Perón, Juan Domingo

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Perón, Juan Domingo

Juan Domingo Perón (hwän dōmēng´gō pĕrōn´), 1895–1974, president of Argentina (1946–55; 1973–74).

Early Career and First Presidency

An army officer, Perón was the leader of a group of colonels that rose to prominence after the overthrow of the government of Ramón Castillo in 1943, a group which supported the fascist and Nazi movements in Italy and Germany. As secretary of labor and social welfare, and later as minister of war and vice president, Perón was the real power behind the administration of Edelmiro Farrell. By backing the labor unions and decreeing extensive welfare legislation, he won the allegiance of Argentine workers, who became the backbone of his support. Imprisoned in 1945 after a coup, he was released following mass demonstrations of workers, and was elected president by a huge majority in 1946.

His political program, which he called a third position between capitalism and communism, was strongly nationalistic, anti-imperialist and anti-United States. It was based on rapid industrialization and economic self-sufficiency. In power, Perón became increasingly authoritarian: opponents were jailed, the press was muzzled or shut down, and education was strictly controlled. With the aid of his popular second wife, Eva Duarte de Perón, he converted trade unions into a militant organization, known as the descamisados [shirtless ones], along fascist lines.

Peronist support weakened by the early 1950s as the price of wheat and beef fell and the economy deteriorated. The death (1952) of Eva Perón, who had commanded an enormous political following, also contributed to his decline. An anticlerical campaign launched by Perón led to his excommunication in June, 1955. The unusual coalition of labor, reactionaries, nationalists, churchmen, and military leaders that had supported Perón came apart. The military seized power the following September, forcing him to flee, first to Paraguay and ultimately (1960) to Spain. Peronismo nevertheless remained the most powerful political force in Argentina.

Second Presidency

In 1971, President Lanusse, convinced that political order could not be achieved without the former leader, cleared the way for Perón's return. Perón was forbidden to run in the Mar., 1973, presidential election, but his designated candidate, Hector Cámpora, won. Cámpora resigned in July, and the following September Perón was elected president by 62% of the vote; his third wife, Isabel María Martínez de Perón, 1931–, whom he had married in 1961, was elected vice president though she was widely resented by those devoted to the late Eva Perón. Restored to power, Perón moved sharply to the right. He died of a heart attack in 1974, and his wife assumed the presidency.

Isabel Perón, also known as Isabelita, was unable to command the support of any powerful group, not even organized labor. Following a sharp rise in political terrorism and guerrilla activity, the armed forces intervened on Mar. 24, 1976, deposing her and instituting one of the bloodiest regimes in South American history. Perón was placed under house arrest, then exiled to Spain in 1981; the military ruled until 1982. Perón resigned as head of the Peronist party in 1985. In 2007 the Argentinian courts issued warrants for her arrest, in connection with investigations into disappearances and death squads while she was president, but a Spanish court refused to extradite her, on grounds of inadequate evidence and the expiration of the statute of limitations. In 1990, the Peronist candidate Carlos Saúl Menem won the presidential elections, demonstrating the continued appeal of Peronism in Argentina.

Bibliography

See D. Rock, ed., Argentina in the 20th Century (1975); studies by D. Hodges (1976) and D. James (1988).

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