Day 164 of Colourisation Project – October 18
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Maria Eva Duarte de Perón, better known as Evita Perón, was one of the most influential women in South American History. Born poor and illegitimate she rose to legendary heights as Argentina’s First Lady and used her position to fight for women’s suffrage and to improve the lives of the poor, whom she called los descamisados – the shirtless ones.
She was particularly adored by the working classes and in her appointed role of Secretary of Labour, supported higher wages and greater social welfare benefits. She started the Eva Perón Foundation, which distributed money, food and medicines to those most in need. Her work fundamentally kept Perón in power.
A tireless worker and role model for women in Argentina, she once said, “I am one of you. I know what it is to go hungry.” She was rewarded with a cult of personality that has endured to this day.
Her work and life was cut short when she was stricken with uterine cancer. Eva Perón made her last public appearance in June 1952, at her husband’s second inauguration. She succumbed to her illness on July 26, 1952, at the age of 33.
The news was immediately broadcast throughout the country, and Argentina went into mourning. All activity in Argentina ceased; movies stopped playing; restaurants were closed. The outpouring of grief was intense. Within a day of her death, all florists in Buenos Aires had run out of stock. ‘Evita, the Spiritual Leader of the Nation’ as she became known was given a state funeral. Millions attended.
A devastated Juan Perón planned an elaborate memorial, a monument, projected to be larger than the Statue of Liberty. Her embalmed body would be stored in the base of the monument on permanent display for her adoring public.
During construction of the monument, Evita’s body was displayed in her former office at the CGT building – the largest Peronist trade union in Argentina – for almost two years.
In 1955, three years after his wife’s death, a military coup saw Perón removed from power. Taking flight, Perón was forced to leave Evita behind. In the wake of the coup, Evita’s corpse disappeared. It had been removed in a clandestine operation from the CGT building.
Perón’s supporters believed its removal was part of a systematic attempt by the new regime to erase Peronismo from Argentina since the military dictatorship had issued a ban on Peronism, making it illegal not only to possess pictures of the Peróns but also to speak their names.
Evita’s whereabouts was a mystery for 16 years. By the end of the 1960’s the political situation in Argentina had become very unstable. In 1970, the Montoneros – a Peronist guerrilla group – kidnapped and killed the former president, General Pedro Aramburu, who had overseen the initial disappearance of Evita’s corpse.
In 1971, the military revealed that Evita’s body had been shipped to Italy in 1957, where with the covert assistance of the Vatican, it spent sixteen years in a crypt in Milan under a false name. In an attempt to ‘normalise’ politics, it was decided the Evita’s body would be returned to her husband who was then living in exile in Spain.
Evita’s body was exhumed and delivered to Juan Perón at the Madrid home he shared with his now third wife, Isabel, 35 years his junior and whom he had married in 1961. The Peróns decided to keep the corpse in their dining room on a raised platform.
According to Carlos Spadone, a well-known businessman in Argentina and confidant of Juan Peron, he was one of the first to see the body in the Spanish capital in 1971.
“General Peron, the gardener and I took the body out of the coffin. We lay it on a marble-topped table. Our hands got dirty from all the earth, so the body had to be cleaned.
Isabel took care of that very carefully with a cotton cloth and water. She combed the hair, and cleaned it bit by bit, and then blow-dried it. It took several days.
There was a large dent in the nose, and there were blows to the face and chest, and marks on the back. There had also been a serious blow to one knee; but I don’t think she had been strung up or whipped, as some people say – I don’t believe that.”
In 1973, Juan Perón came out of exile and returned to Argentina, where he once again became President. One year later, he died in office. His wife Isabel Perón, went on to make history by becoming the first female president in the Western Hemisphere.
She oversaw the repatriation of Evita’s body from Madrid to Argentina and briefly displayed it beside Juan Perón’s. Evita’s body was finally laid to rest in the Duarte family’s mausoleum in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.
Like her husband before her Isabel Peron had begun to plan the building of a national monument – ‘an Altar of the Fatherland’ – that would contain both her and the closed coffin of Juan Peron. But that was not to be.
In 1976 history would repeat itself as the short-lived government of Isabel Peron was deposed by yet another military coup and Argentina descended into its darkest and bloodiest days. Thousands of people would disappear….but that’s another story.
“The nation’s government has just handed me the bill that grants us our civil rights. I am receiving it before you, certain that I am accepting this on behalf of all Argentinean women, and I can feel my hands tremble with joy as they grasp the laurel proclaiming victory.” – Evita Peron