Evita: Saint or Sinner?

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  • Topic: Eva Perón, Argentina, Juan Perón
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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Evita: Saint or Sinner?

The story of Eva Peron is a fascinating one . Evita, as she is known, enjoyed a rise to power like no other. The details of this ascension are often disputed, making Santa Evita's tale all the more intriguing. . .

Maria Eva Duarte was born on May 7, 1919,1 the fifth and youngest illegitimate child of Juan Duarte and his mistress, Juan Ibarguen. The week of her birth was known as Tragic Week, when the army massacred striking workers, perhaps a foreshadow of what was to come in her life.2

Eva spent her childhood in an adobe farmhouse, with farm animals and earthen floors. In the farming trade, Juan Duarte incurred many debts, eventually leaving him with nothing. Thus, early in her life, Eva learnt the humiliation of poverty.

The Duartes were further put down by the stiff Argentine caste system, which divided the poor from the wealthy. Being a bastard child, Eva and her four sisters were seen as 'brats,' and were stopped from associating with the other village children. Rejection, thrown upon young Eva through no fault of her own, would not be forgotten nor forgiven.3

At age fifteen, Eva Duarte set out to become a radio actress. She knew she could be like the women in the movie magazines she either stole or borrowed from her friends. Eva met singer Agustin Magaldi, and, packed her bags and sneaked out of her mother's boarding house to the city of Buenos Aires.

Once Eva learned the rules of the 'casting couch,' she dropped Magaldi and began her ascent to stardom. For years she wandered the streets, auditioned, and did whatever she had to do, no matter how distasteful. Eva gained modeling work and small parts in radio plays, frequenting nightclubs, and began to find better work.

After several jobs in theatres, she was interviewed by the magazine Sintonia. After Eva started an affair with the magazine's owner, he began to give her good exposure. This led to jobs in the film industry. Though she made several, she had no talent to be seen in any of her films.4

Eva's body was what sold her to the masses. She could have any man that she wanted, and soon set her sights on Colonel Juan Peron, who had political ruthlessness, a passion for younger women (especially good-looking actresses), and was a 48-year-old widower.5

On January 15, 1944, San Juan Argentina was hit by a terrible earthquake. A gala benefit show was held to support the relief effort, where Eva and Colonel Peron first met. They were seen leaving the gala together.6

Their attraction was not kept secret. Evita- what she liked to be called, now that she was a celebrity- and Peron became inseparable. Their attraction became a personal bond as well as a political alliance. She was active in formation of policy and penned plays about the Peronist 'Revolution.' By her account, Juan himself was responsible for the coup of 1943. This and other similar events disturbed military officers greatly.

The U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Spruille Braden, openly criticized the Argentine government, and schemed to overthrow it. Peron labeled his opposition as foreign intervention, and made his own cause a national one.7

This helped Peron become the most important man in the government, and thus a target of much criticism. Military officers hated him, and the President ordered him to resign his position. They decided to arrest Peron and place him under 'protective custody.' It was October 12, 1945.

Peron, while in prison, won the support of the labor unions. Strikes took place, and the workers took to the streets. The government had underestimated Peron's popularity. On October 16, Peron's release was successfully bargained for. On October 17, he was back in Buenos Aires. However, he would not make and appearance to the public. The 'descamisados,' or 'shirtless ones,' still filled the streets.

The President needed Peron to speak to the people. Having little choice, he met Peron's extreme demands. This...
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