DIGGING DEEPER: The Legacy of Eva Peron



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SOURCE: Wikipedia

SOURCE: Wikipedia

There is great interest in the life, work, and image of Evita.  Her rise from humble beginnings to political power, her beauty and sense of style, her work for the poor, her fight for gender equality, her short life, the conspiracies surrounding her time in power, and her dominance as a cultural icon after her death, all combine to create an intriguing source for a great, "stranger than fiction" drama.

Eva's husband and the president of Argentina from 1946-1955 (and later for a brief period in the seventies), created a political movement known as Peronism. The evaluation of his presidency remains in dispute.  He nationalized industries and services, improved wages and working conditions, paid the full external debt, and achieved nearly full employment during his first years in office.

However, the economy begin to decline in 1950 due to over-spending, and Juan Peron was also considered by many as fascist leaning.  Eva, fondly referred to as Evita, played a central political role. She pushed congress to enact women's suffrage and developed an unprecedented social assistance program for the most vulnerable in Argentinian society. 

Evita City, a suburb for the working class Argentinians, was even built in the shape of her profile, with her head facing right and her hair tied in her signature chignon. To accomplish all this improvement to Argentine society, money was demanded from some businesses and there were rumors of possible money laundering and other inappropriateness.  In spite of the rumors, in 1952, after her death, Eva was named "Spiritual Leader of the Nation," and Peronism has continued as an important movement in Argentina until the present day.

Eva aroused strong emotions in people throughout the world. The poor, the unions, women and others loved her efforts on their behalf. The military of Argentina did not embrace her policies. In 1947, Eva Peron traveled to Europe. The Spanish adored her, the Italians compared her husband to Mussolini, France was unimpressed, and the English invited her to a country estate, not Buckingham Palace. While in Switzerland, she even encountered protestors who threw stones and tomatoes at her. She did meet with Francisco Franco, Pope Pius XII, and Charles de Gaulle on her tour.  At all public events she dressed in a very glamorous fashion that she insisted was to impress the people of Argentina and promote Peronism. However, some saw her style as less than that of a "lady" and too flamboyant.  Essentially, some European's distrusted aspects of Juan Peron's perceived fascist rule and his ties to Nazi war criminals, and also disapproved of what they saw as Eva's ostentatious drive for the spotlight and her rumored many past relationships which it was felt had certainly enabled her rise in society and government.

Eva Peron Tomb.jpeg

Eva's death at the young age of thirty-three adds to the high drama of her life story.  In January, 1950, Peron fainted and was diagnosed (depending on the source) with either cervical or uterine cancer. She underwent various procedures including a hysterectomy and was the first Argentinian to undergo chemotherapy, but in spite of all attempts, the cancer metastasized. There is even a claim that Peron's medical records suggest she may have been given a prefrontal lobotomy in June 1952, a month before she died.  (Although the purpose of the lobotomy was thought to control the pain and anxiety caused by her advanced cancer, a neurosurgeon at Yale argued that Juan Peron also ordered the surgery as part of a political conspiracy that was trying to control and silence Eva's behavior, a behavior that might have been encouraging civil war in Argentina.)  Millions attended Eva Peron's funeral. This state funeral was fitting for a queen and throngs of weeping people stood outside the president's house, mourning her death with flowers.

The drama of Evita's Image continued after her death. After Eva Peron's body was embalmed and put on display, a military coup overthrew Juan Peron. He fled to to Spain, and the new military leaders banned anything pro-Peron. They removed Eva Peron's corpse, reportedly made wax decoys to confuse her supporters, and stored the real corpse in a van and then an office. In 1957, they sent the body to a cemetery in Milan, Italy to be buried under a fake name.  Her corpse remained in Milan until 1971, when it was disinterred and given to the former president of Argentina who resided in Madrid. Because the body was damaged, Peron and his third wife, Isabel, restored the body and put it on display.  When Juan Peron died, shortly after his third and last election to the presidency of Argentina, Evita's body was laid in state beside his.  Finally, in 1976, Eva's body was buried in her maiden family's tomb in a secure, tamper-proof spot in a cemetery in Buenos Aires.

Her memory continues on. In July 2002, to commemorate fifty years since her death, Museo Evita (The Evita Museum) opened in Palermo, Buenos aires.  Founded by Peron's grandniece, the museum is housed in a building the Eva Peron Foundation set up for homeless women and children to live in until they found work and a more permanent home.  Visitors to the museum can see Dior dresses, tailored suits, eye-catching jewelry, and portraits of Evita.

Works Cited:

Encyclopedia Brittanica, Argentina
Mental Floss, 13 things You Might Not Know About Eva Peron, May 7, 2017
Thought Co., Biography of Maria Eva, "Evita" Peron, March 17, 2017
Thought Co., Biography of Juan Peron, April 18, 2018
Wikipedia, Argentina