Eva Perón was instrumental as a symbol of hope to the common laborer during the first five-year plan. When she died in 1952, the year of the presidential elections, the people felt they had lost an ally. Coming from humble origins, she was loathed by the elite but adored by the poor for her work with the sick, elderly, and orphans. It was due to her behind-the-scenes work that women's suffragewas granted in 1947 and a feminist wing of the 3rd party in Argentina was formed. Simultaneous to Perón's five-year plans, Evita supported a women's movement that concentrated on the rights of women, the poor and invalids.
Although her role in the politics of Perón's first term remains disputed, Eva introduced social justice and equality into the national discourse. She stated, "It is not philanthropy, nor is it charity… It is not even social welfare; to me, it is strict justice… I do nothing but return to the poor what the rest of us owe them, because we had taken it away from them unjustly."
She established the Eva Perón Foundation in 1948, which was perhaps the greatest contribution to her husband's social policy. Enjoying an annual budget of around US$50 million (nearly 1% of GDP at the time), the Foundation had 14,000 employees and founded hundreds of new schools, clinics, old-age homes and holiday facilities; it also distributed hundreds of thousands of household necessities, physicians' visits and scholarships, among other benefits. Among the best-known of the Foundation's many large construction projects are the Evita City development south of Buenos Aires (25,000 homes) and the "Republic of the Children", a theme park based on tales from the Brothers Grimm. Following Perón's 1955 ousting, twenty such construction projects were abandoned incomplete and the foundation's US$290 million endowment was liquidated.
The portion of the five-year plans which argued for full employment, public healthcare and housing, labour benefits, and raises are a result of Eva's influence on the policy-making of Perón in his first term, as historians note that at first he simply wanted to keep imperialists out of Argentina and create effective businesses. The humanitarian relief efforts embedded in the five-year plan are Eva's creation, which endeared the Peronist movement to the working-class people from which Eva had come. Her strong ties to the poor and her position as Perón's wife brought credibility to his promises during his first presidential term and ushered in a new wave of supporters. The first lady's willingness to replace the ailing Hortensio Quijano as Perón's running mate for the 1951 campaign was defeated by her own frail health and by military opposition. An August 22 rally organized for her by the CGTon Buenos Aires' wide Nueve de Julio Avenue failed to turn the tide. On September 28, elements in the Argentine Army attempted a coup against Perón. Although unsuccessful, the mutiny marked the end of the first lady's political hopes. She died the following July.
Opposition and repression
Among upper-class Argentines, improvement of the workers' situation was a source of resentment; industrial workers from rural areas had formerly been treated as servants. It was common for better-off Argentines to refer to these workers using racist slurs like "little black heads" (cabecitas negras, the name of a bird), "greased" (grasas which came from people with grease on their hands or fingernails, i.e. blue-collar workers), "un-shirted" (descamisados, since they doffed their shirts to perform manual labor). Conservative Radical Civic Union Congressman Ernesto Sammartino mused that Perón's voters were a "zoological flood" (aluvión zoológico). In the 1940s, upper-class students were the first to oppose Peronist workers, with the slogan: "No to cheap shoe dictatorship" (No a la dictadura de las alpargatas). A graffiti revealing the strong opposition between Peronists and anti-Peronists appeared in upper-class districts in the 1950s, "Long live cancer!" (¡Viva el cáncer!), when Eva Perón was ill. She died of cervical cancer in 1952 at the age of thirty-three.
At a time when credentialed teaching personnel were in short supply, Perón had fired more than 1,500 university faculty who opposed him. These included Nobel laureateBernardo Houssay, University of La Plata physicist Rafael Grinfeld, painter Emilio Pettoruti, art scholars Pío Collivadino and Jorge Romero Brest, and noted author Jorge Luis Borges, who was appointed "poultry inspector" at the Buenos Aires Municipal Wholesale Market (a post he refused). Many faculty left the country and migrated to Mexico or the United States. Weiss (2005, p. 45) recalls events in the universities:
As a young student in Buenos Aires in the early 1950s, I well remember the graffiti found on many an empty wall all over town: "Build the Fatherland. Kill a Student" (Haga patria, mate un estudiante). Perón opposed the universities, which questioned his methods and his goals. A well-remembered slogan was, Alpargatas sí, libros no ("Shoes? Yes! Books? No!"). Universities were then 'intervened'. In some, a Peronist mediocrity was appointed rector. Others were closed for years."
The labor movement that had brought Perón to power was not exempt from the iron fist. Elections in 1946 to the post of Secretary General of the CGT resulted in telephone workers' union leader Luis Gay's victory over Perón's nominee, former retail workers' leader Ángel Borlenghi—both central figures in Perón's famed October 17 comeback. The president had Luis Gay expelled from the CGT three months later, and replaced him with José Espejo, a little-known rank-and-filer who was close to the first lady. This was done on unsubstantiated charges that he had colluded with Perón's enemy, the former U.S. Ambassador Spruille Braden.
The meat-packers' union leader, Cipriano Reyes, turned against Perón when he replaced the Labor Party with the Peronist Party in 1947. Organizing a strike against these moves, Reyes was arrested on the charge of plotting against the lives of the president and first lady, though accusations of a plot were never substantiated. Tortured in prison, Reyes was denied parole five years later, and freed only following the regime's 1955 downfall. Cipriano Reyes was one of hundreds of Perón's opponents held at Buenos Aires' Ramos Mejía General Hospital, one of whose basements was converted into a police detention center where torture became routine.
The populist leader was intolerant of both left-wing and conservative opposition. Though he used violence, Perón preferred to deprive the opposition of their access to media. Interior Minister Borlenghi administered El Laborista, the leading official news daily. Carlos Aloe, a personal friend of Evita's, oversaw an array of leisure magazines published by Editorial Haynes, which the Peronist Party bought a majority stake in. Through the Secretary of the Media, Raúl Apold, socialist dailies such as La Vanguardia or Democracia and conservative ones such as La Prensa or La Razón were simply closed or expropriated in favor of the CGT or ALEA, the regime's new state media company. Intimidation of the press increased: between 1943 and 1946, 110 publications were closed down; others such asLa Nación and Roberto Noble's Clarín became more cautious and self-censoring. Perón appeared more threatened by dissident artists than by opposition political figures (though UCR leader Ricardo Balbín spent most of 1950 in jail). Numerous prominent cultural and intellectual figures were imprisoned (publisher and critic Victoria Ocampo, for one) or forced into exile, among them comedienne Niní Marshall, film maker Luis Saslavsky, pianistOsvaldo Pugliese and actress Libertad Lamarque, victim of a rivalry with Eva Perón.
Perón and Fascism
In 1938 Perón was sent to many countries of Europe, to study them. At his return, he would explain that he had a positive impression about Syndicalism during the government ofBenito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany. By that year, he thought that those countries would become social democracies. His exact words were as follows:
|“||Italian Fascism led popular organizations to an effective participation in national life, which had always been denied to the people. Before Mussolini's rise to power, the nation was on one hand and the worker on the other, and the latter had no involvement in the former. [...] In Germany happened exactly the same phenomenon, meaning, an organized state for a perfectly ordered community, for a perfectly ordered population as well: a community where the state was the tool of the nation, whose representation was, under my view, effective. I thought that this should be the future political form, meaning, the true people's democracy, the true social democracy.||”|
After the end of World War II and the rise of Perón to a popular leader, antiperonist politicians and authors would point that Perón once manifested support for Mussolini and Hitler, implying that such support involved the whole of their governments or the paths actually taken by Italy or Germany after 1938. One of the most famous examples was when Spruille Braden did so during the 1946 election, leading to the "Braden or Perón" slogan that was key of the Peronist victory.
However, historian Felipe Pigna states that no researcher who has deeply studied Perón would consider him fascist. Pigna identifies Perón as a pragmatist who took useful elements from all modern ideologies of the time, such as fascism, but also the "New Deal" policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "national defense" principles, social views from religion, and even some socialist principles. According to historian Tulio Halperín Donghi, Perón was driven by strong convictions but not by full support to any mainstream ideology; although he did not try to hide his old admiration of fascist Italy, it wasn't a strong influence on him. Arturo Jauretche said that Perón was neither fascist or anti-fascist, simply realist, and that the active intervention of the working class in politics, as he saw in those countries, was a definitive phenomenon.
Protection of Nazi war criminals
After World War II, Argentina became a haven for Nazi war criminals, with explicit protection from Perón. Uki Goñi alleged in his 2002 book, The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron's Argentina, that Nazis and French and Belgian collaborationists, including Pierre Daye, met Perón in the President's official residence, the Casa Rosada (Pink House). In this meeting, a network would have been created with support by the Argentine Immigration Service and the Foreign Office. The Swiss Chief of Police Heinrich Rothmund and the Croatian Roman Catholic priest Krunoslav Draganović also helped organize the ratline.
An investigation of 22,000 documents by the DAIA in 1997 discovered that the network was managed by Rodolfo Freude who had an office in the Casa Rosada and was close to Eva Perón's brother, Juan Duarte. According to Ronald Newton, Ludwig Freude, Rodolfo's father, was probably the local representative of the Office Three secret service headed byJoachim von Ribbentrop, with probably more influence than the German ambassador Edmund von Thermann. He had met Perón in the 1930s, and had contacts with Generals Juan Pistarini, Domingo Martínez, and José Molina. Ludwig Freude's house became the meetingplace for Nazis and Argentine military officers supporting the Axis. In 1943, he traveled with Perón to Europe to attempt an arms deal with Germany.
And after the war, Ludwig Freude was investigated over his connection to possible looted Nazi art, cash and precious metals on deposit at two Argentine banks, Banco Germanico and Banco Tournquist. But on September 6, 1946, the Freude investigation was terminated by presidential decree.
Examples of Nazis and collaborators who relocated to Argentina include Emile Dewoitine, who arrived in May 1946 and worked on thePulqui jet, Erich Priebke, who arrived in 1947, Josef Mengele in 1949, Adolf Eichmann in 1950, his adjutant Franz Stangl, Austrian representative of Spitzy in Spain, Reinhard Spitzy, Charles Lescat, editor of Je Suis Partout in Vichy France, SS functionary Ludwig Lienhardt, German industrialist Ludwig Freude, and SS-Hauptsturmführer Klaus Barbie.
Many members of the notorious Croatian Ustaše (including their leader, Ante Pavelić) took refuge in Argentina, as did Milan Stojadinović, the former collaborationist Prime Minister of monarchist Yugoslavia. In 1946 Stojadinović went to Rio de Janeiro, and then to Buenos Aires, where he was reunited with his family. Stojadinović spent the rest of his life as presidential advisor on economic and financial affairs to governments in Argentina and founded the financial newspaper El Economista.
A Croatian priest, Krunoslav Draganović, organizer of the San Girolamo ratline, was authorized by Perón to assist Nazi operatives to come to Argentina and evade prosecution in Europe after World War II, in particular the Ustaše. Ante Pavelić became a security advisor of Perón, before leaving for Francoist Spain in 1957.
As in the United States (Operation Paperclip), Argentina also welcomed displaced German scientists such as Kurt Tank and Ronald Richter. Some of these refugees took important roles in Perón's Argentina, such as French collaborationist Jacques de Mahieu, who became an ideologue of the Peronist movement, before becoming mentor to a Roman Catholic nationalist youth group in the 1960s. Belgian collaborationist Pierre Daye became editor of a Peronist magazine. Rodolfo Freude, Ludwig's son, became Perón's chief of presidential intelligence in his first term. Milan Stojadinović founded El Economista (The Economist magazine) in 1951, which still carries his name on its masthead.
Recently, Goñi's research, drawing on investigations in Argentine, Swiss, American, British and Belgian government archives, as well as numerous interviews and other sources, was detailed in The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón's Argentina (2002), showing how escape routes known as ratlines were used by former NSDAP members and like-minded people to escape trial and judgment. Goñi places particular emphasis on the part played by Perón's government in organizing the ratlines, as well as documenting the aid of Swiss and Vatican authorities in their flight. The Argentine consulate in Barcelona gave false passports to fleeing Nazi war criminals and collaborationists.