Friday, October 08, 2010

Juan Peron: The People's Dictator

Were it not for the subsequent intervention of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Juan Peron might have gone down in history as yet another tin-pot dictator soiling his own Third World nest in the Casa Rosada at the head of an avaricious kleptocracy... A colourful figure in the venerable South American mold, it is true, but far from the legend of pop culture he is currently.

PhotobucketI mean, he's still all those things and more, only now there are a couple of peppy songs (sung by the likes of Jonathan Pryce) to act as soundtrack to the story of his many outrages, committed both on his own or with the assistance of two of his wives: the secular saint and still-revered Spiritual Leader of the Nation Eva Duarte or the tyrantess Isabel Martínez Peron, who succeeded him in the presidency in June 1974 two days before his death. In fact, only his ill-fated first wife Aurelia Tizón seems to have escaped the ruthless PR ministrations he was known for visiting upon his spouses unscathed; then again, she died of uterine cancer a decade before his rise to power.

Yet even as the musical hagiography committed in memory of Evita - itself paradoxically based on the outright hostile book The Woman with the Whip by Mary Main - spilt some of its glamour onto Peron himself, nothing* can excuse the fact that here was a man who harboured Nazis, curtailed press freedom, forced the disappearance of his enemies (or indeed anyone who spoke against him), and stole from both the rich and the poor to give to himself disguised as charity and concealed by shady or non-existent book-keeping.

So while the jury is still out on whether Peron - born on this day in 1895 - was a Fascist**, the fact is that he learned governance at the elbow of Benito Mussolini, palled around with such genuine baddies as Alfredo Stroessner and Francisco Franco, governed when he did by control rather than consent, and skilfully manipulated the poorest of his citizens - the descamisados - by pandering to their Catholic sentimentality and outrage over greedy foreign influence in order to build up a cult of personality which still exists. The Justicialist Party is to this day the official conduit of Peronism in Argentina; interestingly, it can be said to have both a left-wing and a right-wing instead of only one, and is the party of the country's current president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as well as former presidents Carlos Menem and Néstor Kirchner (currently Argentina's First Gentleman).

Not even the fact that he's among the only ostensibly right-wing despot whose policies pointedly favoured the working class yet was generally opposed to higher education, despite the fact that education is the surest means of occupational uplift.
**He was not, for instance, anti-Semitic; in fact, he could even be considered pro-Semitic, especially for his times.

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Anonymous said...

My dad had coffee with him in Madrid, many decades ago.

He was his "personal protection" for a while.

Interesting character.


michael sean morris said...

This was definitely one piece I went into with my mind made up but changed it as I was writing, thanks to the research I did. He was no saint, clearly, but then neither were most saints if the truth be known. He was far more complex than I could hope to convey in a thousand words; I only hope the piece was fair in the end.

Talk about a brush with greatness! Now I'm dying to interview your father...