Sunday, November 4, 2018


“Evita! Evita! La santa Peronista!” Anyone who has seen Andrew Lloyd Weber’s operetta Evita knows at least a little something about the life of Eva Perón, one of Argentina’s most beloved and controversial political figures. While she was never an elected official, Evita had a profound and lasting impact on the social and political landscape of Argentina.

Born in 1919 in the town of Los Toldos, Argentina, Maria Eva Duarte grew up with her parents and four siblings. Her family was quite prosperous at the time she was born. Evita’s father, Juan Duarte, was given the role of Deputy Justice of the Peace in 1908, and the family enjoyed a great deal of prominence. At this time, the leftist Radical Party had won the presidency, and conservative ideologies continued to become increasingly unpopular: bad news for Juan Duarte, who was solidly affiliated with the Conservatives.

After moving to Buenos Aires, Evita worked as an actress, and made her way in the big city as best she could without any real financial stability. It wasn’t until 1944 that Evita would meet Juan Perón, who, as a result of his involvement with a military coup that resulted in a takeover of the Argentine government, was currently the Secretary of War and Labor.

Evita and Juan Perón were married in 1945, and in that same year, Juan Perón was imprisoned by opposition from within his party over fears that he would eclipse the presidency. Released a short time later, Juan Perón went on to win the presidency, and thus came the rise of Evita as an influential political figure.

The Peróns were both popular among the poor and working classes and unions in Argentina. The particular set of policies and beliefs held by Juan Perón eventually became a political party and political philosophy known as Perónism. While Perónism was popular among lower socioeconomic classes in Argentina, Argentina didn’t necessarily have too many sympathetic friends abroad, particularly in Europe.

As first lady, Evita was tasked with meeting foreign leaders in Europe, and in 1947, an invitation by the president of Spain lead Evita on a trip known as the Rainbow Tour. On this tour, Evita met with leaders in Italy, Portugal, France, Switzerland, and Monaco, as well as Argentina’s South American neighbors, Brazil and Uruguay. Evita used these special visits to promote her husband’s agenda abroad. She was also accompanied by a huge entourage, and traveled in style.

Despite criticism against her (some justified, some not), Evita is credited with many wonderful accomplishments. She was instrumental in passing a law that gave women the right to vote in Argentina in 1947. In 1948, she established the Maria Eva Duarte de Perón Foundation, which served poor children and elderly people. Evita is perhaps best known for championing the rights of the descamisados (meaning “the shirtless ones,” referring to working class laborers). Throughout her political career, Evita supported legislation that would improve working conditions and wages for some of Argentina’s poorest workers.

Eva Perón experienced and accomplished all of this on only 33 years, the age when she died of cervical cancer. Evita died in 1952, but the legacy she and Juan Perón left behind when they started the Peronist movement is every bit as active in Argentina today as it was when they first rose to prominence. The subject of endless debate, Evita’s Peronism (and its opposition) is still very much a defining political and social feature of Argentina. Because of this, Argentina’s future will forever be entwined with the history of La Santa Peronista...


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