sex. “It may seem like they are fighting,” Perón would say, “but they
are really just reproducing. In the end, Perónism survives and expands.”1
Anthony, “Squabbling Perónists Can’t Get It Together,” The International Herald
Tribune, Sept. 6, 2002, 2.