María Eva Duarte "Evita"
Eva Duarte was born on May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, a small town in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Daughter of Juana Ibarguren and Juan Duarte, a rancher whom the mother was having an affair with.
In 1934, she met Agustín Magaldi, a professional singer and guitarist, in a night club and started dating him. Soon after, she eloped with Magaldi to Buenos Aires and left behind the small town.
She always dreamed of being an actress and going to the city where men were rich and women wore magnificent costumes. Eva worked in night clubs with Magaldi, but after a short period of time, they broke up. Eva's theatrical career advanced in the radio and in movies;and through a brother-in-law who was in the army she met officials of high rank. Though she tried to erase the records of her shaded past, she used her charm first with the theatrical contacts and then with officers of the army.
Her life changed in 1944 when she met Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, an influential military man and the director of the National Labor Department. In January of that year a devastating earthquake destroyed the Andean province of San Juan, causing thousands of dead and wounded. Perón was presiding the National Entity to help the decimated population and in an artistic festival organized to collect funds he met actress Eva Duarte. She became Peron's lover and as so, she managed to be one of the best paid actresses of Argentina's Belgrano Radio.
The Labor Movement in Argentina was weak and disorganized, but with the appropriate organization it could be used as a significant power base. Eva believed that they were her people and made a campaign with Perón to recruit the popular mass using her radio program as a propaganda vehicle. Perón campaigned among the workers, often with Eva by his side, and submitted a plan to the working movement where he would remove anyone in charge of the union an replace them with his own people. These workers were the famous 'descamisados'. The importance of Evita and her influence as a figure under the shade of power was noted very soon.
Some officers of the army felt that Perón might turn into a fascist dictator and were ready to get rid of him; and on October 12, 1945, Perón was arrested and imprisoned. This military coup radically changed the Argentine political scene While Perón was imprisoned, Eva headed an agitation campaign within the labor movement to obtain Perón's release and thousands of "descamisados" were brought to the center of Buenos Aires by means of transport coordinated by Eva, and screamed and shouted at the Plaza de Mayo for the liberation of their hero. On October 17 Perón was liberated.
The "descamisados" adored Evita and the power that she had on them was indispensable for Perón who eventually secretly married her on October 21, 1945.
In the general elections of February 25, 1946, Juan Domingo Perón was elected President of Argentina, with an advantage over the Democratic Union, a coalition formed by the Radicals, the Socialists and the Communists. The new President provided an office to his wife in the Secretary of Labor and from there she started to get complete control of the unions and the administrative central headquarters' (C.G.T). She traveled the country giving speeches and having meetings with other party leader and also devoted part of her time to women's rights.
The power of Evita grew in 1947 with her project of law to provide the right to the universal suffrage, since until that time, only men were allowed to vote. This law was one of the few that were approved by unanimity by the House of Representatives, earning the support of thousands of Argentine women.
In 1947, Eva made her very announced trip to Europe and
traveled through Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and Switzerland where she had
mixed receptions. In Spain she got a great reception from the fascist regime led
by General Franco and people greeted her enthusiastically. In Italy she met
the Pope, but later was surprised to see that people were insulting her. In
France her reception was cordial. In Switzerland she was not very well received
and tomatoes were thrown at her. She was also a short time in Lisbon
and afterwards returned to Argentina, where she had a cheerful welcome.
The Eva Perón Foundation established certain redistributive
justice challenging the Catholic Church and the traditional welfare societies
(that were eliminated) and the expression charity was replaced by a less
offensive term: social help.
The Constitution was
amended in 56 of their 100 articles,
basically to allow Perón's reelection, and also introducing the rights of the
worker, the family and the old.
As she was assuming this
defender's role, the personality of Evita was transforming. The jewels and
dresses were things of the past and the austerity got a hold her portrait:
discreet dresses of dark colors and a simple bun in the hair, which stressed her
In 1951, Eva worked for the reelection of her husband but the
pressure of the army made him withdraw her candidacy as vice-president. The
power ambitions could have been reached at that moment, but the army was an
indispensable stronghold for Perón's regime. They were firm that Eva could not
accept the candidacy. If Perón died she would be the President, and it was
unthinkable. Eva got sick, and when the news broke out, there was great
consternation. Hundreds were going to the churches to pray for her health as
others offered their blood for transfusions.
The doctor diagnosed her with a fast growing uterus cancer,
and the relapses were more frequent. In November, 1951 she had surgery and
voted from the clinic where she was hospitalized; being the first elections in
which Argentine women could vote. In spite of her physical state it was a great
day for her since she achieved one of her dreams; and the results of the
elections were encouraging for her husband. Perón who won again.
was advancing, numerous public honors were granted to her: a new province would
receive her name, the Congress would grant her the title of Spiritual Leader of
the Nation and
her book "The reason of my life" would turn into a
mandatory school text.