Eva Perón: The Spiritual Leader of Argentina

Eva Perón is a woman who’s charisma and elegance won the hearts of the Argentinean lower economic classes. A champion of women and children’s rights, she is a prime example of what a woman fighting for the Third Position can achieve.

One cannot accomplish something without fanaticism.

Eva Perón

Eva Perón was born May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, Argentina to an impoverished family. Her mother Juana Ibarguren and father Juan Duarte were never married, and in Argentina during that period the law did not recognize Eva and her siblings as his legitimate children. Adding to the situation was that Juan was married to another woman as well and had another family. This would shape Eva’s views towards those less fortunate than others. At six her father died, and because she and her siblings were illegitimate, her family was only allowed to stay momentarily to pay their respects but had to immediately leave. During her adolescent years Eva would often participate in school plays and concerts. The cinema quickly became a favorite pastime for her—as it was a form of escapism—and played a part in her wanting to become a famous actress.

At the age of 15, Eva traveled to the capital Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career. Since she had little formal education or connections it was initially difficult for her to survive on her own. Adding to the obstacle in her path was the overcrowding of the capital due to the Great Depression, causing people to migrate looking for work. For context, in 1930 a military coup forced Hipólito Yrigoyen from power and replaced him with José Félix Uriburu. Support for the coup was bolstered by the declining Argentine economy, as well as a string of bomb attacks and shootings involving radical anarchists. This alienated moderate elements of Argentine society and angered the conservative right, which had long been agitating for decisive action by the military forces. After becoming president through the coup, Uriburu attempted to create reform that would include corporatism in the Argentine Constitution. This move toward fascism was viewed negatively by the conservative backers of the coup, and they turned their support to the more moderate conservative general Agustín Justo, who won the presidency in a 1932 election that was heavily fraudulent. Justo began a policy of liberal economic moves that primarily benefitted the nation’s upper classes and permitted great political and industrial corruption at the expense of national growth. 

From 1935 to 1942 Eva would find steady work as a model and actress in some B-grade movies before finding stability in 1942, when she joined Radio Belgrano, becoming one of the highest paid actresses in Argentina. Two years later on January 15, 1944, a devastating earthquake would occur in San Juan, killing ten thousand people. Secretary of Labour Juan Perón stepped in and created a fund to aid the victims. An “artistic festival” would be created and to help raise these funds he invited radio and film actors to participate. One week later all participants met at a gala held at Luna Park Stadium. It was here that Eva and Juan would cross paths. Juan Perón was a 49 year old military officer and Secretary of Labor who was extremely popular with the Argentine working class. He was part of a group of military officers and generals named the United Officers’ Group. His political career was defined by improving labor conditions and strengthening syndicalist unions. When the two met Eva had no knowledge or interest in politics. Her willingness to absorb and learn what she heard from Perón and his inner circle was an endearing quality.

Eva would be a vital asset to Perón’s political ambitions as she would campaign for him and gain the support of los descamisados—”the shirtless ones”—who represented the lower and working economic classes. Along with this charisma Eva would host a daily radio program “Toward a Better Future”, which dramatized Juan Perón’s accomplishments in soap opera form. This would prove a successful strategy for the Perón duo as their efforts would culminate in victory for Perón as he would ascend to the presidency of Argentina in June 1946. The Perónist party would introduce programs that benefited the working class such as supporting the labor unions and greater involvement of the state in the economy. During the Perón years Eva would act as de facto minister of health and labour, increasing wages to unions and creating the Eva Perón Foundation which would create thousands of hospitals, schools, orphanages, and other charitable institutions. She would make religious education compulsory in schools. She would also help pass the women’s suffrage law and formed the Peronista Feminist Party in 1949.

Eva unfortunately would not live long after this as she would pass away from advanced cervical cancer in 1952. More than 3 million people would attend her funeral and all business would be halted as the nation mourned. Flowers were flown in from all over the country and a memorial was held in Helsinki for the Argentine team during the 1952 Summer Olympics. Eva Perón’s legacy to this day is that of a compassionate woman that led the way for social change and stability in Argentina. She achieved a status of sainthood among Perónist supporters as she was a heroine for the lower class, women and children. During her younger years, children born to unmarried parents did not have the same legal rights as those born to married parents. Experiencing the hardships of being an illegitimate child first hand she changed the law so that henceforth “illegitimate” children would be referred to as “natural” children. Not only was she considered the spiritual leader of Argentina but for all intents and purposes she was the mother of the nation.