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Juan Domingo Perón (October 8, 1895 – July 1, 1974) was an Argentine general and politician, elected three times as President of Argentina, after serving in several government positions, including the Secretary of Labor and the Vice Presidency. He was overthrown in a military coup in 1955. He returned to power in 1973 and served for nine months, until his death in 1974 when he was succeeded by his third wife, Isabel Martínez.
Perón and his second wife, Eva, were immensely popular amongst many of the Argentine people, and to this day they are still considered icons by the Peronist Party. The Peróns' followers praised their efforts to eliminate poverty and to dignify labor, while their detractors considered them demagogues and dictators. The Peróns gave their name to the political movement known as Peronismo, which in present-day Argentina is represented by the Justicialist Party.
Perón was born in Lobos, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina on October 8, 1895. He was the son of Mario Tomás Perón, a farmer whose family was partly Scottish and Sardinian, and Juana Sosa Toledo, of partly Spanish and indigeneous descent.
Research undertaken by the Argentine journalist and writer Tomás Eloy Martínez in his books "Memoirs of the General" and "The Perón Novel," indicates that Perón was probably illegitimate. When his parents married, they acknowledged Juan and his brother. It is believed this information was denied for years because it would have likely ruined Perón's career. However, the works of Martínez fall into the category of historical novel and can not be taken as fact. What is sure is that Perón´s family was not very fond of him and almost got rid of him at the first opportunity they got, sending him to the Argentine military school at an early age.
Perón received a strict Catholic upbringing. His father migrated to the Patagonia region, where he purchased a sheep ranch; the undertaking failed, however, and the Peróns returned to Buenos Aires Province. He entered military school in 1911 at age 16, and after graduation, he progressed through the ranks. Perón married his first wife, Aurelia Tizón ("Potota," as Perón fondly called her), on January 5, 1929, but she died of uterine cancer nine years later. In 1938, he was sent to Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Albania and Yugoslavia as a military observer, and became familiar with Benito Mussolini's government and other European governments of the time.
Military government of 1943-1946
A June 1943 coup d’état was led by General Arturo Rawson against conservative President Ramón Castillo, who had been fraudulently elected to office. The military was opposed to Governor Robustiano Patrón Costas, Castillo's hand-picked successor, the principal landowner in Salta Province, as well as a main stockholder in its sugar industry.
As a colonel, Perón took a significant part in the military coup by the GOU (United Officers Group, a secret society) against the conservative civilian government of Castillo. At first an assistant to Secretary of War General Edelmiro Farrell, under the administration of General Pedro Ramírez, he later became the head of the then-insignificant Department of Labor. Perón's work in the Labor Department led to an alliance with the socialist and syndicalist movements in the Argentine labor unions. This caused his power and influence to increase in the military government.
After the coup, socialists from the CGT-Nº1 labor union, through mercantile labor leader Ángel Borlenghi and railroad union lawyer Juan Atilio Bramuglia, made contact with Perón and fellow GOU Colonel Domingo Mercante. They established an alliance to promote labor laws that had long been demanded by the workers' movement, to strengthen the unions, and to transform the Department of Labor into a more significant government office. Perón had the Department of Labor elevated to a cabinet-level secretariat in November 1943.
This post received national exposure following the devastating January 1944 San Juan earthquake, claiming over 10,000 lives and leveling the Andes range city. Junta leader Pedro Ramírez entrusted fundraising efforts to Perón, who marshalled celebrities from Argentina's large film industry and other public figures; for months, a giant thermometer hung from the Buenos Aires Obelisk. The effort's success earned Perón massive public approval and introduced him to a radio matinee star of middling talent, Eva Duarte. Following President Ramírez's January 1944 suspension of diplomatic relations with the Axis Powers (against whom the new junta would declare war in March 1945), the GOU junta unseated him in favor of General Edelmiro Farrell, whose advent Perón was instrumental in. Perón became Vice President and Secretary of War, while retaining his Labor portfolio, leveraging his authority on behalf of striking abattoir workers and the right to unionize, he became increasingly thought of as presidential timber. On September 18, 1945, he delivered an address billed as "from work to home and from home to work."
The speech, prefaced by an excoriation of the conservative opposition, provoked an ovation declaring that "we've passed social reforms to make the Argentine people proud to live where they live, once again." This move fed growing rivalries against the vice president and, on October 9, 1945, he was forced to resign by opponents within the armed forces. Perón was arrested four days later; but mass demonstrations organized by the CGT forced his release on October 17. His paramour, Eva Duarte, became hugely popular after helping the CGT organize the demonstration; known as "Evita", she helped Perón gain support with labor and women's groups. She and Perón were married on October 22.
Perón and Fascism
Perón believed that Italian leader Benito Mussolini was one of the greatest men of the century. After World War II, Argentina became a leading haven for German officers escaping Germany, with explicit protection from Perón. Uki Goñi showed in his 1998 book that German 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 was 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. According to Goñi, 1948 was the most active year, during which Carlos Fuldner was in Switzerland with a special passport describing him as "special envoy of the President of Argentina." In 1946, Cardinal Antonio Caggiano went to the Vatican in the name of the Argentine government, and offered refuge for French collaborationists who had fled to Rome.
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 by Joachim 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 German and Argentine military officers supporting the Axis. In 1943, he traveled with Perón to Europe to attempt an arms deal with Germany.
Examples of German and collaborators who relocated to Argentina include Emile Dewoitine, who arrived in May 1946 and worked on the Pulqui 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, 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 occupied 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.