President Maria Estela Peron appears to have weathered, for the time being at least, the latest challenge to her government in Argentina.
President Maria Estela Peron appears to have weathered, for the time being at least, the latest challenge to her government in Argentina. The rebellion by Air force officers who were demanding her resignation has ended in the surrender of its leader. But statements by senior officers have indicated that there is a good deal of sympathy for the rebels in the top ranks of the armed forces, and that further attempts, by constitutional means, might be made to change the government. In the meantime, Senora Peron herself went on radio and television to tell the people that the time to judge would be at the next elections.
Senora Isabel Peron, as she is popularly known, became spanish America's only woman ruler in June 1974. She was the third wife of Juan Peron, who had first been President of Argentina form 1946 to 1955. Then a military coup drove him into exile for eighteen years -- until his remarkable come-back in 1973, at the age of 77.
Isabel Peron never rivalled the popular admiration of Peron's late wife, Evita, who died in 1952. But she achieved something which the Argentine Congress had refused to Evita during Peron's first Presidency: she was, at Peron's insistence, chosen as his Vice-President. So, when Juan Peron died less than a year after his restoration, she stepped into his shoes.
The eighteen months of her Presidency have been a time of turmoil for Argentina. There has been persistent violence: riots, bombings and political assassinations, for which movements of the extreme left and the far right have both been blamed. By last summer, the economy was on the verge of collapse, with inflation running at the rate of 200 per cent a year.
Drastic emergency measures, including, devaluation, huge price increases and a w age freeze, brought organised labour -- the Peronist stronghold -- out against the government in a general strike. Senora Person was forced to dismiss her unpopular Social Welfare Minister, Jose Lopez Rega, who was her closest adviser and had filled the Cabinet with his own nominees. She also had to give way and allow the wage increases she had previously vetoed.
The strain of these events took a severe toll of Senora Peron's health. At 44, she was suffering from fainting fits and bouts of weeping and drastic loss of weight.She told her supporters: "I won't give up without a fight. I will not be got out, except dead." But in September she was persuaded to take a month's rest. She handed over her powers temporarily to the Speaker of the Senate, Senor Italo Luder, and flew off to a country club near Cordoba. Many people though then that she would never return to office.
During her absence, Senator Luder made a determined attempt to reduce the political temperature; but he was unable to do anything to stem the violence. Guerillas launched some of their bloodiest attacks during his term in office, and nearly a hundred people were killed in one week in the norther provinces.
By the middle off October, Senora Peron was back in Buenos Aires, looking relaxed and well after her holiday. Cheering crowds were out in the streets to welcome her; but there were reservations among the labour leaders and armed forces chiefs, on whose supports she depended, as to whether things would be much different.
Within a month, the demands for her resignation had risen again, based on her alleged involvement in the misuse of public and charitable funds. Senora Peron took to her bed again, said to be suffering from a gall bladder complaint. And from the hospital she made a nation-wide television appearance, declaring that she had no intention of resigning.
Two weeks ago, once more looking fit and well, she took part in a ceremony with President Bordaberry of Uruguay, opening a new bridge across the river which separates their countries. If her health holds out, she has given every indication that her spirit and determination will do so too. How long she can retain the support of the influential leaders of the armed forces and the labour movement remains an open question.
SYNOPSIS: Maria Estela Peron -- or Isabel Peron as she is popularly known -- on her first day in office as President of Argentina. She had taken over form her husband, lying gravely ill, and was to succeed him on his death three days later.
Juan Peron, at the age of seventy-seven, made a remarkable come-back in 1973, after nine years in the Presidency and eighteen in exile.
But he survived less than a year. On his last public appearance, some weeks before his death, age and illness were clearly taking their toll.
He had insisted that Isabel be elected his Vice-President. On his death, she stepped into his shoes. She was his third wife, and had shared much of his exile. They had been married thirteen years.
The eighteen months of her Presidency have been marred by violence. Bombers struck at schools and newspaper offices; there were political assassinations; riots were broken up by the police. Both the extreme left and the far right were blamed.
The unpopular Minister for Social Welfare, Senor Jose Lopez Rega -- seated on Senora Peron's right -- was forced out of office by a general strike.
President Peron reshuffled her cabinet yet again, but this had little effect on the disastrous state of Argentina's economy, or the political unrest. Senora Peron had to give way and allow wage increases she had previously vetoed.
In September, Senator Luder, Speaker of the Senate took over the Presidency for five weeks. Senora Peron had called the cabinet, members of Congress and military and church leaders together and told them she was stepping down temporarily for a rest.
The unhappy situation had a serious effect on her health. Many people thought she would never return to office.
But in the middle of October, she flew back to Buenos Aires from the country club near Cordoba where she had been resting, looking relaxed and well. The people of the capital turned out to welcome her; but political and military leaders had their reservations about how long she would be able to carry on.
In November, while she was in hospital again, there were more demands for her resignation. She told the people in a television broadcast that she had no intention to giving up her post.