Juan Domingo Perón was born in Lobos, Buenos Aires Province, on October 8, 1895. The son of a wealthy rancher, he attended two military colleges between 1911 and 1929. In 1930 he took part in the military uprising against President Hipólito Irigoyen and became private secretary to the Minister of War, a post he held from 1930 to 1935. After this he taught at his former military college and travelled, first to Chile in the role of military attaché and then to Italy where he studied fascism.
He returned to Argentina in 1941, joining a group of other dissident officers who staged a coup d'état in 1943. Given the task of reforming the Department of Labour, he worked to lessen the power of the left-wing parties, changed laws and replaced the unions with specially created syndicates. By 1944 he had been made Minister of War and Vice President.
This newfound power was unpopular with the armed forces who forced him to resign in 1945 and threw him in prison. Strong support from his labour colleagues, a crisis within the government and his close relationship with the popular actress Mariá Eva Duarte soon secured his release. He married her soon after and she became a huge influence on his political life, styling herself as 'Evita'. Together they were the public face of a new political group, the Perónistas, who targeted the working classes or Los Descamisados1 and established a code called Justicialism. Hugely popular, he won a decisive election in February 1946 and became President of Argentina.
As president he tried to implement his grand plans for reform of the labour system and set out 'The Twenty Truths of the Perónist Justicialism' which included:
- 1 'True democracy is the system where the Government carries out the will of the people defending a single objective: the interests of the people.'
- 4 'There is only one class of men for the Perónist cause: the workers.'
- 12 'In the New Argentina the only privileged ones are the children.'
- 13 'A Government without a doctrine is a body without a soul. That is why Perónism has established its own political, economic and social doctrines: Justicialism.'
- 20 'The best of this land of ours is its people.'
These high ideals were expensive and, by the time Evita died in 1952, his popularity was waning, he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church and the country was suffering from severe economic difficulties. This led to increasing unrest throughout the land culminating in a military coup in 1955 and Perón being sent into exile.
Although his exile lasted for 18 years he retained his popularity and influence over many of the workers. He returned to Argentina in 1973 and was, once more, elected President. He died, in office, the following year. To this day he is still considered a National hero by the working classes of Argentina and his Perónist Party is still a major force in the country. Accusations of corruption and cruelty by the Perónist ex President, Carlos Menem, are currently being investigated by the government of the incumbent President, Néstor Kirchner, also a Perónist.