Juan Peron – at least according to Minster (n.d.) – was a “Giant of Argentine Politics.” Elected no less than three times as President of Argentina (1946, 1951 and 1973), Minster claims that Peron was an “extraordinarily skilled politician” and had “millions of supporters even during his years of exile (1955-1973).” This paper seeks to determine if those views were shared by the ordinary citizens of Argentina during Peron’s rule as dictator.
Peron’s background. Minster related that although born near to Buenos Aires, Peron grew up in Patagonia until he went to the military academy at age 16, then joined the infantry and towards the end of the 1930’s, had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following a spell in 1938 as a military observer in Europe, Peron returned home just prior to World War II to a nation that at the time was in political chaos.
After supporting a plot to oust the current President, he in due course became Secretary of Labor and initiated reforms that delighted the working class. He then became Vice President in 1944-45. Aided by his charismatic new wife, Evita, who was a great benefactor to the poor and the needy, Peron became President for the first time in 1946, and during his first term he nationalized the railways and the banks, reorganized grain production and increased wage rates for workers. Not only did he limit their hours worked per day, but also – for most occupations – made Sunday a compulsory day off, halting over-exploitation of the workforce. Additionally, according to the article “Juan Peron And Argentina” (2010), his regime protected workers against arbitrary dismissal, gave them the right to have paid holidays and retirement benefits. For those workers in rural areas, Peron encouraged union membership (The Peasant Statute), suspended rent increases on their fields and protected them against eviction. In return, he persuaded union leadership to recognize the benefit of following and supporting him. The Peron era brought great improvements in their lives.
The article “The Peron presidency to 1950” (n.d.) reported other gains for the workers, such as vacation colonies for them to use and free medical care provided through clinics established in working class areas. Other improvements included new schools, orphanages and homes for the elderly, plus homes for young girls leaving home. However, the same article reported some less desirable changes. For example, Peron replaced Supreme Court judges with people he controlled, and forbade any political activity on university campuses (although he abolished university fees, opening up higher education to all).
“The Legacy of Juan Peron” (n.d.) mentioned other benefits for Argentinean citizens under Peron. As just some examples, Peron created extensive housing projects for low-income families, and working pregnant women received three months paid leave before and after the birth. The vacation colonies mentioned earlier were made available to workers for 15 days each year for as little as 15 cents per day. Any students who worked full time were given one paid week off work before any major examination.
A repressive measure reported by “The Peron presidency to 1950” article was to imprison those showing “disrespect for government leaders.”
So, as far as Peron’s first Presidential term was concerned, life was good for the working class citizens of Argentina, with better wages, shorter hours, and according to “The Tragedy of Argentina” (March 1984) a much improved welfare system. However, that same article reported that his economic policy faltered after 1949, when inflation rose as exports fell, and Peron made enemies by blocking political interference from the Catholic Church. Although he was elected for a second term in 1951, Minster reported that after Peron’s wife Evita died in 1952, there was stagnation of the economy and the working masses became disillusioned. He was excommunicated by the Pope after trying to legalize prostitution and make divorce legal, too. Minster related that Peron was deposed by a military coup in 1955 and sent into exile. Argentina then experienced three years of military control followed by eight years of democracy with an unstable economy and much labor unrest. Following another military coup in 1966, there was more unrest, terrorist acts and student riots.
Whilst in exile, Peron enjoyed unofficial support from within Argentina, and by 1973 there were calls for him to return, which he did in June of that year, then was elected President once again in September. Unfortunately as related in “Juan Peron And Argentina” he died in July of 1974 and was succeeded by his third wife, Isabel who he had previously made Vice President. Argentina then suffered a period of increasing terrorism from all shades of the political spectrum, plus there was increasing inflation, industrial disputes and protests. Eventually, Isabel was deposed by another military coup in 1976, ending the Peron era.
Undoubtedly Peron – who was an extremely charismatic figure in Argentina’s history – had high ideals and wanted to improve the lot of the workers in Argentinean society. In his first term in office there is no doubt he was the darling of the working class people of Argentina and did much to improve their lives and to give them many more rights, whilst increasing the state facilities available to many. His second and third terms as President did not produce the same benefits for the people, although international events conspired against him, so that the failing Argentinean economy no longer permitted his reforms. However, on balance, Minster’s description of Peron as a “Giant of Argentine Politics” is probably appropriate.
“Juan Peron And Argentina.” (2010). Pearson Global Schools. Web. 20 November 2012.
Minster, C. “Biography of Juan Peron.” (n.d.). About.com Latin American History. Web. 19 November 2012.
“The Legacy of Juan Peron.” (n.d.). Columbia University, New York. Web. 20 November 2012.
“The Peron presidency to 1950.” (n.d.). fSmitha.com. Web. 20 November 2012.
“The Tragedy of Argentina.” (March 1984). National Vanguard. Web. 20 November 2012.