Monday, January 15, 2007

Isabelita Peron Busted: No Crying Allowed (Marc Cooper)

They say that justice delayed is justice denied. One proverbial counterpart would be, better late than never. Marc Cooper opts for the latter.

The remarkable political career of Juan Domingo Perón and his second and third wives, Eva (better known as Evita) and later Isabel, defined Argentine politics for a generation--not only when they were in power, in 1946-1955 and then in 1973-1976, but also during Perón's exile from 1955-1973, when he continued to cast a giant shadow over the country. Those who are unfamiliar with this saga might find Cooper's discussion of its peculiar final act--when Perón returned from exile in 1973 to become President again, died, and was succeeded by his wife "Isabelita"--especially illuminating.

Incidentally, Cooper might have mentioned that the current President of Argentina, Néstor Kirchner, belongs to the Justicialist Party founded by Perón (though from a wing of the Party that was violently repressed during Isabel Perón's presidency). In some ways, the fact that Isabel Perón is being indicted by a Peronist government (technically, the judiciary is acting independently, but in a case like this I doubt it's acting entirely independently) makes this event even more interesting and symbolically significant.

--Jeff Weintraub
Marc Cooper
January 12, 2007
Isabelita Peron Busted: No Crying Allowed

Let's use the parenthesis of the weekend to squeeze in a piece of cheery news from across the pond.

Former Argentine President Isabel Peron, 75, has been arrested by Spanish police as part of a deepening probe into death squad murders of the 1970's. It took long enough, but better late than never. She now faces possible extradition and trial on human rights charges.

The origin of the Argentine "dirty war" is generally and mistakenly attributed to the military regime which overthrew her government in March 1976. But it was, in fact, Isabel herself that got the mass killings off to a bloody start. Her husband, the legendary authoritarian populist Juan Domingo Peron, had named her VP and when he died in 1974, Isabelita, a former night club dancer, became Argentina's president.

Real power, however, was concentrated in the hands of the deceased Peron's private secretary and Isabel's Minister of Social Welfare [sic] Jose Lopez Rega. A hard-bitten and quite literal fascist, Lopez Rega was the fanatical organizer of the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance -- the AAA death squads. Operating with absolute impunity and with the support of Isabel, the murder squads were run in open daylight from the Ministry of Social Welfare's facilities. I lived in Buenos Aires at the time and those satanic Green Ford Falcons used by the squads could be seen parked at the Ministry's gates. An estimated 1500 civilians were murdered during Isabel and Lopez Rega's killing spree. The succeeding military dictatorship killed somewhere between ten to twenty thousand more over the next 7 years ( I had my own brush with the death squads a week after the military came to power but fortunately am here to tell the tale).

Isabel had no political experience nor aptitude when old man Peron, 35 years her senior, picked her up in a Panama bar in 1960. He tried to reshape her into a re-incarnation of his long-lost Evita who had died in the previous decade while he was still in power. But Isabel lacked the brains, the beauty and the charisma of the woman she replaced as Peron's wife. While in office, as VP and later as President, the Peronistas lamely tried to create an Evita-like personality cult around Isabel. Historical encores, however, always play as farce. In this case, a quite tragic one.

After two decades in exile, Peron came back to power in 1973. His arrival at Buenos Aires airport was marked by a massacre of his more leftist supporters at the hands of, yes, his more right-wing supporters (led by Lopez Rega). When he died a year later in office, Isabel formally consolidated the extreme right-wing currents within Peronism. It's authoritarian aspects had long ago consumed its more populist leanings. It's a lesson, by the way, that the uncritical supporters of Hugo Chavez ought to ponder very seriously.

But I digress. The arrest of Isabel Peron is a positive sign that Argentina is still determined to get to the bottom of its national horror. May she be shipped to Buenos Aires, tried for her crimes, and locked up in a jail cell for the rest of her miserable existence.