Evita and her persistent shadow

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Evita and her persistent shadow life, death, and the current presence of an Argentine myth
Nasi, Kristina
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vi, 118 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Social conditions ( fast )
Social conditions -- Argentina ( lcsh )
Argentina ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 115-118).
General Note:
Department of Modern Languages
Statement of Responsibility:
by Kristina Nasi.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
788423316 ( OCLC )
LD1193.L665 2011M N37 ( lcc )

Full Text
Kristina Nasi
B.A., Whittier College, 1999
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Kristina Nasi
has been approved
Michael Abeyta
Andres Lema-Hincapie
NntoW Hi X)II
Date 7
Gillian Silverman

Nasi, Kristina (M.A., Spanish)
Evita and Her Persistent Shadow: Life, Death, and the Current Presence of an
Argentine Myth
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Michael Abeyta
This study examines the changing role of Eva Peron in Argentina from her
rise to fame in the 1940s to her most recent treatment in Argentina during the
Bicentennial celebrations in 2010. Eva Peron's image has been manufactured and
reproduced since her entree into the world of the theatre and radio in Buenos Aires in
the late 1930s. Upon marrying future President Juan Peron, Eva's image earned great
social significance and she was thrust onto the political scene as the nurturing,
compassionate force behind Juan Peron's more aggressive ideology. Affectionately
known as "Evita" by Peron's supporters, her iconographic treatment as first lady
involved the constant profusion of photos with Eva and her descamisados [shirtless
poor]. This, along with Peronist propaganda that forwarded an idea of the Perons as
the mother and father of the nation, proved highly effective and Eva became an
emblem of Argentina's youth, wealth and growing international importance.
However, this attention inspired a backlash from anti-Peronists who forwarded
myriad myths about her. Known by some as a vengeful Cinderella, power monger
and whore, Eva was despised by the oligarchy and intellectual elite who found the
Peronist regime repressive. Upon her death at the age of 33, Eva earned a cult-like
following and her husband and supporters forwarded images of her as the Virgin
Mary and martyr for the Peronist cause.
On March 6, 2010, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
opened The Argentine Bicentenary Hall of Women and named Eva Peron as the
Woman of the Bicentennial. In June 2010, Argentine fashion designer Jorge Ibanez
featured his new clothing line with a show entitled Evita 20JO, inspired by the iconic
look of the former first lady. Unlike her reductive portrayals during her life and after

her death, Eva's twenty-first century image has converged and she has returned as the
elegant starlit, the loyal wife, and the social crusader. Fernandez de Kirchner, who
has drawn parallels to the former first lady throughout her political career, has
embraced Eva as a populist icon and has demonstrated the importance of physical
appearance and image for women in power in Argentina.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I
recommend this publication.
Michael Abeyta

My thanks to my Thesis Director and Graduate Advisor, Michael Abeyta, for his
guidance, encouragement and insight during my research and writing. I also wish to
thank the Modem Languages Department for their constant support of my interests
and inspiration: Latin American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies. Finally, I
wish to thank Gillian Silverman, whose critical reading of my first draft, enabled me
to construct a thoughtful, organized and thorough study of Eva Peron.

1. INTRODUCTION________________________________________________1
Eva's Early Years______________________________________14
Eva Blazes a New Trail: Self Promotion in Buenos Aires__________19
Eva the Actress________________________________________20
3. EVA AND PERON: ARGENTINA'S NEW HOPE________________________25
"Mi dia maravilloso"___________________________________26
The Perons: Mother and Father to the Nation____________30
Eva's Politics of Passion______________________________32
Eva the Obedient Wife__________________________________37
Eva's Brand of Feminism________________________________41
Glamorous Starlit and Stoic Politician, With the Dress to Match_44
TO OTHERS__________________________________________________47
Juan Peron's Agenda for Eva____________________________48
Eva's Postmortem Journey_______________________________49
Eva as Commodity_______________________________________57
Eva's Detractors_______________________________________60
Eva a la Hollywood_____________________________________63
5. EVITA AND THE MASSES______________________________________66
The Peronist Propaganda Machine and the Importance of Image_____67
Fashion as Function: Eva's Fortune Connects Her to the People___73
Eva's Illness: Death Makes a Martyr____________________78
A Revolutionary Image Arises___________________________82
Eva as Allegory and Object of Mourning_________________85
Eva's Return: The 1970s________________________________91
The Woman of the Bicentennial___________________________________98
Evita 2010__________________________________________ 103
Queen Cristina and the Abanderada de los Descamisados_105
7. CONCLUSIONS______________________________________________111

In 1971, exiled president Juan Peron returned to Argentina with the help of
enthusiastic political supporters that clamoured for the resurrection of Peronism and
the reemergence of Juan and wife Eva's former glory. Separate visions of Eva Peron
appeared as Peronist factions embraced different manifestations of the dead first lady:
that of the guerrilla fighter giving firebrand speeches at the Plaza de Mayo and that of
the statuesque Senora who represented the politics of her husband at home and abroad
and embraced the poor and suffering of Argentina with a saintlike resolve. Posters
and signs with "Se siente. Se siente. Evita estci presente" [You can feel it. You can
feel it. Evita is here] accompanied Peronists at rallies and Eva again was in the
spotlight, her resonance with the Argentine people indisputable. The national
mourning that took place in 1952 after her death was replaced nineteen years later
with an assertion that, indeed, Eva is present and her power is still valid.
On March 6, 2010, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
opened The Argentine Bicentenary Hall of Women in the Casa Rosada and dedicated
it to twelve women who shaped the history of Argentina. Eva Peron features
prominently as the "Mujer del Bicentenario" [Woman of the Bicentennial] and the

first woman in this series. Addressing invited guests at the Salon de los Patriotas
Latinoamericanos and in front of a projected image showing Eva surrounded by
children, Fernandez de Kirchner assured them that giving Eva such an honor "esta
lejos de cualquier connotacion ideologica o partidaria" [is far from any ideological or
partisan connotation] ("Argentina designa a Eva Peron"). Kirchner invoked the
image of Eva as an advocate for the less fortunate, "la abanderada de los humildes"
[the flag-bearer of the shirtless poor] and as an exemplary woman: "Fue la verdadera
creadora del concepto de justicia social... hablar de Eva es hablar de la historia de la
mujer en la politica" [She was the true creator of the concept of social justice ... to
speak of Eva is to speak of the history of women in politics] ("Cristina Kirchner
dijo"). The president also articulated a common vision of Eva as the protagonist of a
fairy tale: "La Eva de mi madre, nacida en 1929, era una Eva hada" [My mother's
Eva, who was bom in 1929, was Eva the Fairy Godmother] ("Cristina Fernandez
homenajeo a Eva Peron"). The photograph chosen to typify Eva in the Hall of
Women shows a young Maria Eva Duarte de Peron on her wedding day, standing
solemnly next to her husband and future president, General Juan Domingo Peron. Eva
was also named the "Woman of South America" and was included in the Gallery of
the Patriots of the Bicentennial in the government palace, along with Che Guevara,
Pancho Villa, and Tupac Amaru.

In June, shortly after the bicentennial celebrations, Argentine fashion designer
Jorge Ibanez featured his new clothing line with a show entitled Evita 2010. Inspired
by the iconic look of the former first lady, Ibanez also considered the show a
celebration of the country's bicentennial: "We are in the year of the bicentennial,
showing our patriotism just below the skin ... I thought, what woman, more than
Evita, has represented us during these 200 years?" ("Evita Fashion Inspires
Argentina") Replete with elegant, floor-length, fifties-inspired gowns, models
wearing their hair in styles that Eva made famous, and a finale that included the
singing of "No llores por mi Argentina" with the symbolic collapse by a model on a
chaise at the song's final note, the spectacle revived Eva as a fashion icon and a
beautiful muse.
In her most recent appearances, Eva Peron has returned as the elegant starlit,
the loyal wife, and the social crusader. Unlike her emergence in the 1970's,
characterized by posters and images brandishing photos of the Revolutionary Eva
giving fiery speeches, or her myriad portrayals actress, strumpet, spiritual mother of
the nation, and power-monger during her short life and immediately after her death
in 1952, her twenty-first century image has been softened and her bellicose persona
renounced. So, what do these contemporary appropriations say about the current
social and political situation in Argentina? More importantly, how and why is Eva

Peron, who died over fifty years ago, still relevant? Perhaps this resurrection of Eva
in 2010 is merely a response to the bicentennial. Argentina's female, Peronist
president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner evoked the beauty and benevolence of Eva
Peron when she inducted her in the Hall of Women. Even the fashion show, which
could be attributed to nostalgia for Eva's beauty and style, speaks to a need that
Argentines have for her image. It is no doubt telling that Evita's contemporary
appearances highlight her beauty and fidelity and that the controversy that follwed her
in life and death is noticeably absent.
The cyclical appearances of Eva Peron speak not only to her use for Argentina
in the twenty-first century, but also attest to the power of her persona while she was
alive and the vigor of her cult and myth after she died. In an examination of the
various images of Eva and how both she as well as others created these images, I will
highlight her importance throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century as
both a political figure and a representation of a pre-dictatorial epoch in Argentina. I
will also consider the archetypes assigned to and perpetuated by Eva during her life
and after her death. These images created her cult and the significant nostalgia that
she evoked in the 1970's and continues to evoke today not only for Peronist
Argentines but for the country as a whole.

Chapter 2 will provide an extensive examination of Eva's life before she met
her husband, Juan Peron, and will give a context for her professional motivations.
More importantly, a thorough discussion of her personal history will be used to
scrutinize the negative mythology that followed her throughout her life and after her
death. Her vicissitudinous and obscure personal history contributed to the myths that
surrounded her and created her popular appeal. Her archetypal history as the poor
provincial girl who, despite setbacks and resistance, became the most powerful
woman in the country contributed both to her supporters' admiration and to her
detractors' denunciation. This chapter also investigates Eva's self-construction and
promotion. Before she met her husband, Evita carefully managed her career and
image and was a motivated actress and radio personality. She chose her roles in radio
carefully and earned a great deal of notoriety long before she became first lady. Latin
American historian Linda B. Hall highlights Eva's career as an actress as key to her
ability to stir the emotions of the people in her public appearances and speeches.
Chapter 3 will focus on the relationship forged between Eva and Juan Peron
and how they were quickly transformed into Argentina's new hope for the future.
Both Peron and Eva capitalized on her recognizability as she beame the face of
Peronism. With the election of Peron as president, Evas popularity exploded and her
power increased. Eva embraced her new position as companion to Peron and

fashioned herself as both a loyal wife and a revolutionary politician. Also important
to this study in Chapter 3 is Eva's use of the traditional strategies and rhetoric of
female Latin American leaders and writers in the twentieth century. Beatriz Sarlo
points out that Eva's involvement with public outreach and charity and her consistent
declarations of loyalty and submission to her husband can be understood in the
context of the time period and the roles assigned to women. What is more, Eva's
humble upbringing contributed to her motivation to succeed and her empathy towards
Argentina's working classes. Eva navigated the traditional roles assigned her and
expected of women, and sought to be an active advocate for change while moving
within the social criteria of the time. She was also acutely aware of her supporters'
need for her to succeed and to exude that success. As a result, the grandiose gestures
and outfits she used as a stage actress were translated onto the political scene, and
thus Eva captivated the working class of Argentina.
As a woman on the political scene, Eva inspired both great admiration and
indignation. Some of the negative myths that were given to her are explored in
Chapter 4. Two of the labels assigned to her the vengeful Cinderella and the national
saint are discussed in order to deconstruct the various myths that accompanied Eva
in life and death. Beyond the myths, Eva's handling by her husband and his
government is used to understand the ways in which she was commodified and her

image was manipulated, especially after her death. Eva's popular canonization and the
tireless efforts of Juan Peron to assign his dead wife the titles of martyr and saint only
added to her cult. Even with the ousting of Peron and his subsequent exile from
Argentina, Eva's body inspired intrigue and anxiety. The process of her embalming
and the superstitions of those in charge of her care lent an other-worldly character to
Evita's postmordem period. Certainly, Eva's body was in the hands of men her
husband, her embalmer, the military regime that overthrew Peron and the control
that those men wielded over Eva's post-mortem journey is notable. The critical theory
of Luce Irigaray will provide a feminist lense through which this manipulation and
commodification can be analyzed. Finally, an examination of the 1996 film Evita will
be used to underline Eva's growing global popularity in the twentieth century. Marta
Savigliano provides an excellent critique of the film and discusses the consequences
of the "Hollywood-made Evita myth" (156). Savigliano focuses her analysis on the
portrayal of Eva by Madonna and how the film exploited the myth of Eva as a social
climber and political opportunist.
In Chapter 5, Eva's connection with the Argentine masses provides insight
into her popularity into the twenty-first century. In death Eva's body became a symbol
of the Peronist nation and the cadaver's subsequent disappearance only fueled her
supporters' desire for her return. A discussion of Evita's physical appearance during

her life and during the illness to which she eventually succumbed sheds light on the
popularly-held belief that she was a martyr for the country. Likewise, an examination
of Eva's appearance and wardrobe will attempt to explain the nation's preoccupation
with her fashion, which was a source of pride for her followers and scorn by those
who thought her too extravagant. Hall and Susana Rosano examine the powerful
images that arose after Eva's death and the potency of her connection with the people.
Both saintly and sinister, Eva continued to have political leverage. This leverage is
most obvious in the use of Evita's missing corpse as justification for the assassination
of former Argentine president Pedro Eugenio Aramburu by the Montoneros guerrilla
group. Sarlo elucidates the situation surrounding the killing of Aramburu and how
that event inspired the Revolutionary Eva image that the Montoneros and other
Peronist groups evoked in the early 1970s in her book La pasiony la excepcidn. The
constant and varying evocations of Eva fits into Latin American Studies Scholar
Idelber Avelar's discussion of mourning in postdictatorial Latin American
communities, that addresses the fascination in Latin American countries with relics
from the past. Eva's constant renewal even with variations of her image speaks to
her allegorical power to evoke a more prosperous past. Considering Avelar's thesis,
Eva's postmortem journey added an immediacy and endurance to Argentina's need to
mourn and revive her image.

The final chapter analyzes Eva's role in the twenty-first century. As
Argentines celebrated their Bicentennial, they celebrated Eva Peron. Current
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner named Eva the "Mujer del bicentenario"
and placed her as the first woman in Argentina's Hall of Women in the Casa Rosada.
In her presentation at the commencement the Hall of Women, Cristina empasized
Eva's considerable work with social justice and her involvement in the political
efforts of women in the 1940s and 1950s. What is unique about Eva's manifestation
via Fernandez de Kirchner is that her image lacks the revolutionary spirit of the
1970s. The highly visual tradition of Peronism remains, but Eva is now shown
helping poor children and standing next to her husband on their wedding day. In her
criticism of Evita. Savigliano mentions that Madonna's representation of Eva results
in a "softened" version of the First Lady and that Eva's "own image as a strong, foul-
mouthed, independent woman is subdued" (159). This softening appears in the Hall
of Women, too. Whether Fernandez de Kirchner is more interested in highlighting
Eva's traditional roles or if she wants to distance modern-day Peronism from the
armed struggle of the Montoneros guerilla movement of the 1970s, Eva is portrayed
today as a wife and a champion of social justice. Also significant in 2010 is the use of
her image as a commodity in the world of fashion. Argentine designer Jorge Ibanez's
Evita 2010, which coincided with the bicentennial celebrations, exhibited the
designer's contemporary take on Eva's renowned fashion of the 1950s. The more than

twenty models in the show were dressed and coiffed in styles inspired by Eva's iconic
look, and the show seemed to portend an infinite reproduction of her image.
This study would not be possible without the myriad writings and research
performed by academics, writers, and biographers since Eva's death in 1952.
Although some propagate erroneous myths that have since been corrected and others
offer a more balanced, forgiving interpretation of the life of Eva, all have contributed
to the corpus that define Eva studies. Tomas Eloy Martinez's novel, Santa Evita,
written in 1995, is used to examine the myths surrounding the journey of Eva's
cadaver between 1952 and 1971. Mixing historical fact with fictional invention,
Martinez reconstructs and reinvents the past to create a latticework of stories that
converge on the fantastic story of Eva's embalming and subsequent disappearance.
The novel serves to underscore the ways in which her life and death were used to
create her phenomenal myth. The 1996 film Evita and V.S. Naipul's work on Eva
Peron and Argentina in his articles from the 1980s also contribute a great deal to the
mythmaking of Evita. These studies serve to proliferate the ideas of Eva as a social
climber and a provincial rube who sought power only to spite and dismantle the
powerful Argentine oligarchy.
More favorable studies come from Marysa Navarro, Susana Rosano and Linda
Hall who consider Evas myths as reactions to her life story and to the fact that she

was a woman who amassed great power at a time when women were not involved in
politics. Hall's work from 2004 and 2006 delves into Eva's biography to explain her
resonance with the Argentine working classes and their identification of Eva with the
Virgin Mary. Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro's Evita, first published in 1980,
provides much of the biographical foundation in Chapter 1. An involved study of Eva
Duarte's life before she became Eva Peron is necessary in order to start
deconstructing the myths that surrounded Eva once she arrived in Buenos Aires.
Fraser and Navarro's work is widely considered the most complete biographical work
on Eva. Departing from the many complicated myths of Eva, the authors strove to
create a more factual study as compared to past works on Eva that were "propaganda
in the guise of biography". Fraser and Navarro based their work on previous studies
of Eva and newspaper articles and their own interviews conducted between 1972 and
1978. The result is an exhaustive look at Eva's life that "disposes of several major
misconceptions" that abounded both during Evita's life and after her death. Evita is
highly cited and used throughout Eva Peron studies, and provides the basis for much
of Hall's work as well (xi). Beatriz Sarlo also provides valuable insight into Eva's
resonance with the Argentine people and focuses her study. La pasiort y la exception,
on both the bond that Eva created with the masses through her physical image and
style and how Eva's bizarre post-mortem odyssey and then popular deification

contributed to the religious and revolutionary aura that her memory inspired in the
This study diverges from those aforementioned because it considers Eva
Peron in the twenty-first century. Using previous studies in order to contextualize the
present manifestations of Evain Argentina, this work proposes that Evita is indeed
still relevant, but that her various images have been sifted through a contemporary
lense and what remains is a softened image of Eva the social crusader, dedicated
wife, women's advocate, and fashionista. These manifestations respond to a need in
Argentina to remember the bouyant, beautiful woman instead of the Revolutionary
Eva. Peronist president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has distanced Peronism from
its guerrilla, Montonero past and has taken the edge off of Eva's radical leanings.
What is more, Kirchner labeled "Queen Cristina" for her authoritarian and officious
behavior may see advantages to allying herself with a more muted Eva. The
spectacular life of Eva interpreted by so many remains fascinating in a modem
context, but her contentious persona has been replaced with a more palatable,
sanguine image that appears both in the Hall of Women and in the formal gowns of
Jorge Ibanez's Evita 2010.

"Eva Duarte, bom in the little village of Los Toldos on
May 9, 1919 ... an illegitimate child, a virtually illiterate
girl who never learned to spell, an Eliza Doolittle from
the heartland of Argentina, waiting only for a Professor
Higgins to teach her to pronounce her ditches."
Carlos Fuentes
This "snapshot" of the early life of Eva Maria Duarte given by Fuentes in his
review of Tomas Eloy Martinez's 1996 novel, Santa Evita, articulates one of the
many images of the former first lady of Argentina who was capitulated into
international fame at twenty-six, died tragically at thirty-three, and remains a fixture
of Argentine legend: that of the rural, intellectually feeble, love-sick Evita. In this
version of Eva's biography, she is dependent on a man (indeed several interpretations
of her early years pair her with many men) to save her from her poor and illegitimate
beginnings and give her the financial and social support she needed to be a star.
Overly simplified and incessantly recapitulated, the Eva of this lore is an
unremarkable woman save her ability to manipulate men to get what she wants.
Although Martinez categorizes his novel as fiction, his mention of the labels she
received once she rose to power with husband Juan Peron "that woman," "hooker,"
"B-girl," and "Mare or the Filly" (Martinez 14) are oft repeated in depictions of Eva.

Made internationally famous by the Broadway play and then Alan Parker's film
adaptation Evita, this image the whore, the social-climber, the otherwise
unspectacular woman who coupled with the right men, this "Hollywood-made Evita
myth" (Savigliano 156), certainly became a fixture of her permanent image. All of
these myths emerged from Evas largely uncertain and often misunderstood
biography. Many authors focused on her humble beginnings and family drama to fuel
despective images of the young actress-tumed-first-lady. Other, more recent writings
by authors Fraser and Navarro, Hall and Sarlo have sought to counter the established
rumors with a more objective look at Eva's life.
Eva's Early Years
Without much concrete information from Eva's childhood and adolescence,
and fed by Eva's own seeming disavowal of her early biography (she had her birth
certificate destroyed before her death in 1952), these "legends" have persisted.
However scant her biography is, there are enough accounts of her life in the period
before Peron to begin to understand the woman labeled as simple and childish by
some, (see V.S. Naipuls depiction of her in "Argentina and the Ghost of Eva Peron
1972-1991") that rose to such power so quickly. According to Peron biographers
Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro, Eva Maria Ibarguren was bom on May 7, 1919
in Los Toldos, a small town in the pampa of Argentina (1-11). Bom to Juana

Ibarguren and her lover, Juan Duarte, a married estanciero who had left his first
family to work in Los Toldos, Eva was the youngest of five children, who all took
Juan Duarte's surname as their own, even though their official last name was
Ibarguren. According to Fraser and Navarro, the Duarte family lived well according
to the standards in Los Toldos and in spite of the fact that the community was aware
of Juan Duarte's other family. Eva's biographers then assert that the Duarte/Ibarguren
family's fate was irreparably damaged when Juan moved back to Chivilcoy, twenty
miles away from Los Toldos, to return to his first family. Leaving Juana and her five
children "impoverished," the Duarte family moved out of their home on the main
street of Los Toldos and into a much smaller residence on the outskirts of town. Eva's
mother supported the children by sewing clothes for people in the town and was
linked to several men. rumored to be her "protectors," who provided the family with
financial help and food. These rumors, according to Fraser and Navarro, filtered
down to Juana's children "It is remembered that the sort of thing said behind dona
Juana's back was said openly to her daughters," and Eva was subjected to the
questioning of her family's reputation on a daily basis. This painful illegitimacy and
loss of financial resources as a result of her biological father's absence are often
linked both with Eva's desire to leave her family and home for a better life and to the
"outrage against injustice" that inspired her political work on behalf of the poor
(Fraser and Navarro 4-5).

Another situation secured in Eva lore that has been used to propagate the myth
that she despised the rich and sought protection and support from men, was the
dramatic scene of Juan Duarte's death and subsequent funeral. According to the
Fraser and Navarro account, Juana took her children to Chivilcoy to the wake and
was stopped at the door by Juan's legal wife, Estela Grisolia de Duarte. Forced to
"plead with the wife's brother," Juana secured entrance to the wake for her children
although the family was not permitted to attend the funeral (5). Later, the family had
to walk far behind Juan Duarte's hearse as it made its way to the cemetery. This series
of events sets the opening scene of Eva's childhood in the movie Evita (1996) where a
six-year-old Eva runs into the chapel to see her father and set flowers on his chest
only to be tom away from the corpse, screaming and crying, ";Es mi papa!" [He's my
father!] Whether the actual scene was this dramatic or is just the interpretation of a
Hollywood biopic, it has been postulated by both pro and anti Eva biographers that
the events surrounding her early life, including the estrangement from her father
affected her psychologically.
For Fraser and Navarro, Eva's passion for the poor and her mission to help
them (which is clearly vocalized in her autobiography, La Razon de mi vida) was
certainly fed by Eva's difficult life in Los Toldos, as well as her anger towards the
rejection she felt at the hands of her father's first family and in the communities in

which she lived. La Razon de mi vida contains little information about the
aforementioned situations in her life, and "the past is subsumed under the flat image
of what she had then become, and the character of her acts represented something
outside her personality" (Fraser and Navarro 5). Thus, her mission was established
apart from her painful past although she admits, "Desde que yo me acuerdo, cada
injusticia me hace doler al alma como si me clavase algo en ella. De cada edad
guardo el recuerdo de alguna injusticia que me sublevo desgarrandome intimamente"
[Since I can remember, every injustice hurt my soul as if it were pricked with
something. From every age 1 have a memory of some injustice that tore me apart
inside] (Peron 20). Besides the dramas that occured in Eva's young life, she was a
normal young girl, interested in the movies and the tabloids that discussed the
exploits of the stars. Her favorite starlit was Norma Shearer whose poor-girl-who-
made-it-big biography certainly foreshadowns Eva's own pursuit of fame. Unlike
other girls of her town, however, Eva did not settle for the typical life of a young
woman in Junin marriage, children, a house close to the family and soon left home.
In 1930, the Duarte/Ibarguren family moved to Junin, twenty miles from Los
Toldos. Consequently, Juana moved the family into a new home which soon
welcomed guests for whom Juana cooked for pay. Fraser and Navarro establish that
Juana's guests were "respectable bachelors" that went to the Duarte house for a warm

meal. Likewise, they deny the popularly held idea that was propagated later by Eva's
detractors that Juana's establishment hosted "flirtatious giggling, horseplay and some
pretty little scenes of affection put on by the mother and the daugthers for the benefit
of the men" (8). Certainly, this is the burdel atmosphere created in the movie Evil a
(1996) as Madonna playing the lead role is found happily lounging in bed with a
tango singer staying at Juana's house; a house filled with older men, music, food, and
young women. It was this tango singer that Eva purportedly accompanied to Buenos
Aires in 1935 at the age fifteen. However, there is no record that the tango singer,
Agustin Magaldi, was in Junin the year Eva left. Although Fraser and Navarro assert
that "[H]ow Eva Maria left Junin is really of little importance beside the fact that she
did so" (11), the image of Eva using sex to earn passage to Buenos Aires assuredly
contributes to the Eva-as-whore and social-climber images cultivated by many writers
(including Tomas Eloy Martinez) and advanced by Madonna's Evita. It is clear that
her experiences in Los Toldos and Junin were integral to her life and
accomplishments in Buenos Aires. There is little doubt that Eva was driven to
succeed because of her past and that the events of her childhood contributed to her
self-construction. More importantly, Eva's modest upbringing would become one of
the most powerful bonds between her and the Argentine working class.

Eva Blazes a New Trail: Self Promotion in Buenos Aires
In 1935 at the age of fifteen, Eva Duarte left her family and Junin for Buenos
Aires. The porteho society that she found was cosmopolitan, heavily influenced by
European fashion, architecture and society, and ruled by a "colonial elite of
landholders" (Fraser and Navarro 13). Eva, coming from theprovincia and with little
to her name, certainly struggled to find her place in this society. Yearning to act, she
pursued work at the local theatres and in radio. In 1936 she was hired to travel with a
theatrical company whose productions "dealt with scenes from bourgeois life "
(Fraser and Navarro 20). This opportunity lead to more and Eva found herself playing
the part of a nurse in Fatal Kiss. Although the theatre was a popular diversion for
Argentines in the 1930's, actors not in the leading roles were underpaid and given no
guarantee of work or a salary. Consequently, many actresses of the time "often had a
puntofijo, a steady man to look after them, or a caballero bianco, a sugar daddy "
(Fraser and Navarro 22). Eva, surrounded by these social mores, was often linked to
male companions and influential friends. One such "friend" to Eva was critic Pablo
Suero, who gave her a part in the Spanish adaptation of The Children's Hour. Later,
Suero would embarrass her in the lobby of the Astral theatre where she went to ask
him for more work. He, in turn, "began to insult her ... said he was married and asked
her why she was bothering him" (Fraser and Navarro 23). The image created by

Suero's outburst was utilized in the movie Evita (1996) in which musical montages
show various suitors spumed by Eva, one-by-one, each time a more influential man
came along. However provocative these scenes were, the Fraser and Navarro account
suggests that Eva sought assistance only from men who she trusted or who were
referred to her by friends: "She had not, as people still say, become aputita who slept
around for parts, nor a courtesan who took presents and manipulated her admirers.
These images of her belong in the category of fantasy. But she had learnt how things
worked" (24). This distinction is hugely important in understanding the real Eva
Duarte. To be sure, she used the scant resources available to her advantage, and
Fraser and Navarro's reading of her strategic alliances focuses on Eva the survivor
instead of the calculating whore.
Eva the Actress
Evas stage acting career was short but she found great success on the radio.
Since she had a few photographs published while she acted, Eva's face became
increasingly well-known, which aided her radio career. Hired in 1939 by Radio
Belgrano to perform works by an Argentine poet, she was dubbed "Eva Duarte, the
young and dynamic actress" (Fraser and Navarro 24). Eva soon became a regular on
the radio dramas and soap operas which were gaining huge popularity not only in
Buenos Aires but in all comers of Argentina. In these series, with formulaic and

dependable storylines of "love frustrated, usually over a great number of episodes,
then love fulfilled in the final one" (25), Eva was a star. She started earning a livable
and consistent wage, and was regularly featured in movie magazines. This fame,
however, had its downside as her real and invented male love interests received more
attention than did her radio career. Nevertheless, the attention was useful and Eva
gained a faithful following. What is more, Radio Belgrano soon merged with Radio
El Mundo, the most influential station in the country. Eva was not only self-sufficient
(in 1943 she was one of the best-paid radio actresses in Argentina), but she used her
drive and ambition to be appointed head of the radio company.
For historian Linda B. Hall, the Eva's radio soaps would mirror her political
life in Buenos Aires. Her sexual attractiveness was the focus of her publicity, but she
also used her "training" in radio to prepare her for life in the political spotlight. In the
soaps, her ability to harness and express deep emotion translated to the fervor with
which her empassioned followers adored her (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 208). Hall
asserts that with her success in radio, Eva accrued a great deal of confidence: she was
"street smart" and translated that into her political role ("Evita Peron" 235). Certainly
the events of 1943 helped Eva find her way into a more politicized position. During
that year, the civilian national government was overthrown by a military coup and. as
a result, the radio stations were taken over by the new government. The man in

charge, Oscar Nicolini, took a shine to her and "saw to it that she got her share of
airtime" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 235). In an act of either great political acumen or mere
coincidence, she proposed to Nicolini that they produce a series about important
women in history and that Eva be the protagonist. Interestingly, the women that Eva
choose Elizabeth I of England, Sarah Bernhardt, Catherine of Russia, Madame
Chang Kai-shek, and Isadora Duncan were "married to or associated with powerful
men" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 235). The series, "Heroines of History," was written by
Francisco Jose Munoz Azpiri, a lawyer and the future director of propaganda in the
Argentine Secretariat of Information. In September 1943 the show was advertised in
the radio magazine Atena with special attention given to Eva: "the celebrated leading
actress Evita Duarte, an artist who has acquired ample and justified renown in a long
and varied acting career in important radio stations ..." (qtd. in Fraser and Navarro
31). Eva had secured a prominent role in Argentine radio and her projects catapulted
her into the homes of millions.
Eva's new radio role clearly foreshadowed her dual roles as a powerful
political player and a humble wife. Three times a week, her program was introduced
as providing "the voice of a woman of the people she herself of the anonymous
masses in whose voice has been revealed day by day the nature ... of this saving
revolution" (qtd. in Hall, "Evita Peron" 235). Then, Eva's voice would usher in the

heroine's story for that day, and identify herself as "a woman like you, mothers,
wives, sweethearts, sisters ... In "Heroines of History," according to Hall, Eva had
the opportunity to "portray the kind of women she would like to emulate, making her
a kind of heroine albeit a constructed one for the military government" (emphasis
mine, 235). Also of importance in this new phase of Eva's radio career were her
access to and connection with powerful people in the government and her cultivation
of "both a style and rhetoric that would later suit her own political purposes" (Hall,
"Evita Peron" 236). Clearly the parallel between Eva's "Heroines of History" and her
own entree into the political arena deserves attention. That Eva actually predicted her
future with Juan Peron and a life in Argentine government affairs is unlikely. More
probable is that she was interested in professional opportunities that would advance
her artistic career and suggested a program in which she played powerful women who
changed history. Regardless of her motivation, Eva began to construct her image
based on the professional goals she had for herself.
Eva Duarte's involvement in radio and her interest in portraying political
women should be interpreted in light of the historical and social context of Argentina
in the 1940's and 50's. In a porteho society where lineage, wealth, and European
values mattered most, she faced the prospect of being a pariah. Without the traditional
paths to hereditary wealth available to her, Eva took advantage of the opportunities

she had acting, working with the government-run radio, and creating a name for
herself to elevate her status. It is obvious that Eva had paved her way to stardom and
had indeed achieved a great deal in a short time, when she met her future husband
Juan Peron. However, her encounter with Peron, and the love affair and marriage it
initiated, thrust Eva Duarte onto the Argentine political scene.

Eva's life changed dramatically when she met political aspirant General Juan
Domingo Peron. The couple forged a politcial dynasty that capitalized on the
desperate condition of Argentina's working classes. With Eva at Peron's side, the pair
was transformed into the mother and father of the Argentine masses. Eva's savvy
professional decisions positioned her perfectly to meet Peron, and her background in
radio and theatre made her instantly recognizable and popular with Argentine voters.
Both Eva and Juan began to design a highly visible role for Eva, who would soon
become both the loyal, energetic wife of a presidential hopeful as well as the bridge
between the nation's leader and his people. Eva was also able to create for herself an
active political role and, in sidestepping the traditionally passive role of first lady,
earned great admiration and admonition. Eva's success as an actress in Buenos Aires
was an impressive feat and prepared her according to some biographers for her
ultimate role as wife of President Peron. Eva's self-promotion both during her years
as an actress and radio personality as well as after her marriage, point to two
trajectories that eventually coalesced into her image as the beloved Eva, champion of
the Argentine people. The first was that of the devoted wife, submissive to her
husband's life and political agenda. She embraced this traditional role and exaulted it

in her autobiography, La razon de mi vida, where her "reason" to live was her
husband. Conversely, she broke with tradition with her unconventionally active role
as a first lady. A lobbyist for women's rights and an advocate for their more vigorous,
public involvement in politics, Eva encouraged independence for women while
maintaining completely committed to her man. These two agendas submission and
action and Eva's unwavering committment to both, created a space for her to be both
wife and revolutionary. What is more, Eva utilized her highly visual post as first lady
and her affinity for glamourous fashion to connect in a powerful way with the
Argentine masses. With her extravagant style and celebrated outfits, Eva created a
renegade image of success, power, and femininity that forged a perfect and lasting
relationship with Argentina's poor.
"Mi dia maravilloso "
The couple met at a fundraiser for earthquake victims in the Andean province
of San Juan and soon became inseparable. It was 1944 and Colonel Juan Domingo
Peron, the Secretary of Labor in the military government, called for an "artistic
festival" to raise money for those affected. The culminating event was a "great
subscription gala" with "tangos, comedians, expensive tickets" (Fraser and Navarro
32). According to Juan Peron's memoir, Eva was "a woman of fragile appearance, but
with a strong voice, with long blonde hair falling loose to her back and fevered

eyes...l looked at her and felt overcome by her words" (qtd. in Fraser and Navarro
33). In her memoir she calls their meeting "mi dia maravilloso" [my marvelous day]
and explains that "el encuentro me had dejado en el corazon una estampa indeleble; y
no puedo dejar de pintarla porque ella senala el comienzo de mi verdadera vida" [the
meeting left in my heart an indellible mark; and I can't stop recounting it because it
signalled the beginning of my real life] (Peron 32). After their brief conversation at
the gala, Juan Peron and Eva left together and thus their relationship became
immediately public. Within two months they were living together, which presented a
situation that was "socially unacceptable" according to the social norms in Buenos
Aires (Navarro, "The Case of Eva Peron" 231). This controversial arrangement
provided a good deal of fodder for the gossip in "Buenos Aires salons" as Juan
brought Eva with him to almost all of his social and political functions and "actually
behaved as if she were his wife" (Navarro, "The Case of Eva Peron" 231).
Peron's instistence that Eva join him for his political meetings in their
apartment elicited the disapproval of many of Peron's military peers. During these
daily meetings, Eva uncharacteristically stayed in the room and listened. What she
developed during these meetings, according to biographer Marysa Navarro, was
practice in "sharing and defending his [Peron's] ideas" ("The Case of Eva Peron"
231). This new political interest also translated into Eva's work on the radio. In 1944

- the same year she became president of the broadcast performers union she started
doing a daily program of political propaganda in which she extolled the benefits that
the Secretariat of Labor had brought to the workers. In this program, which
highlighted the virtues of the military regime, Eva gave empassioned radio addresses
that were "announced with a political march ... one of the first half-hour presentations
was called 'The Soldier's Revolution Will Be the Revolution of the Argentine
People'," and went on to attack the "wealthy and underlined social problems such as
illness, illiteracy, and undernourishment" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 236). This program,
even more than the "Heroines of History," has clear parallels with Peron and Eva's
brand of politics. At the end of the program, Eva proclaimed, "The Revolution...was
made for exploited workers," and named Peron the "man who could bring dignity to
the notion of work, a soldier of the people who can feel the flame of social justice ..."
(qtd. in Hall, "Evita Peron" 236). Even though Eva didn't write these words, they
certainly formed a familiar platform from which she would soon extol the virtues of
Peron and his politics.
Appropriate for her story and dazzlingly quick influence in politics, Eva
became Peron's wife as a result of a dramatic and politically-charged event. Peron had
begun to seek more influence in the military government and eventually was named
vice president under General Edelmiro J. Ferrell. Peron's interest in gaining the

support of the working classes and the subsequent speeches he gave to large groups of
them was viewed with distrust by some members of the military. As a result, Peron
was forced to resign his position as vice president and was later arrested. Strikes
erupted by his union supporters who called for his release. A march was organized on
October 17, 1945 and the protesters refused to leave until Peron was set free. As the
working class numbers increased in the politically significant Plaza de Mayo, labor
leaders negotiated Peron's discharge. Peron was released to address his adoring crowd
of supporters. This meeting of Peron and his new followers, for Hall, "became, both
spatially and politically, an announcement of the arrival of the working class at the
center of Argentine political life and of Peron's unquestionable leadership at the head
of that movement" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 238). The fervor and excitement on that day
involved Eva Duarte as one of the chants that filled the Plaza de Mayo evoked her
and her unorthodox relationship with Peron: "Oligarcas a otra parte. Viva el macho de
Eva Duarte" [Oligarchs out. Long live Eva Duarte's man] (qtd. in Hall 238). Eva was
thus made a symbol of the fight against the landed oligarchs and injustice, and she
became a representative of the people. This Eva the defender of the poor would
characterize her future political involvement and develop into her powerful cult
image as the abanderada de los descamisados. These "shirtless ones," as they had
been called pejoratively by members of the military government, now became Peron's
number one political base of support.

The Perons: Mother and Father to the Nation
Eva Maria Duarte and Juan Domingo Peron were married on October 21,
1945, less than a week after the powerful rallies that elevated Juan Peron to the
national spotlight. Hall suggests that Peron would not have pursued marriage with
Eva due to her "questionable reputation," but that his time in prison revealed Eva's
loyalty and commitment to the man and his cause (Hall, "Evita and Maria 211"). In
fact, he had written to her from his confinement, promising to retire from the army,
marry her as soon as he was released, and assuring her that even if his retirement was
not approved he would find a way to "put an end to your vulnerable situation" (qtd. in
Hall, "Eva Peron" 239). Her "vulnerable situation" was indeed remedied and Eva
Duarte became a "real wife ... an honorable woman," the wife of Juan Peron ("Evita
Peron" 239). More importantly, Eva's marriage provided her with power and
influence, a fact that she would recognize with gratitude throughout her life.
Certainly, Peron's support would be reciprocated repeatedly by Eva as she became the
passionate supporter of his political cause: the working classes. It was during Peron's
imprisonment that Eva first acknowledged her connection with and unwavering
support of his politics. In her autobiography, La razon de mi vida, she discusses the
days that Peron was incarcerated and the letters that she received from him: "En todos
sus mensajes no hizo otra cosa que recomendarme a sus obreros 'que estuviesen

tranquilos, que no se preocupasen por el, que no creasen situaciones de violencia'" [In
all of his messages he only recommended that I tell his workers 'that they be calm,
that they don't worry about him, that they don't create situations of violence'] (42).
Here Eva is empowered to communicate with and look after Peron's "obreros" in his
absence: ";Mientras yo viva no me olvidare que el, cuando quiso probanne su amor,
me encargo que cuidase a sus obreros!" [As long as I live I won't forget that, to prove
his love, he put me in charge of watching after his workers!] (43). Eva equates
Peron's love and loyalty to her with this acknowledgement of her role in Peronism,
and she promises to return the favor: "Desde entonces, cuando yo quiero a mi vez
expresarle mi amor de mujer jy quiero expresarselo permanentemente! no
encuentro tampoco una manera mas pura ni mas grande que la de ofrecerle un poco
de mi vida, quemandola por amor a sus 'descamisados' [Since then, when I want to
express my love as his wife and I want to express it eternally! -1 can't find a more
pure nor greater way than offering a bit of my life, burning it for the love of his
'shirtless poor'] (43). Thus there formed a tie between Eva and the descamisados that
"she could not possibly break" as her connection with them and as their intermediary
with her husband, solidified both his and her power (Navarro, "The Case of Eva
Peron" 234). To be sure, Eva would be indebted to her descamisados throughout her
life and acknowledged this debt since it was the "shirtless ones" who had marched on
the Plaza de Mayo and secured Peron's freedom. She was cognizant of the fact that

she was transformed by her marriage to a powerful man. In the legitimation of Eva's
life through marriage she found not only her role as wife and faithful companion, but
also adopted the responsibility of Peron's political movement. It was in the ideals of
commitment to family and commitment to the state that Eva found her most
convincing voice and was transformed into the bridge between Peron and his
Evas "Politics of Passion "
Eva Peron transformed the position of first lady and instantly took an
uncharacteristically active role in politics. Focusing on labor, social welfare, and the
political involvement (albeit only with the Peronist party) of women, Eva's role was
public and impassioned. Her aforementioned passion and connection with the
working class informed her involvement with labor unions, and in 1946 she was
named the First Worker of Argentina and the Queen of Labor. Stories of her
involvement in supporting laborers and the poor were legendary. She began to tour
factories and met with workers' delegations, and is said to have met with twenty-six
labor delegations in a day (Taylor 41). Eva also participated directly in resolving
labor strikes and conflicts, one of the most famous of which involved the strike of
railway workers in 1950. Sent to intervene and mediate the conflict, Eva "not only
went in person to railway terminals in Buenos Aires ..." she also "went from station to

station on a hand-cranked cart, delivering her message" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 243). In
another epic situation, Eva paid the lost salaries of newspaper vendors who struck
against La Prensa in 1951 with funds from her Fundacion Eva Peron.
Besides her spirited speeches exaulting Peron, Eva also dedicated her work to
giving direct assistance to the poor. Through her foundation, founded in 1950, she
saw hundreds of people who came to her with requests large and small. She
personally attended these visitors, sometimes long into the night, and oftentimes
provided them with more than they asked for. She sought out the most needy,
traveling to Argentina's impoverished areas to visit houses and assess the
communities' necessities. In her speeches and writings, Eva focused her attention on
this population and her passion derived from her experiences growing up poor in Los
Toldos. Indeed, she admits in La razon de mi vida that as a child she identified much
more intimately with the poor than the rich: "en aquellos tiempos creia mucho mas en
lo que decian los pobres que los ricos porque me parecian mas sinceros, mas francos
y tambien mas buenos." [in those days I believed what the poor would say more so
than the rich because they seemed more sincere, more frank, and better people.] She
also indicates that she was acutely aware of the injustice that ruled the lives of the
poor. She labeled this sorrowful intuition her "sentimiento de indignacion" [feeling
of indignation] and claimed it caused her great physical pain and stress: "me produjo

siempre una rara sensacion de asfixia, como si no pudiendo remediar el mal que yo
veia, me faltase el aire necesario para respirar" [it always gave me the rare sensation
of asphyxia, as if my inability to remedy what I saw knocked the wind out of me] (22-
23). Eva's power was certainly magnified by her Fundacion Eva Peron, whose funds
she "controlled exclusively and whose explicit objectives were to complement the
social goals of Peron's government" (Navarro, "The Case of Eva Peron" 239). Thus,
Evita used her position of power which she gained through her husband to
implement social change in a direct way.
According to Beatriz Sarlo, this passionate rhetoric of social justice speaks to
the tradition of writing and speech-making by Latin American women in politics.
Sarlo interprets the Latin American woman's strategy for political involvement and,
more specifically, writing as a "twofold movement of conquering spaces and
reassuring men that their privileges and hegemony are not at stake in each movement"
("Introduction" 232). For Sarlo, Eva became a social advocate for the poor because,
being poor herself, she could "relate to politics through lived experience" (236). Even
Eva's methods of doling out relief to Argentina's poor speaks to this tradition of poor
women who gain political power: "they respond to immediate needs...and thereby
create close bonds between the leaders and the rank and file" (237). Further, Eva's
efforts were revolutionary because no one prior in such a position of power in

Argentina had dedicated so much time and aid to the poor. As such, Eva was
associated with Marian imagery as the people she helped saw in her something
saintly. Giving help "to those in extremity in a way that the poor of Argentina saw as
close to miraculous," Eva's brand of relief "was not available from any other source
and was extraordinary in nature" (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 212). Furthermore, Sarlo
points out that "women from such backgrounds often turn out to be understanding
union organizers and tough leaders with little inclination to give in when negotiating
their claims" ("Introduction" 236). Thus, the anti-peronist image of Eva as the
despotic and tyrannical leader is re-interpreted here in terms of her condition as a
woman who grew up with a hyper-awareness regarding suffering and injustice.
With her direct assistance program, Eva began to establish herself as the
caring benefactress of Argentina's less fortunate. Her method of personal contact with
the poor and her motivation for such work have been praised and criticized. V.S.
Naipul characterized her work with her foundation as puerile and brash: "she levied
tribute from everyone for her Eva Peron Foundation ... she sat until three or four or
five in the morning in the Ministry of Labor, giving away foundation money to
supplicants, dispensing a personal justice. This was her 'work': a child's vision of
power, justice and revenge" (354). A more forgiving interpretation of Eva's work
comes from Hall who reads Eva's involvement with the poor as a natural extention of

her role as the "personal and accessible mediator between her husband and the people
of Argentina" (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 212). Indeed, Hall begins her chapter,"Evita
Peron: Beauty, Resonance, and Heroism," from Heroes and Hero Cults, with a quote
from a woman who was profoundly impacted by Evita's involvement with the poor:
Because Eva, with all her ignorance as a bastard child, as a woman who
suffered during her childhood and everything, had something very great, very
noble, that only the great ones have. She loved the poor; she used to enter the
shacks without having them disinfected first. That is very important. She
would go up to the bed itself, (qtd. in Hall, "Evita and Maria" 229)
Thus, Hall reads in this woman's quote motivation for Eva Peron's involvement in
politics; her mission is thus directly connected to her life experience. Accessing the
paths available to her, Eva embraced the role of wife, mother, nurturer, and defender
of the needy. She utilized what Sarlo characterized as the "general models of political
discourse and practice by women politics as reason, politics as passion, and politics
as action" (Sarlo, "Introduction" 240). It was the "politics of passion" that comes
through in Eva's writings and speeches. The aid she provided through her foundation
gave shape to her images as the mother of the Argentine poor and a modern-day
Virgin Mary. Her unique "relation to the public sphere within the space drawn by
certain distinctive traits of the 'feminine image'" and the traditionally accepted female
qualities of "subjectivity, intuition, and feeling" abound in Eva's political discourse,
and her "womanly passions and private virtues become the basis of public action"

(240-1). Here we see Eva working from traditional roles to gain a voice and power.
Like many women, Eva's path was paved by the relationship to her husband: "A
woman whose link to politics is at best tenuous can find in her love for a political
leader ... the private basis of public commitment," and the "feeling of injustice" that
she suffered as a child informed her behavior as a public actor. Here, the politically-
involved woman is liberated; transformed from a "passive sufferer into an active
subject" (241).
Eva the Obediant Wife
In her rhetoric Eva indeed pulled heavily from traditional female roles and
constantly emphasized the importance of family and of her role as wife, mother, and
unwavering supporter of her husband. This was her strategy as she moved within the
boundaries set for her. Focusing on Juan Peron and her devotion to him, Eva
fashioned her role as a loyal wife, keeping house and serving her husband, into her
unconventionally public persona. This rhetoric of home and filial commitment was
the basis of her autobiography, La razon de mi vida. Again and again Eva positioned
herself as the humble wife and servant of her husband and his cause. She placed
herelf as the mother/mediator between Peron, the father/president, and the Argentine
people/their children. As with other Latin American women writers, Eva's style and

subject matter in Razon carefully weaved her interersts and passions with the roles
appropriate for her sex. According to Castro-Klaren et ah:
in a simple way these topics confer symbolic dignity to the strong and
vertical link between Peron and the popular sectors. Evita is the
effective mediator between the leader and the masses; she entrusts
herself to Peron's political guidance and pledges her absolute loyalty to
his program. Her perspective is at the same time deeply political and
extremely personal: Wife and disciple, representative and
communicator, concrete organizer and spiritual messenger, Evita
turned public, humanizing state and government with feminine
qualities and virtues. (273)
Eva actively and purposefully positioned herself as subordinate to her husband, and
"maintained the fiction that she was an ordinary wife forced into activism by her
support for her husband and his causes" (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 213). Hall
postulates that she sought to "avoid direct conflict with the gender ideologies of her
time," and cultivated an image of a devoted wife even when she was involved in
public life at a level few if any women had seen ("Evita and Maria" 214). What is
more, Eva's political and rhetorical style allowed her more freedom since she did not
threaten the power of her husband. Navarro explains that"... as his wife, she was part
of him, an extention of him, and since all her actions appeared endorsed by him, from
the very first moment, she had a substantial latitude to exert her influence" ("The
Case of Eva Peron" 238). Thus Peron and Eva cultivated a political relationship that

was mutually beneficial, as they both relied on traditional gender roles to strengthen
the Peronist ideology.
Eva recognized the importance of her participation in Juan's life and
considered it paramount that his needs be met. Throughout La razon de mi vida, Eva
forwards her husband's political agenda and asserts that she is solely a servant of his
cause: "yo he dejado de existir en mi misma y es el quien vive en mi alma, dueno de
todas mis palabras y de mis sentimientos, senor absoluto de mi corazon y de mi vida
... Y lo natural en la mujer es darse, entregarse por amor, que en esa entrega esta su
gloria, su salvation, su etemidad" [I have stopped existing for myself and it's him
that lives in my soul, the owner of my words and feelings, the absolute ruler of my
heart and my life ... and it's natural that a women give herself for love, that in this
submission is her glory, her salvation, her eternity] (Peron 52, 53-54). Here, she is
playing by the rules of the society in which she was raised and in which she lived -
that of a decidedly patriarchal Argentina in the early to mid 1900s. Thus, her
autobiography mimics the ideals of her time. Eva repeatedly refers to herself as the
heart of the movement while her husband is the leader, the actor, the brain. Likewise,
she contextualizes her political involvement within the confines of traditional gender
roles and applies that method to her encouragement of women's political

Yo creo en los valores espirituales. Por otra parte, eso es lo que nos
ensena la doctrina justicialista de Peron. Por eso mismo, porque creo
en el esplritu, considero que es urgente conciliar en la mujer su
necesidad de ser esposa y madre con esa otra necesidad de derechos
que como persona humana digna lleva tambien en lo mas intimo de su
corazon ... me permito decir que para salvar a la mujer y por lo tanto al
hogar es necesario tambien elevar la cultura femenina ... Solamente
asi, la mujer podra prepararse para ser esposa y madre tal como se
prepara para ser una dactilografa ... (Peron 208, 210) [I believe in
spiritual values. On the other hand, that is what the Peronist Justicialist
doctrine teaches us. Because I believe in the spirit, I consider it urgent
to reconcile a woman's need to be a wife and mother with that other
necessity of rights that any dignified person carries with them in the
most intimate part of their heart. Allow me to say that in order to save
the woman and therefore save the home, it is necessary to also elevate
the feminine culture ... Only in this way will the woman be able to
prepare herself to be a wife and mother just as she prepares herself to
be a typist.]
These excerpts shed light on Eva's social situation. Although she amassed a
great deal of power and was considered the most influential woman in the world
while she was alive, she was still a woman. What is more, she was a working-class
woman who rose to fame and power as a result of her marriage to a powerful and
influential man. As such, the power that she wielded, however unique and significant,
was a traditional woman's power. She did not earn nor was she given legitimate
authority in Peron's government. Eva herself renounced all authority and claimed that
her contributions come from her husband: "Por eso ni mi vida ni mi corazon me
pertenecen y nada de todo lo que soy o tengo es mio. Todo lo que soy, todo lo que
tengo, todo lo que pienso y todo lo que siento es de Peron" [For this reason neither

my life nor my heart belong to me and nothing that I am or have is mine. Everything I
am, everything I have, everything 1 think and everything I feel belongs to Peron.]
(14). She was ascribed a spiritual power to Peron's tactical power. She was the
"ideology" behind Peron's "strategy" (Taylor 11).
Eva's Brand of Feminism
Within Argentine society in the 1940's, Eva's public and political actions
might have been considered unorthodox. Involved in causes that focused on the rights
of Argentine women including the fight for women's suffrage, which was granted in
1947, and encouraging women's involvement in politics through the vote and work
for the Peronist party, Eva "used her power to improve labor conditions for female
workers" (Gabriela Nouzeilles et al. 313). However, by advancing a position that
embraced both conventional feminine ideals and an active public role for women, Eva
maintained her image as a dedicated wife and supporter of her husband's projects.
Her brand of feminism relied heavily on the traditional idea that woman's defining
role was that of a loyal companion, "always standing by their man" (313). Eva
couched her version of female initiative in terms of responsibility to society and
family. Janet Greenberg examines the divergence of opinions regarding women's
rights by both Eva and her contemporary, Victoria Ocampo. Considering their
respective autobiographies, Greenberg compares these women and their contributions

to Argentine society, finding interesting parellels between Eva and her "aristocratic
opposite," Ocampo (313). While La razon de mi vida relies heavily on Eva's love for
and commitment to her husband's ideals, and decries the injustices heaped upon the
poor by the wealthy, Ocampo's personal history positions herself as an erudite rebel,
stuck in the suffocating, patriarchal Argentine society. For Greenberg, "Evitas
presentation of her public persona in the Peronist Party, with almost no mention of
her origins, family, or career before she met Juan, could not contrast more with the
blood legacy Ocampo retraces so painstakingly" (Greenberg 137). Furthermore, Eva
openly strives to "strengthen the official history of the Peronist Party" through her
story of "self-sacrifice to her mission to serve the people, and a song of praise to Juan
Peron, the figure who subsumes all other points of reference in her personal and
political history" (137). As such, Eva advances an image of herself as a conventional
woman who has humbly become a leader while Ocampo "loudly proclaim[s] her
unconventiality and iconoclastic tendencies" (137). Greenberg continues:
When spoken together, Ocampo and Evita Peron are usually placed at
opposite ends of the Argentine feminist spectrum, yet these
autobiographical texts illustrates the straddling of traditions -
male/female, national/intemational. contemporary/historical and the
conflict between class and sex which are central to rereading the lives
of and myths surrounding both. (137)
Eva's brand of feminism, rooted in orthodox and accepted gender roles, highlighted
the maternal and feminine characteristics of women in order to justify both her

involvement in politics and the involvement of the women she recruited to form the
women's branch of the Peronist party:
... Un hombre de accion es el que triunfa sobre los demas. Una mujer
de accion es la que triunfa para los demas ... ^no es esta una gran
diferencia? La felicidad de una mujer no es su felicidad sino la de
otros ... Yo he querido que, en el partido femenino, las mujeres no se
buscasen a si mismas ..., que alii mismo sirviesen a los demas en
alguna forma fraternal y generosa ... Mas que una accion politica, el
movimiento femenino tiene que desenvolver una accion social.
jPrecisamente porque la accion social es algo que las mujeres llevamos
en la sangre! (emphasis mine, Peron 224-225) [A man of action is the
one who triumphs over the rest. A woman of actions is the one who
triumphs for the rest... Isn't this the great difference? A woman's
happiness is not her happiness but the happiness of others ... I have
wanted that, in the women's movement, the women don't look out for
themselves ..., in that way they serve others in a fraternal and generous
way ... More than political actions, the women's movement has to
engage in social action. Precisely because women have social action in
their blood!]
Eva's autobiography,"couched in working-class, saintly, and feminine terms," must
have frustrated the lettered elite of Argentina, including Ocampo, who published her
autobiography in 1952, the year Eva Peron died (Greenberg 137). Although
seemingly incompatible in terms of their methods, Eva and Ocampo wrote their
memoirs at a time in Argentine history that allow for a comparison between "their
positions in Peronist and anti-Peronist mythology" (138). They also point to the
divergant experiences of women from upper class versus lower class backgrounds. It
is obvious that Eva approaches her ideas about equal opportunity from a much more

traditional plane than Ocampo. It can be speculated that Peron, whose life was
characterized by her humble beginnings, felt the need to defend a more conventional
idea of women's rights while Ocampo had the economic freedom to be self-sufficient,
and thus advanced a feminism that centered around women's freedom from men.
Interestingly, both Peron and Ocampo would be chosen to represent the most
important women in Argentine history in the country's Hall of Women, inaugurated
for its bicentennial in 2010 (See Chapter 6). Eva Peron is featured first, with Ocampo
to her immediate right.
Glamorous Starlit and Stoic Politician, With the Dress to Match
Throughout her time in Buenos Aires, Eva received a great deal of attention
and criticism for her physical appearance and fashion. As an actress and radio
personality, Eva had been in the public eye since her arrival in Buenos Aires. Photos
of her in magazines showed her modeling hats, bathing suits and gowns, often
accompanied by headlines that suggested relationships with her co-stars. Carlos
Fuentes remembers Eva Duarte on the cover of Atena magazine, "in badly cut
swimsuits or decked out as a sailor" (44). Other writers have considered Eva's fashion
and appearance as a disguise that she consciously changed for each of her roles. For
Alicia Dujovne, Eva changed her look depending on who would see her: "Evita solo
se vestia para el publico y con un objetivo teatral. En casa, aun rodeada de gente,

perdia interes en si misma, como si su cuerpo no fuera suyo sino pura imagen" [Evita
only dressed for the public and with a theatrical purpose. At home, although
surrounded by people, she would lose interest in herself, as if her body was not hers
but just an image] (231). Fraser and Navarro add to this notion of Evas fashion as a
Having been an actress, Evita treated her clothes as disguises, not as an
expression of her personality ... There were no rules for what women
should wear in a political context, since there were no precedents for
what Evita was doing. She still dressed, not as a politician, but as a
film star her hair piled up, her heels high, her hats enormous and
floppy. But she was already aware of the function of clothing in
political life and there were occasions when she would assert herself in
this area. (81-82)
Susana Rosano and Linda Hall discuss Evas transformations in light of the
customs of the time for female movie stars, which were certainly the young Evas
inspiration: "Eva Duarte comienza a producir una serie de alteraciones en su cuerpo a
partir del deseo de parecerse mas al tipo de las estrellas de la epoca" [Eva Duarte
begins to produce a series of body alterations in order to look like the stars of that
time] (197). Starting with her time in the cosmopolitan capital city, Evas
transformations in fashion and appearance did not end with her acting career. She
seemed to consciously adjust her clothing as her role became more public and more
political. According to Hall, Eva was "acutely conscious of appearance but ... moved
away from glitter and medals in her daily garb in favor of dark and simple suits"

(240); she became "la senora de Peron" [Peron's wife] and, with her entrance into the
political sphere, Eva "necesito maquillar de alguna manera su pasado, retocarlo"
[needed to dress up her past, retouch it] (Rosano 197). However strong her interest in
adjusting her image for her political role, she continued to favor opulant gowns and
jewelry for formal occasions. Fraser and Navarro cite Eva defending her choice to
wear her "dressy jewellery" when she visited Congress: "Look, they want to see me
beautiful. Poor people don't want someone to protect them who is old and dowdy.
They all have their dreams about me and I don't want to let them down" (82). Eva
was well-aware of her connection to the Argentine masses, who identified with her
life story, and she purposely created an image that would make them proud. This
attitude of playing into the fantasy of her supporters earned Eva a great deal of
criticism by her opponents. In his 1970 play Eva Peron, Argentine playwright Copi
opens the production with a demanding, cold Eva yelling at her mother: "Mierda.
^Donde esta mi vestido presidencial?" [Shit. Where is my presidential gown?] and
later demands that a nurse paint her nails (qtd. in Sarlo, La pasion v la exception 21).
Characterized thus. Eva entered the popular imaginations of anti-Peronists as a
megalomaniac, obsessed with her appearance. It must have incensed those critics,
then, when Eva's ostentatious fashion captured the attention and the admiration of the
Argentine working classes. This will be explored in more detail in Chapter 5 "Evita
and the Masses."

This chapter looks at the ways in which Peron and his handlers constructed a
specific role and image for Eva. Since she was instantly popular with the Argentine
working classes from whose ranks she herself emerged Peron utilized her appeal
and made her part of his political agenda. Eva's magnetism proved unstoppable and
Peron allowed her a great deal of freedom to participate in his government, although
he was careful not to give her an official post or title. After Eva's premature death and
with growing opposition to his oppressive government, Peron quickly sanctified her,
and made sure that her powerful image not be buried along with her. Posters,
pamphlets, banners and books dedicated to the late Eva poured forth from the
Peronist headquarters and Eva's image was everywhere. Further, the otherworldly
journey that Eva's cadaver embarked upon shortly after her death added to the mystic
quality of her aura and contributed to the power of her cult of personality. This
commodification of Eva's image is examined through the feminist lense of Luce
Irigaray, who sheds light on the ways in which Eva was used and manufactured by
her husband and other men who hoped to capitalize on her image.

Juan Perdu's Agenda for Eva
Although Eva had established herself as a savvy professional before she met
her husband, Juan Peron, in memoirs from the early years of their relationship
remembers a different, more subdued woman: "she had followed me like a shadow."
Peron also remarked that he had wanted to "create...a second I" (qtd. in Hall, "Evita
Peron" 236). This version of Eva's political initiation highlights her position as a
woman subservient to her husband's agenda. Interestingly, it was Eva who became
the more recognizable and influential member of the couple as the face of Peronism
in the mid 1940s and 50s. When Peron won the presidency in 1946, he put Eva in the
Secretariat of Labor as "his own personal representative" and she quickly became a
powerful and active member of his administration, although her power was never
official (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 213). Moving within the milieu of Argentina's
political elite, Eva used her traditional role as wife to articulate the idea of Argentina
as a family with Peron at the head, Eva his wife, and the Argentine masses as their
children. As such, Eva was the caretaker of Argentina's most needy, the
descamisados, and she used power and priviledge to enforce speedy and direct
change. Eva's actions and involvement with the poor was constantly reported on by
the Peronist-controlled media, and images of her going into poor areas and meeting
face-to-face Argentinas most needy characterized Peronist publicity. It was Eva's

premature death at 33, however, that created the strongest images and her husband
ensured that Eva's legacy and physical presence would not be lost to the Argentine
Eva's Postmortem Journey
The drama and events that surrounded Eva's death, embalming and funeral
augmented her mythology and established her as an other-worldly power a ghost
capable of creating political upheaval and curing the country's ills. Just as Sarlo
discussed Eva's body as a quasi-religious symbol during her illness (see Chapter 5),
Rosano argues that Eva's body possessed an aura that helped to propagate the goals
and message of Peronism. For Rosano, "en la construccion imaginaria del cuerpo de
Evita Peron se define tambien el espacio de lo nacional, como fue entendido por el
populismo" [the imagined construction of Evita Peron's body also defines the national
space, as it was understood by the populist perspective] (191). So, Eva and her body
in particular became the primary symbol of Peronism. Her physical body, so
important to the Peronist movement, was embalmed by Dr. Pedro Ara shortly after
her death, and her image was preserved. In fact, Juan and Eva Peron had decided to
have her body preserved even before she died. The embalming process took place at
the CGT (Confederacion General del Trabajo de la Republica Argentina)
headquarters on the second floor. Dr. Ara was entrusted with the process of

preserving Eva's body as perfectly as possible, with the hopes of maintaining her
beauty, youth, and vitality. Dr. Ara worked on her body for a full year, and although
special guests and family members were allowed to see the body, Dr. Ara maintained
strict control over every aspect of Eva's postmortem transformation. During that time,
a cross that was placed outside the CGT building was the focus of prayers and
received a steady flow of flowers and gifts from Eva's mourners. Accounts of Dr.
Ara's work describe Eva's body as a lifelike, perfect copy. One military administrator,
upon visiting the CGT headquarters almost a year after Eva's death, "viewed the body
... wept, bent to kiss the rosary, given her by the Pope, which she held in her lifeless
hands, and whispered, 'This little medal should be that of the Immaculate. Poor little
thing. Surely God has pardoned her'" (qtd. in Hall, "Evita Peron" 252). Obviously, Dr.
Ara's work had maintained the sanctified character that Eva received during the last
few months of her life: that of a spiritual leader and martyr for Peronism.
Aware of the influence Eva had over her adoring followers, Juan Peron and
his administrators wanted to make sure that she would not be forgotten and
immediately utilized her embalmed corpse as a political tool:
el aparato de propaganda del regimen a traves de la prensa y los medios de
comunicacion comienza a representarla como una santa...una vez muerta,
incluso, aparece toda una iconografia religiosa del personaje en estampas,
medallones, oraciones dedicadas a Evita y relatos en que se hace alusion al
contacto que ya muerta tuvo con Dios, [the regimen's propaganda machine in

the press and mass media began to represent her as a saint... once she was
dead, her image appears as a religious icon on stamps, medallions, prayers
dedicated to Evita and tales spread that allude to her contact with God.]
(Rosano 200)
Rosano postulates that the embalming of Eva's body violated the natural order and, as
a consequence, prevented "la posibilidad social de realizar el duelo, y permitir por lo
tanto el olvido y el alivio del dolor" [the possibility of public mourning and of
allowing people to forget her and thus relieve their pain] (201). If this is in fact the
case, then the strange and sensational journey that Eva's embalmed corpse embarked
upon soon after her death can be understood as the consequence of a body denied its
proper burial. What is more, Juan Peron's involvement in his late wife's postmortem
manifestation as a martyr and spiritual "mother" of the nation only added to Eva's
aura of sanctity and mystery.
The funeral preparation and manipulation of her image also speak to Peron's
interest in both honoring Eva as a hero of the Argentine people, while reminding
them of her connection with the Peronist government. Her body was placed in the
Ministry of Labor where her supporters and mourners could view her embalmed
body. People lined up for blocks to see her and an atmosphere of mourning fell over
the city. Hall describes the scene thus:
White flowers surrounded the building and flowed over into the
streets. Eight people were killed in the huge crowds of people that

surrounded the ambulance transporting her ... Mourners waited
patiently for hours in the rain, even the weather sharing the gloom that
surrounded her demise ... Later the body was taken to the headquarters
of the CGT, highlighting her identification with and commitment to
the workers. The move was accompanied by a huge parade
symbolically featuring the descamisados, the nurses from her
foundation, union members and officials, and military cadets. Black
crepe covered the streetlamps. (Hall, "Evita Peron" 251)
Even without an official government title or post, Eva was given a full military and
government funeral. In an effort to maintain the strength of Argentinian popular
support for Peronism after Eva's death, Peron attempted to create "a kind of civic
religion, with Evita at the center of devotion, to replace Roman Catholicism" (251).
What is more, Peron pushed to parallel her with the Virgin Mary and issued
representations of Eva with common Marian iconography she was routinely
depicted "surrounded by flowers and smiling benignly or lifting her eyes toward
Heaven" (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 229). He also published a book to be used in
Argentine schools that advanced Eva's role as Spiritual Mother of the Argentine
people (the first-grade primer included an image of three children praying before
bedtime with the caption: "Mamita me enseno a rezar. En mis oraciones, nunca olvido
a Evita Peron, nuestra Madre Espiritual" (231)) [Mommy taught me how to pray, in
my prayers I never forget Evita Peron, our Spiritual Mother] and published songs and
poems eulogizing her and comparing her to Mary and to Christ. Yearning to take
advantage of Eva's sway with the people, Peron manipulated her body and reputation

in order to hold on to power. However, his tactics failed and in September of 1955 he
was forced into exile by a new military regime, leaving no instructions as to what to
do with Eva's cadaver.
After Juan Peron's exit from Argentina's politics, Eva's body remained
powerful. Her supporters were suppressed and the new military government sought to
destroy all remaining vestiges of her power and influence. Naipul described the new
government's efforts thus:
"Her enemies helped to sanctify her. After Peron's overthrow in 1955 they put
on a public display of her clothes, even her intimate garments. She had been
dead three years; but that display ... of fairy-tale wealth wealth beyond
imagination coming to someone who was of the poor added to the Evita
legend." (399)
Thus Eva's body was transformed into a political battleground between Peronism's
legacy and the new military government's efforts to erase it from Argentina's
consciousness. It is said that the military leaders who took power feared that her body
was cursed or contained magical powers: "los anti-peronistas invisten tambien al
cuerpo de Evita de un poder fantasmatico, siniestro" [the anti-peronists also invest
Evita's body with a fantastic, sinister power] (Rosano 202). Rosano continues,"La
santidad del cuerpo de Evita, 'dice Hugo Vezetti (1997)', se transforma asimismo en
su condicion demoniaca; la 'santa' convive entonces con la criatura infernal" [The
holiness of Evita's body, says Hugo Vezetti, is transformed into something demonic;

the "saint" coexists with the diabolical child] (202). Fear of the cadaver lead the new
military leaders to decide to "make Evita's corpse disappear. But they do no incinerate
it, though it would have been easy, with all the wrappings soaked in chemicals: she
would have ignited at the touch of a match" (Fuentes 49). Fuentes goes on in his
review of Santa Evita to focus on the ire and frustration that Eva's cadaver created
among the new military government officials. The new President of Argentina,
General Eduardo Lonardi, decreed that she should be given a Christian burial since
"her body is 'bigger than the country, and Argentines put into it 'all their shit, their
hatred, their craving to kill it again.' And their grief. Perhaps, after a Christian burial,
Evita will finally fall into oblivion" (Fuentes 49). However, Eva's body did not get
buried and was moved from one location to the next as the government tried to
control the power her body had with her followers.
The military government that deposed Peron was subsequently taken over by
General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, who was named the next president. Aramburu's
army took over the CGT's offices and went into Dr. Ara's embalming room to procure
the body. The corpse was so real and Dr. Ara's work so complete that the military
officers in charge of the operation "were a bit unsure that they were seeing the actual
body, so statue-like and perfect did it seem" (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 233). As a
result, they conducted a medical examination, removing one of Evas fingers for

"further analysis", and concluded that they did in fact have the body of the former
First Lady Eva Peron (233). Still unsure of what to do with the corpse, it was placed
in the possession of the head of military intelligence, Carlos Eugenio Moori Koenig,
who was in charge of the body's clandestine removal from the CGT offices. Since the
military government was concerned that the body might have the power to insight
riots or inspire the Argentine masses to rise up, the elimination of Eva's corpse was a
top priority. Moori Koenig's uncanny accounts of the power of Eva's cadaver point to
the wild supersticions surrounding her body, postmortem. According to Moori
Koenig, when the body was removed from the CGT it was first placed in a military
vehicle. The following morning, Moori Koenig found a "mysterious offering of
flowers and a candle" left near the vehicle (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 234). This
perplexing event happened again after the body was moved to another, unmarked
truck, and then again after that. As a result, Moori Koenig decided "not to bury it at
all" (234). Hall continues, "he ordered it put into a box previously used for radio
transmission equipment and stored, feet down, in the attic above his office" where the
body remained for two years (234). This decidedly strange situation was compounded
by the rumors that surfaced about Moori Koenig eerily whispering "She is mine!"
(qtd. in Hall, "Evita and Maria" 234) and by his claim that horrible things happened
to people with whom the body came into contact. In a scene from the novel Santa
Evita, author and narrator Tomas Eloy Martinez visits the family of Moori Koenig

and his widow discusses at length the supersticion and obsession that characterized
the head of military intelligence's relationship with Eva's cadaver:
for more than a month the corpse was inside an ambulance that my
husband had bought. He spent his nights keeping watch over it through
the window. One day he tried to bring it inside the house. I objected,
as you can imagine...either you get that trash out of here, I said to him,
or fm taking off with my daughters. He shut himself up in his room to
have a good cry. (Martinez 48)
Moori Koenig's widow then concludes, "It was Evita's fault...Everybody who had
anything to do with the corpse came to a bad end" (48). Regardless of Eva's corpse's
treatment, frequent transfers, and sequestered existance, her body, according to
several accounts, remained remarkably intact. Martinez portrays the miraculous vigor
of Eva's cadaver thus: ... corpses can't abide being nomads. Evita's, which accepted
any cruel treatment with resignation, appeared to rebel when it was moved from one
place to another ... Despite the havoc wreaked, Evita's coffin didn't suffer the slightest
damage, not even a scratch" (51). This inexplicable perseverance added to Eva's
myth. In the late nineteen fifties Eva's body was removed from Moori Koenig's
possession and the government, under President Aramburu, resolved to remove it
from Argentina. The corpse was left with an Italian priest who was instructed to bury
it in a secret location and to send the Argentine government a sealed envelope with its
whereabouts. Aramburu then gave the document to a notary who was to keep the

information secure and unopened until four weeks after Aramburu's death. This
decision by Aramburu would be a contributing factor to his assassination in 1970.
Eva as Commodity
The manipulation of Eva's image during her life and the handling of her
corpse after her death by her husband and then by the government that replaced him,
illustrate feminist Luce Irigaray's conception of women as exchangeable products of a
male-dominated society. In her early career, Eva's appearance in magazines clad in
bathing suits and positioned cheek-to-cheek with men make her an object of exchange
and her body used, consumed, and circulated becomes a integral part of the
consumer culture. Thus, as Irigaray might suggest, Eva becomes a commodity and a
"production" that is "always referred back to men" (171). This idea of women's utility
merely as a response to the needs and desires of men is important when considering
Juan Peron's use of Eva's image for political gain. Once she died, Peron capitalized on
Eva's reputation with the people and used her embalmed body as a way to maintain
the bond that she had established with the Argentine masses. Even with her
remarkable power, Eva was always the possession of her husband and his political

Irigaray's study of "Women on the Market" thus sheds light on Eva's life and
professional career as an actress and later as a political commodity for the Peronist
government of the 50's, 70's and even in 2010 under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
In these epochs of Argentine history, Eva became a productive image and was part of
the Argentine economy. Since the economy, according to Irigaray "requires that
women lend themselves to alienation in consumption, and to exchanges in which they
do not participate, and that men be exempt from being used and circulated like
commodities," Evas image was used and reused, for profit and political gain (172).
To be sure, Juan Peron benefited from his wife's value. No place is the advantageous
position of Peron in regard to Eva more clear than on October 17, 1945 at the Plaza
de Mayo where Peron first heard his supporters shout, "Long live Evita Duarte's
man!" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 238). In this pronouncement, Juan is identified with Eva
and their sexual relationship though unconventional and even controversial at the
time is accepted by the masses and Eva is considered one of them. Thus, Eva brings
Juan sexual and masculine power and shows, as Irigaray would put it, her "value on
the market" by virtue of her being the "product of man's 'labor'" (Irigaray 175). Peron
flaunted her as his partner, using her recognizability with the masses and her youth
and sexual attractiveness to position himself as a more powerful candidate for office.

After Eva died, Peron's decision to parallel his dead wife with the Virgin
Mary can also be interpreted as his commodification of her illness and death.
Considered a martyr by many, Eva's illness was very public and closely linked
chronologically to her surging popularity. Thus, Peron managed to utilize his wife's
image to propagate his political message and his reliance on her became even more
extreme after her death. This notion of Eva as an object used by both her and others in
order to proliferate the message of Peronism speaks directly to Irigaray's idea of
women as commodity: "Commodities, women, are a mirror of value of and for man.
In order to serve as such, they give up their bodies to men as the supporting material
of specialization, of speculation. They yield to him their natural and social value as a
locus of imprints, marks and mirage of his activity" (177). Furthermore, Irigaray
expresses woman's role in the production of and by men: "A commodity a woman- is
divided into two irreconcilable 'bodies' her 'natural' body and her socially valued,
exchangeable body, which is a particularly mimetic expression of masculine values"
(180). This idea is seen in the ways in which Eva's body was manipulated and used by
different men during her life and after her death. From Juan Peron to Dr. Ara to
Moori Koenig to the Montoneros to Argentine designer Jorge Ibanez's fashion
spectacular, Evita 2010, Eva's body and images have been repeatedly commodified,
exchanged, circulated and reproduced. In Irigaray's terms, "Her [woman] value-
invested form amounts to what man inscribes in and on its matter: that is, her body"

(187). The objectification of Eva continued long after her death and some of her most
vocal detractors focused on her body, her past, and her sexual appeal to discount
Eva's role in Argentina's history.
Eva's Detractors
Eva's garnered a great deal of opposition during her accelerated ascendance
into the political arena, and she was "a fascinating fixation for the Argentinian upper-
class" (Navarro, "The Case of Eva Peron" 232). Eva's new position as first lady surely
enraged the cultural elite and wealthy portenos who felt marginalized by Peronism's
focus on the working class and strong unions, and who were scandalized by the fact
that a poor actress from the provincia had such tremendous power. Attacked by the
elites and the oligarchy of Argentina, Eva embodied the political and cultural defeat
of wealthy Argentines by the populace. For Carlos Fuentes, this lead to the utter
contempt and vilification of Eva: "The defeat mediate and immediate of the
Argentine oligarchy and its pretensions by the 'cheap hussy' is one of the best stories
of poltical vengeance in our century" (47). To the wealthy, Eva was an illegitimate
girl from the country who had virtually taken over the government. They
conceptualized her as a vindictive and savage woman: "Eva Peron devoted her short
political life to mocking the rich...She mocked and wounded them as they had
wounded her; and her later unofficial sainthood gave a touch of religion to her

destructive cause" (Naipul 398). Naipul continues to posit that Eva's only motivation
in her actions was spite:
Eva Peron lit the fire. But the idea of reform was beyond her. She was
too wounded, too uneducated; she was too much of her society; and
always she was a woman among machos...So Eva Peron in power,
obliterating records of early childhood, yet never going beyond the
ideals of childhood, sought only to compete with the rich in their
cruelty and wealth and style, their imported goods. It was herself and
her triumph that she offered to the people, the pueblo in whose name
she acted. (399)
Here arises the image of Eva as a vengeful Cinderella, who exercised her power "like
the stepmother in a fairy tale" (Fuentes 48). Fuentes extends this idea of powerful-
woman-as-fiction when he calls Eva a "Robin Hood in skirts" with Argentina as her
"own island of Barataria" (48). Certainly these images arise from Fuentes's review of
the novel Santa Evita which examined the improbable and truly extraordinary cult
that developed after Eva's early death. As discussed in Chapter 3, Eva was complicit
in her self-construction as a poor girl who found fortune and power through her love
and dedication to her husband. She fashioned herself as a wife and dedicated public
servent. However, the image of Eva as Cinderella that her opposition put forward
undervalued her contributions and certainly communicated the idea that luck and
perhaps even fantastic manipulation placed Eva in power as opposed to any skill or

With the denouncement of Eva's power by the oligarchy and cultural elite,
another misogynist image of her took shape. As "The Woman with the Whip," she
was a "ruthless, domineering, power-hungry female" (Ciria 151). This idea was
formally presented in Mary Main's 1952 book, The Woman with the Whip: Eva
Peron. In Navarro's words:
La figura mitica creada por Main y que aparece con pocas variaciones
en los otros textos escritos en los anos cincuenta es una criatura irreal,
extraordinaria y llena de contradicciones, que solo existia en la
imagination de los antiperonistas. Es una mujer que no tiene dudas
sobre su identidad o su inteligencia, que no parece preocuparse en lo
mas minimo por su falta de formation ... ("La Mujer Maravilla" 32-
33) [The mythic figure created by Main, that appears with few
variations in the other written works from the 50's, is an unreal child,
extraordinary and full of contraditions, a figure that only existed in the
imagination of the anti-peronists. She's a woman who has no doubt
about her identity or her intelligence, and who doesn't worry at all
about her lack of development.]
This myth was propagated by critics who pointed to Eva's illegitimate birth as
"establishing her twin ruling motivations behind her resentment (resentimiento) and
eventual 'lust for revenge' against the upper classes" (152). Assuredly Peronism's
strong hold on the news media and repression of the opposition fueled this distaste for
and distrust of both the government and Eva's role in it. Marginalized by Peronism,
writers like Jorge Luis Borges lashed out against the Perons and their criticism is
awash in the myth of Eva as a whore. This excerpt from an interview with Richard
Burgin in 1960 characterizes much of the opposition's sexist view of Evita's past:

And his wife was a common prostitute. She had a brothel near Junin.
And that must have embittered him. no? I mean, if a girl is a whore in
a large city that doesn't mean too much, but in a small town in the
pampas, everybody knows everybody else. And being one of the
whores is like being the barber or the surgeon. And that must have
greatly embittered her. To be ... despised by everybody and to be used.
(Burgin 136)
Eva a la Hollywood
Navarro discusses the depoliticization of Eva that was advanced by many anti-
Peronist writers a la Naipul and Borges that propagated the myth of Eva as full of
spite for the upper classes. For Navarro, the absence of any substantive examination
of Eva's political involvement by her enemies delegitimizes her significant
contribution to Argentine politics: "pero al dejar de lado su actuacion politica e
ignorar el papel que desempenaba en la politica argentina, la arrancaban de lo
politico, la silenciaban y la despolitizaban" [but by dismissing her political action and
ignoring the role she fulfilled in Argentine politics, they removed her from politics,
they silenced her and they de-politicized her] ("La Mujer Maravilla" 37). For
Argentine political theorist and anthropologist Marta Savigliano, the release of the
movie Evita in 1996 was just as destructive to Eva's political importance in Argentina
as the vitriolic myths advanced by anti-Peronist writers. For Savigliano, the film that
combined Main's "Woman with the Whip" portrayal of Eva with a rock opera and
Hollywood megastar, Madonna was a "melodramatic remythologization" of Eva's

life and Argentine culture and grossly over-simplified both the woman and the
country (161). For Savigliano, the focus on Eva's femininity vis-a-vis sexuality
throughout the movie boiled her character down to its "generic femininity while it
diverts attention from her politics" (162). The movie thus exploits the image of Eva
the social-climber and uses sexual innuendo to explain the first lady's rise to power.
What is more, the casting of Madonna "a contemporary cultural product" (158) in
the lead role results in the muting of Eva's political and social importance in
Argentina. As Madonna "renders visible a transcultural Evita in terms of universal
woman-ness" (158), the real Eva is subsumed by Madonna's persona. The Hollywood
Eva is "determined and aggressive...childless and narcissistic self-centered and
egoistic" (159). She is not like the Revolutionary Montonero version nor the saintlike
Eva advanced by Juan Peron after her death; she is "romanticized and unthreatening"
For Savigliano, one of the consequences of the movie is the "banalization of
the political" in terms of Eva's role in Argentina as well as Argentine politics in
general (163). What the audience leaves with is that Evita's "beauty, determination,
and aggressive personality allowed her to manipulate her way to the top, but she
could not come to terms with her success; she felt either undeserving or unsatisfied or
both, and therefore she worked too hard and wanted too much until she reached her

own bodily limits. She had to pay the price; she died" (163). Thus, the Hollywood
interpretation of Eva Peron's life and death is simplified and inaccurate. For
Savigliano, "Evita ... enters the transnational scene through a powerful medium that
generates a new myth capable of reproducing old myths about Latin American history
... and generating a whole new global package of'Evitist' commodities including
Evita fashion" (167). This global appeal and commodification will be examined
further in Chapter 6.
Eva's detrators used her humble beginnings and unconventional role in
politics to try and explain her appeal. Ascribing crude labels like "Cinderella,"
"whore" and "saint," Eva's critics capitalized on the myths that circulated in the 1950s
and beyond. Juan Peron's actions after Eva's death only fueled her enemies' hatred
and her supporters' admiration. Certainly Eva was used and manipulated by many
who used her story to produce biographies, musicals, and movies. Interestingly, these
attempts to discredit her did not dampen the strong bond between her and the
Argentine public.

"El pasado vuelve, sobre todo cuando no ha podido ser
comprendido: es entonces cuando inevitablemente
reaparece en su insistencia. La repetition de los relatos
que escriben la escena del cuerpo muerto de Evita
alegorizan de alguna manera los fantasmas de un pals y
de una cultura que, con sus treinta mil desaparecidos,
aun no ha podido enterrar a sus muertos."
Susana Rosano
[The past returns, above all when it can't be understood:
it is then that it inevitably reappears with insistence.
The repetition of the stories that describe Evita's dead
body in a way allegorize the ghosts of a country and a
culture that, which its thirty thousand disappeared, still
has not been able to bury its dead.]
Eva's Peronist followers, who affectionately called her "Evita," saw in the
young first lady a success story: a woman from a poor family who had made it to the
top of Argentine society and politics. It was both her traditional persona as Juan
Peron's faithful wife and her revolutionary behavior as an outspoken and politically
active first lady that spellbound the Argentine society. Her fashion drew attention and
pride and her work on behalf of the poor created a much stronger bond with the
Argentine masses than her husband ever had as president. It is in this dual role as
submissive wife and ardent social crusader that Eva found not only her most faithful

fans, but her most lasting image as mother to the Argentine people. This chapter
focuses on the way in which Eva's ambivelent and two-fold self-construction created
a unbreakable bond with her followers. Additionally, her illness and early death will
be examined as the roots of the cult of Eva Peron that resurfaced with violent
repurcussions in the 1970s. Finally, the importance of Eva's physical body and
appearance will provide a backdrop for her reemergence in the twenty-first century as
both a fashion icon and social justice crusader.
The Peronist Propaganda Machine and the Importance of Image
In his article, "The Observed of All Observers: Spectacle, Applause, and
Cultural Poetics in the Roman Theatrer Audience," Holt N. Parker explores the role
of the Roman theater in establishing societal and behavioral norms in the Roman
polis. For Parker, the theater in Rome "was a perfect venue for self-display and self-
fashioning" (163). As such, the theater became a space in which both the actors and
the audience defined their roles in Roman society. Appearance was paramount and
the actors on display had to negotiate their physical image depending on the needs
and desires of the audience. Thus, theater became a liminal space where the actors
were duplicitous figures where the viewer could never quite know who they were.
As with the Romans, the maleability and physical appearance of the actor were
carefully utilized by the Peronist regime in their system of propaganda. The Peronist

political machine capitalized on the reproduction of the party's most emblematic
symbol Eva Peron in pamphlets, on posters, and in magazines to keep the visual
image of the party a constant in Argentine life. Just as in Roman theaters where the
actors on display were framed by the gaze both of the audience and the actors, so was
the visual culture of the Peronist propaganda shaped by both its principal participants
and by the huge crowds that were organized for all important events held by Peron
and his wife. Since the rhetoric forwarded by Peron and Eva focused on Argentine
populism and access to the historically restricted public sphere for the provincial
masses and working classes, the role of the congregations of descamisados was
essential to the Perons' political success. Like in Rome, where applause gave the
powerless power and "The assembled people had the right of life and death over the
gladiators competing ... in the arena ... [and] they might help decide the fate of the
nobles who were competing with each other in a different [political] arena" (Parker
176), the Perons' public appearances were a key element in establishing their
popularity. These gatherings where Peron or Eva would address the people their
descamisados created a "common language" whose words and symbols Eva,
Peron, the huge crowds gathered at the Plaza de Mayo created a powerful and
instantly recognizable politcal iconography and culture (Nouzeilles et al. 270).

Eva's physical appearance was vital in the establishment of the visual Peronist
political culture. As discussed earlier, her time as an actress certainly contributed to
her ability to present the politcal rhetoric of Peron with dramatic flair. In the theatrical
space where identities are negotiable, Eva cultivated her talents and was able to
successfully put forth myriad images to the public:
In part a mask that Evita Duarte created for herself, in part a spontaneous creation of
popular devotion, Evita's ambiguous but powerful public persona evoked images of
the caring virgin, the protector of the poor, the faithful companion of a great man,
with the charisma of a movie star. (Nouzeilles et al. 271)
What resulted from Eva's aptitude for shape-shifting was an intimate connection with
her followers, who found in her an image with which they could identify. Plus, Eva
boasted a personal history that resonated with her fellow provincianos who lived in
Buenos Aires. It seems that both Eva and Peron were acutely aware of her magnetism
with the masses, and her personal and physical images were managed with great care.
Throughout La razon de mi vida, Eva talks about the superhuman power of
her husband. Removing herself from any position of authority, Eva openly defers to
Peron and ascribes to him a godlike magnetism that completely overrides any
ambition of her own. However, Eva had her own political power and it was her
femininity and position as a subservient wife that gave her such sway with the public.
Whether consciously or not, Eva's autobiography spoke to the traditional values of the

Argentine working class and helped to establish her husband's power as a populist
leader of the plebian masses. Even though Peron took the first place of power in the
Peronist movement, Eva's secondary position actually gave her space to define herself
and amass her own brand of popular support. As wife and companion to the country's
leader, Eva had the role of intermediary between Peron and his followers. This theme
is consistently repeated in her autobiography and she willfuly refers to herself as the
"intercesora, representante, puente, interprete y escudo de Peron" [intercessor,
representative, bridge, interpreter and shield of Peron] (Sarlo, La pasion y la
exception 91). What is more, Eva's political and social functions (first lady, wife, and
symbolic mother of the poor) earned her many labels Abanderada de los
Descami.sados. Our Lady of Hope, Santa Evita, Madre Espiritual de Argentina in
her supposedly inferior role to Peron. This "doble personalizacion de poder" [double
personification of power] perhaps made Peronism that much more palatable and
inviting to Argentines who saw in the Perons not only a political party and ideology,
but a mother and father, or King and Queen of the country (91).
Without Eva at Peron's side, this strong identification with the movement
would not have been possible. In fact, it was Eva and her highly identifiable image
that gave Peronism its power. As Rosano explains, "el peronismo baso su eficacia
simbolica en el fortisimo nivel de identificacion que los sectores populares

encontraron en Evita Peron" [Peronism based its symbolic efficacy on the strong
degree of identification between Evita Peron and the popular sectors] (191). Working
class Argentines identified not only with the first lady's personal history as "una fragil
chica provinciana," [a fragil, provincial girl] they had also been watching and
listening to her for years before she married Peron (192). Sarlo credits this connection
between Eva and her audience with the intense relationship that developed between
Eva and Argentine Peronists:
Millones de argentinos se reconocieron en ella, porque la vieron actuar
y sintieron los efectos, reales y simbolicos, de sus actos...Su cuerpo
material es indisoluble de su cuerpo politico. Sobre la forma bella de
ese cuerpo descansa una dimension cultural del regimen peronista y su
principio germinado de identification: Peron y Evita. (Sarlo, Lapasion
v la exception 92) [Millions of Argentines saw themselves in her,
because they saw her act and they felt the effects, real and symbolic, of
her actions ... Her material body is unseparable from her political
body. The form of that beautiful body represents a cultural dimension
of the Peronist regime, in particular the root of the identification
between Peron and Evita.]
Sarlo argues that it is in Eva's physical appearance, fashion, and personal history that
the ideas of abundance, freedom and political agency for those historically left
voiceless converge. As Sarlo explains, "El estilo de Evita no fue una cualidad
agregada sino un dato central de su personalidad politica ... Le daba cuerpo a un
nuevo tipo de estado, lo que podria llamarse un 'estado de bienestar a la criolla"
[Evita's style was not an added quality but a central part of her political personality ...

She gave a physical form to a new kind of state, what could be called a 'Creole
welfare state'] (La pasion y la excepcion 93). In many writings about Evita, the image
of the first lady pouring over thousands of letters requesting need as well as her one-
on-one style of doling out aid, is ubiquitous. In fact, countless photos of Eva at work
at her foundation communicated the active role of the first lady and the investment of
the Peronist government in the lives of the Argentine people.
The visual evidence of Eva giving direct aid that came out regularly in the
Peron-controlled media only strengthened the bond between Evita and her followers.
That image is so strong, in fact, that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
mentioned it in her justification for naming Eva the Woman of the Bicentennial. As
Kirchner remembered Evita the Evita of her mother's generation she was "una
Evita hada" [Evita the fairy godmother] ("Cristina Fernandez homenajeo a Eva
Peron"). Indeed, this image comes across in Sarlo's writings ("Evita acompanaba la
entrega de estos objetos, junto a viejecitas agradecidas y chicos que se fotograflaban
con ella como si fuera una estrella de cine, una hennana de caridad, un hada" [Evita
would accompany the delivery of the objects, next to the grateful little old ladies, and
children who would want to be photographed with her as if she were a movie star, a
nun, a fairy godmother] (emphasis mine, La pasion v la excepcion 93)) as well as in
the writings of some some of her critics who named her a vengeful Cinderella -

helping the poor to spite the oligarchy. Regardless of the label, Eva was seen on
posters and in pamphlets involved in charity work. Since her involvement was
constantly covered by the media and the Peronist propaganda machine, her
appearance was meticulously handled. Sarlo describes this as "la profusion
iconografica" [iconographic profusion] that characterized the visual culture of
Peronism (Sarlo, La pasiony la exception 94). This "ritualization" of Eva's image
while working directly with the poor was focused primarily of Evas style and, in
turn, her youth and beauty (94). What is more, Eva was often shown involved in
physical displays of tenderness with the recipients of her foundation's aid hugging,
caressing, extending her hands. In her physical actions, captured time and time again
by the camera, Eva solidified her "cualidad de puente, de medium, entre el regimen y
su pueblo" [quality as a bridge, a medium between the regime and the people] (95).
Thus, the Argentine people were constantly reminded of their first lady's love and
support for them, and her extravagant style and fashion only fueled her supporters'
adoration of her.
Fashion as Function: Eva's Fortune Connects Her to the People
In the section in her book, La pasion v la exception, entitled "Belleza,"
[Beauty] Beatriz Sarlo discusses the function of fashion and appearance in Eva's
professional life as an actress and as the first lady. Although her career as an actress

saw an Eva Duarte that was physically banal according to the style of the forties, this
unexceptionality in the world of showbiz transformed into her recognizable and
celebrated image as a politician. Since the Peronist movement relied so heavily on
daily visual reminders of their political achievements and because Eva was so closely
connected with that image, her physical appearance was used as a powerful emblem.
Sarlo describes the importance of Peronism's iconography thus,
La ropa de Evita fue una cuestion de estado para un regimen que
descubrio las formas modemas de la propaganda politica y el peso
decisivo de la iconografia ... Los medios graficos del regimen llevaron
adelante una politica altamente visual, donde decenas de fotografias
diarias ... comfirmaban la presencia de las voces radiales y acercaban
los cuerpos de los lideres. [Evitas clothes were a matter of state for a
regimen that discovered modem political propaganda and the decisive
role of iconography ... The graphic production aids of the regimen put
forth highly visual politics, where dozens of daily photographs ...
confirmed what was heard on the radio and brought the bodies of the
leaders closer (to the public).] (80)
This proximity (or presumed proximity) of the people with their leaders created Eva's
important political role of mediator between the President and his subjects. As a
result, her physical image her face, hair, and clothes and the consistency of that
image, became the source of great interest and pride among Peronist supporters.
Luckily for Peron, Eva had been an actress and was prepared for "La alta visualidad
de la cultural peronista" [highly visual culture of Peronism] that "encontro en el
cuerpo de Evita un soporte que ya se habia preparado para ser visto, para mostrarse y

repetirse en gestos y poses, durante los dos anos de exito en su carrera de actriz"
[found in Evita's body reinforcement that had already been prepared to be seen, to be
displayed and to be repeated in gestures and poses during her successful two years as
an actress] (80). For Sarlo, the repetition of Eva's gestures and poses became
extremely important in her image as both a marvelous spectacle a shining star of the
Argentine people as well as a compatriot who could empathize with the plight of her
followers. In Sarlo's words,
Evita fue amada por su obra y por la manera en que la representaba.
Accion y representacion son inescindibles: lo personal de la relacion
de Evita con su pueblo se apoyaba en una mostracion incesante,
repetida pero capaz de renovar el efecto de lo 'maravilloso', de la
presencia que, sobre la repeticion, construia tambien una ilusion de
proximidad. [Evita was loved for her work and for the way in which
she was represented. Action and representation are inseparable: the
personal aspect of Evita's relationship with the people was supported
by an incessant show, repetitious but capable of recreating the
'marvelous' effect of the presence that, with repetition, also established
an illusion of proximity.] (81 emphasis mine)
With the power of her persona and the aggressive Peronist political propaganda
machine behind her, it is no wonder that Eva became the source of so much interest -
both positive and negative during her life. Her descamisados adored her and the
cultural elite loathed her.
The dual image of Eva also came across in the clothing she wore in public.
Sarlo discusses Eva's two most recognizable looks: the tailored suit she wore when

addressing the public and the formal evening gown. In her public persona, Eva wore a
suit reminiscent of other well-healed, cultured women like Victoria O'Campo.
Inspired by classic designs, the "traje sastre" [tailored suit] designed by Eva's stylist,
Paco Jaumandreu, with its dark, velvet collar, became the "ropa oficial de trabajo de
Evita" [official work outfit] (82, 84). This "traje publico" [public suit] was worn by
Evita when she attended "los actos emblematicos del estado de bienestar" [the
emblematic welfare state ceremonies] (84). As such, it was associated with her
political work, especially her charity work for the poor. It is a similar suit that Eva is
seen wearing in the photograph that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner projected behind
her during the inaugural opening of the Bicentenary Hall of Women. Sarlo points out
that it is the tailored suit that Eva wore when she confronted the masses who wanted
her to accept the nomination for Vice President on August 22, 1951. According to
Sarlo, this suit embodied Eva's twofold position as being in the spotlight but also
subordinate to her husband: "Trabajo como figura segunda y primera al mismo
tiempo, doble providencial de la figura de Peron" [She worked as a secondary and
primary figure at the same time, Peron's providential double] (84-85). What is more,
Sarlo associates Eva's tailored suit with her unique position as the physical
embodiment of Peronism she was at once a humble public servant, a representative
of her people, and a peerless public celebrity: "El traje principe de Gales tuvo todas
las cualidades para convertirse en ropa de trabajo completamente identificada con la

funcion publica. Es, en un sentido, un uniforme. Pero, en otro sentido, no lo es ya que
solo puede usarlo (por acuerdo tacito) una persona especialisima" [Her main Welsh
suit had all the qualities to be tranformed into a work outfit that was completely
identified with her public function. It is, in a sense, a uniform. But, in another sense, it
is not and can only be used by a very special person] (85).
Eva's second look was that of the formal evening gown. In this physical
manifestation, Eva was not the public servant but the fashion icon and her gowns,
jewels, and furs garnered world-wide attention. Eva's evening wear, unlike her
tailored suit, was used to draw attention to her beauty, fame, and power. Sarlo
interprets the extravagant clothing that Eva wore for formal occasions as a symbol of
the strength and bounty of Peronism itself. As a result, the dresses were extravagant,
made from the finest materials and she was awash in decadent jewelry. Eva's gowns
typified the significance of her husband and his political movement and she was the
symbolic "pieza coronada de una escenografia de poder" [crowning jewel in the
display of power] (Sarlo, La pasion y la excepcion 84). As the emblem of the Peronist
party, Eva had a carefully crafted and highly publicized style that continually
captivated her followers.

Eva's Illness: Death Makes a Martyr
As early as 1950 Eva showed signs of deteriorating health but refused to slow
down, sometimes staying at her foundation's office until dawn. As a result of the
countless hours dedicated to her causes, "her idealization and sanctification in the
popular eye continued and grew" (Hall, "Evita and Maria" 218). Hall hypothesizes
that it was during this time of physical strain and increased activity that Eva's image
as a self-sacrificing Virgin Mary started to surface. Continuing to "invert" the social
order and attend to hundreds of Argentine women and children seeking aid while
"male government officials dressed in their elegant suits were forced to wait" (218),
Eva solidified her place among her supporters as their savior. Concurrently, her
physical condition worsened and she grew weaker as she lost weight, her color turned
sallow, and she developed dark circles under her eyes. In January 1950 she fainted at
the opening of a taxi drivers' union branch and her suffering became more public. Her
doctor recommended an appendectomy which she underwent and then immediately
returned to work. Although the facts surrounding Eva's health and the treatment she
received in the last few years of her life are disputed, it is commonly accepted that
she was suffering from uterine cancer. According to some accounts, her physician had
recommended a hysterectomy, which she refused citing "manipulation by her enemies
who wished to remove her from politics" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 247). Hall continues,

"if true, this incident was a foreshadowing of the significance her body would take on
later; the implication that mutilating her body and endangering her health would
destroy or diminish her power, at least in her mind, was a reflection of the profound
relationship between her very womanhood and her political power" (247).
Eva's political power and popularity were clearly displayed on August 22,
1952, the day set aside for the announcement of candidacies for president and vice
president. Eva's supporters clamored for Juan Peron to name her as his vice
presidential candidate in the upcoming election. On the day of the announcement,
close to one million people gathered to hear the news. The stage was flanked by sixty-
foot photos of Peron and Eva which were connected by a banner reading, "Peron-
Evita Peron, the combination for the fatherland" (qtd. in Hall, "Evita and Maria" 219).
Juan Peron appeared on stage without Eva and the crowd responded with a raucous
demand for the first lady. She finally stepped onto the stage and gave a passionate and
tearful speech in which "she emphasized that she had no political ambitions beyond
supporting her husband and serving as the connection between him and the people of
Argentina" (Hall, "Evita Peron" 248). Eva added, "But I tell you, just as 1 have said
for five years, that I prefer to be Evita rather than the President's wife if'Evita' is said
in order to alleviate any pain of my country. Now 1 say that I continue to prefer to be
Evita" (qtd. in Taylor 59). This statement did not satisfy the crowd who wanted to

hear that she would be running with her husband in the next election. The masses
became more insistent and Eva asked for more time to decide, yet the crowds refused
to disperse. Finally she said, "This has taken me by surprise ... never in my humble
Argentinian woman's heart did I think that I could accept this position ... give me time
to announce my decision to the entire nation by radio" (qtd. in Taylor 60). Finally
satisfied, the enthusiastic crowd disbanded.
Nine days later, Eva renounced her candidacy in a radio address, declaring her
interests as secondary to her husband's needs and the needs of his movement:
1 do not have in these moments more than one ambition, a single and great
personal ambition: that of me it shall be said ... that there was at the side of
Peron a woman who dedicated herself to carrying the hopes of the people to
the President, and that the people affectionately called this woman 'Evita.'
That is what I want to be. (qtd. in Taylor 61)
In what became known as el renunciamiento, Eva would be "associated with her own
special sacrifice and her own Peronist day" and the image of her as a martyr for the
Argentine people was propagated soon after her death (Hall, "Evita Peron" 249).
Rosano quotes a member of the Peronist Womens Party regarding Eva's work while
sick: "ella podia haber tenido una operation y salvarse, pero ella dijo que no tenia
tiempo que perder. Ella ahi dijo que tenia mucho que hacer antes de pensar en su
salud" [she could have had an operation and be saved, but she said she didn't have
time to lose. She then said that she had too much to do to think about her health] (qtd.

in Rosano ] 99). In this light, Eva was the saint and martyr, the "madre proveedora,
todopoderosa, que no encuentra ningun limite en lo que entrega a los pobres" [mother
provider, all powerful, that found no limit in what she gave the poor] (200).
Sarlo considers Eva's physical appearance and "la importancia del cuerpo de
Evita" [the importace of Evita's body] on August 22 in terms of the formation of the
myth that would take hold after her death {La pasion v la exception 104). Sarlo
argues that Eva's illness only contributed to her beauty because it "acentuo sus rasgos
no convencionales y les dio un pathos que, en algunas fotos, es tragico y en otras
sublime" [accentuated her unconventional traits and gave her a pathos that, in some
photos, is tragic and in others is sublime] (104). It was on this day in August when
Eva, obviously ill and suffering, was captured in photos as, in Sarlo's words, "un
cuerpo completamente ocupado por la politica ... en su figura se encuentran
tormentosamente el deseo y la prudencia, la esperanza y el miedo, el calculo y la
tentacion de una mayor gloria y un poder acrecentado" [a body completely consumed
by politics ... in her bodily form we find the clash of desire and prudence, the hope
and the fear, the calculation and temptation of a greater glory and a growing power]
(105). In her famous renunciation, Sarlo argues that Eva's gestures and physical
semblance encapsulated the political passion of the moment and that

esos gestos son mas decididos y mas guerreros que las palabras que los
acompanaron. Con su cuerpo Evita dijo mas que lo que dijo, y mucho mas que
lo que diria por la radio, unos dias despues, al expresar su voluntad de negarse
al reclamo del Cabildo Abierto. [those gestures are more determined and more
warlike than the words that accompanied them. Evita said more with her body
than the words she used and much more than what she could have said on the
radio, some days later, in expressing her desire to renounce her call to run for
government.] (105)
Thus, all the images that had been advanced by the press, the Peronist
government, and by Eva herself, culminated in an image of a woman caught in the
grips of death fighting to save both her private and her public lives. As Sarlo
describes it, "Lealtad y furia en las palabras; crispacion en los gestos. Las fotos de esa
noche, mas que las palabras, estan preparadas para convertirse en iconografia del
evitismo que profesara, mas de una decada despues, el peronismo revolucionario"
[Loyalty and fury in her words; tension in her gestures. The photos from that night,
more than the words, are ready to fuel the Evita iconography that would characterize
the revolutionary Peronism more than a decade later] (107). Eva was not dead, but her
postmortem image as a self-sacrificing revolutionary was in motion.
A Revolutionary Image Arises
Still receiving medical treatment and suffering from pain and weakness, Eva
continued to participate in political activities. Simultaneously, her political rhetoric
became more aggressive. After a failed coup attempt by the military in September,

Eva addressed her followers on the radio in tearful appreciation of the descamisados'
support of her husband. She also insisted on addressing the Peronists in another radio
address calling for the arming of the unions in case of another military uprising,
declaring that her foundation would finance the arsenal. As a result, a large supply of
arms were bought and stored in the foundation building and Evita established her
image as a revolutionary, a guerrilla fighter poised to use force when necessary.
Another pivotal moment in Eva's late life was the publication of her autobiography,
La razon de mi vida. The book was released among a great deal of anticipation and
promotion, and quickly became required reading for Argentine school children.
Eva's condition worsened and both her and her husband's speeches alluded to
her impending demise. In October, 1951 the traditional celebration of Juan Peron's
release from prison was dedicated to Eva and to her renunciation. She was given a
medal by the Peronist labor unions and another by her husband. Confined to her bed
the previous three weeks, a weakened Eva had to be held up by Peron who dedicated
the day as "Loyalty Day" and gave a speech extoling his wife for her role in the
Peronist movement. He designated her as a "standard bearer in the struggle for this
second independence ... She gave everything without asking for anything in
exchange. Everything: her youth, her health, even her life" (qtd. in Hall, "Evita
Peron" 249). Eva then gave her own speech focusing on her continued humility and

devotion to her husband and the Argentine people while promising to return for the
next October 17th celebration: "I am not anything because I renounced anything; I am
not anything because I am somebody or have something. All that I have, I have in my
heart, it hurts my soul, it hurts my flesh and it bums on my nerves, and that is my love
for these people and for Peron" (249). The following day was declared "Santa Evita's
Eva had to cast her ballot for the 1952 election from her bed. As the box was
taken out of the Peron residence, "women keeping vigil on the sidewalk touched and
kissed it, asserting their connection and support for the ailing First Lady" (Hall,
"Evita Peron" 250). In December the number of masses dedicated to her health
"reached the hundreds" and Eva's only outings involved drives with Peron around
Buenos Aires (Taylor 62). From her bed, she gave her Christmas speech and met with
national journalists on Christmas Day. In May Congress designated Eva the "Spiritual
Chief of the Nation" and she made her final public appearance on June 5, 1952 at her
husband's inauguration for his second term as President. Accompanying her husband
in an open car, Eva was fixed with a support made from wire and plaster so that she
could stand and wave to the crowd, a "huge fur coat concealed her emaciated body"
(Hall, "Evita Peron" 250). Eva was confined to her bed until her death on July 26,
1952. The time of her death given was 8:25pm the exact moment of her marriage to

Peron years earlier. For Hall, this symbolic time is crucial to the Eva myth: "Thus she
had been bom anew as Juan Peron's wife and had died, at least officially, at the same
hour and minute of the day" (250). Up until her death was announced, the country's
attention was focused on Eva. Newspapers "included periodical reports on her health.
Groups ... stationed themselves for a time in vigil ... Congress occupied itself for days
with a project of converting the monument of the descamisado, which Evita had
proposed in 1951, into a memorial structure in which Evita herself would be buried"
(Taylor 63). Two minutes after Eva's death the announcement was made via national
radio by the Subsecretariat of Information of the Presidency. Within two hours Eva's
embalmer, Dr. Ara, began to prepare the corpse for its showing the following day.
Dressed in a white shroud with a rosary in her hand and covered with a flag, the
corpse was transported to the Ministry of Labor to be on display for the public.
Eva as Allegory and Object of Mourning
Eva's body was "lost" to the Argentine people for almost twenty years after
Peron's exile. Under General Alejandro Augustin Lanusse, she was finally given to
Peron who was living in Madrid with his third wife Isabel. Lanusse, determined to
"end the state of abnormality begun in 1955" (Fraser and Navarro 188), ordered the
opening of Aramburu's sealed document that held the information regarding Eva's
corpse's whereabouts. The body was exhumed from its secret burial place in Italy and

was transported to Peron in Madrid in 1971. Both Peron and Eva's exile from
Argentina did not deaden their influence among the Argentine people. In fact, the
military coup that succeeded Peron and the consequences of that regime only ignited
the desire for the Perons' return. Indeed, Evita's image and the memory of Peronist
Argentina played an important role in the veneration that lasted long after her death.
Obviously, the presentation of Eva as a physical symbol of the Argentine nation itself
and the sanctification of her image by Peron after her death contributed a great deal to
her long-lasting popular appeal. Writer Idelber Avelar explores the idea of mourning
in postdictatorial Latin America in his book, The Untimely Present, and his
description of the impact of memory and mourning in Latin American societies can
be applied to the phenomenon of Eva Peron and the recurring renewal of her image in
For Avelar, who explores "how and under what conditions of possibility
contemporary postdictatorial literature and culture engage the past", the concept of
mourning in postdictatorial Latin American communities is essential to understanding
the present (1). He explains that relics of the past can be reused and reappropriated in
order to access the past a past deemed better than the reality of a postdictatorial
present. Eva Peron and especially her cadaver can be viewed, in light of Avelar's
work, as an "obsoloete commodity" that resurfaces in order to connect to the past.

Thus the cadaver is like the "anachronistic ... commodity, the recycled gadget, the
museum piece, ... all forms of survival of what has been replaced in the market...
These images of ruins are crucial for postdictatorial memory work, for they offer
anchors through which a connection with the past can be reestablished" (2). The
overthrow of Peron and subsequent instability provoked by the military government
that followed coupled by Eva's premature death resulted in what Avelar labels the
"will to reminisce" (2). For Peronist supporters, the country was twice hit by tragedy
that remained an open wound, unable to heal. Using Avelar's ideas of mourning, the
events that followed Eva's death including her embalming, funeral, and kidnapping by
the military government augmented Argentina's need to reinvent her by "drawing the
present's attention to everything that was left unaccomplished and mournful in the
past" (2). Her cadaver and the memory of her time in power fused to create a
commodity of the past; she became an allegory for Peronism at a time when
Argentina was struggling under military rule. Interestingly, Avelar's reference to
Walter Benjamin's definition of allegory seems completely apropos for Eva Peron:
Whereas the symbol of destruction is idealized and the transfigured
face of nature is fleetingly revealed in the light of redemption, in
allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocrata of
history as a petrified, primoridal landscape. Everything about history
that, from the very beginning, has been untimely, sorrowful,
unsucessful, is expressed in a face or rather in a death's head.
(Benjamin 166)

It is difficult not to imagine the face of Eva whether that of her embalmed body or
from the myriad posters, pamphlets, and magazine images that abounded in Argentina
- as an allegory of Argentina's past. Avelar also uses Benjamin's ideas of the "link that
binds allegory and mourning" and the role of the corpse in the mourning process (3).
As Avelar explains, "In Baroque drama the final condensation of meaning around a
corpse imposes upon the audience a pressing consciousness of its own transitoriness
and mortality" (3). Again, Eva is clearly evoked here as is the drama surrounding her
cadaver's odyssey. She became such a strong symbol for Argentines both Peronist
and anti-Peronist because of the strength of the "imperative to mourn" (2). As
referred to earlier, Eva's physical appearance and image were essential to her power
as an icon. Both her followers and her opposition embraced her body to express either
their support (Eva as the saintly, nurturing mother of Argentina) or condemnation
(Eva as materialistic, ignorant, social climber). Thus, her opposition's interest in
tarnishing her reputation by displaying her lavish array of personal belongings only
incited more intense mourning. This fits into Avelar's hypothesis of mourning as a
way to embrace and save the past. The more reminders of Eva's life after her death,
the more powerful the nation's mourning became. Since "the mournful subject who
confronts the loss of a loved being displays special sensibility toward objects, articles
of clothing, former possessions, anything that might trigger the memory of the one
who died", Argentines embraced reminders of Eva from her photographs to her

personal belongings (4). Thus, Eva's death and the removal of her body from the
Argentine people's possession at a time when mourning was most ardent created an
"allegorically charged ruin", as Avelar might put it, that would appear and reappear
throughout Argentina's history (5).
The resilience of the legend of Eva Peron can be attributed to her strong
connection with the people and her undeniable presence in the popular memory of
Argentina. Certainly, the decision of the military government to take her cadaver and
hide it from the public eye magnified the country's mourning. In not having a corpse
to grieve, Eva's followers were stuck in what Avelar would label the "interminability
of mourning" (Avelar 5). As a result of the military dictatorship that followed Peron,
Evita Peron biographers Fraser and Navarro explain, "Argentines were afflicted with
a genuine sense of lacking something" (184). As a result, in the 1960's there was a
rebirth of Peronism by the intellectuals a "socialist, libertarian Peronism" and
Evita took on an "almost Revolutionary aura" (185). Likewise, the "Woman with the
Whip" image was replaced by a more concrete, rational image that focused on the
actions she took while first lady. Fraser and Navarro quote essayist Juan Jose
Sebreli's description of Eva's rebirth as such: "She was a 'solitary individualist in
search of collectivity,' which she found in her feminist work, her 'direct action for the
poor and her people's militia. Thus there emerged an Eva symbolically expressing the

desire for justice and equality" (qtd. in Fraser and Navarro 185). Simultaneously, a
more aggressive, revolutionary image of Eva based on her fiery speeches and near-
death appearances arose. Thus the "Evita commando" image was initiated by the
Montoneros guerilla group in the 1970s. According to Fraser and Navarro, "many of
the guerillas believed that Evita was what they and the people had in common, and
they saw at this stage no serious contradiction between the people's 'saint' and their
own revolutionary 'icon' (186). With a growing fervor for her body's return to
Argentina in the 1970s, the allegory of Eva as Argentina -the Argentina of the past -
was solidified. What Avelar describes as the "insistence of memory...the survival of
the past as a ruin in the present" (5) also emerged in Eva's case as demands for an end
to the military regime and the re-institution of Peronism escalated in Argentina.
Interestingly, the working class that had embraced and elevated Eva as their political
representative was superseded by a group of revolutionary intellectuals who used Eva
as their ideological symbol. Using a dead woman as the talisman of their cause falls
under Avelar's characterization of mourning in postdictatorial Latin America as a
paradoxical movement of an "auratic, quasi-religious form of cultural modernization"
(12). Eva's reappearance in the 1970s spoke not only to the memory of her life and
influence that existed through the eighteen years that her corpse had disappeared from
her country, but it also addressed the political needs of the new, factious Peronism.

Eva's Return: The 1970s
Seventeen years pass. The country is still without great
men ... the people are on the verge of dispair. They
begin to remember that the dictator had a vision of the
country's greatness ... they begin to remember that he
had given much to the poor ... But the people also
remember the dictator's wife. She loved the poor and
hated the rich, and she was young and beautiful. So she
has remained, because she died young, in the middle of
the dictatorship. And miraculously, her body has not
V.S. Naipul
While Juan Peron was exiled and living in Madrid, and Eva's body was still
among the missing, the country fused their mourning and remembrance of the
Peronism of the 1940s and 50s with a desire for political change. Guerrilla groups
began to form during and after the 1969 cordobazo, a political, populist uprising that
took place in the city of Cordoba. The success of this movement lead to a change of
personnel in the military government and to the formation of the militant Montoneros,
a group that embraced Eva's revolutionary image. The Montoneros were "most
interested in the romantic extremism of Evita's last year, her rhetoric of sacrifice and
blood" (Fraser and Navarro 185). From Spain, Juan Peron communicated with his
supporters including the Montoneros who demanded that he return to Argentina to

take over the government. In 1973, Peron returned to Argentina with his third wife,
Isabel. His arrival was met by a huge crowd of Peronists, although the new Peronist
movement was much more diversified and heterogenous: "His supporters came from
the extremes of the right and left, he was well past the point of being able to
manipulate opposing political forces as he had in the past" (Hall, "Evita and Maria"
236). Further, his new wife Isabel lacked the power of personality of Eva, so Eva's
image was constantly evoked. As a result of the Perons' return, Peronism was
officially sanctioned, and the "cult of Evita came above ground" (189). In this
renewal of Eva's influence there emerged different images from different groups.
These separate visions of Eva were seen in each group's "iconographic treatment of
her" (190). For the new Peronist movement, Evita was portrayed as the refined, regal
Senora, borrowing heavily from the image of Evita as first lady. The labor groups
adopted an image of Evita as their raucous companera. Finally, the Montoneros
embraced Eva the Revolutionary and invoked her at rallies and public gatherings
with; Viva Evita! [Long live Evita!] scribbled on the cities' walls.
The Montoneros became a powerful and aggressive political force in
Argentina during Peron's exile. Comprised mostly of university students, the
Montonero movement combined "radical Catholicism, nationalism, and Peronism
into a populistic expression of socialism" (Gillespie 377). They also pulled strongly

from the "social objectives of the Left with the strong nationalistic slogans so dear to
Peronism" (377). Although they were not working-class themselves, the Montoneros
"presented ther organization as a champion of the people, el pueblo" (378). For them,
Eva was "the revolutionary darling of the Peronist Left, the nexus binding Peron and
the masses together (379). The group's political agenda drew upon Eva's
revolutionary rhetoric as well as their nostalgia for Argentina when she was in power:
"She was associated with the general benefits made possible by the late 1940s
economic boom, especially the handouts to the poor from her Fundacion Evita Peron"
(Gillespie 379). Flowever, according to Richard Gillespie it was Eva the
revolutionary, with her "diatribes against the oligarchy and impassioned
denunciations of social injustice that really endeared her to the Peronist Left" that
really inspired them (379). Fie continues that the Montoneros "were only too ready to
share their adoration of her, to embrace the myth of Evita the jacobin ... For them, she
was a symbol of combativity, the woman who had tried to create a 'workers militia' in
the early 1950s" (380). The Montoneros had already established themselves as a
radical, guerrilla group before the events of May 29, 1970. However, it was the
assassination of an Argentine ex-president, Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, and
particularly their justification for those actions on that day in May, that solidified not
only their reputation as a guerrilla organization but also Eva's powerful political
resilience, eighteen years after her death.

Sarlo's La pasion y la excepcion examines the role that Eva played in the
Montoneros' political ideology and specificially how it contributed to their 1970
assassination of Aramburu. According to accounts given by the Montoneros who
killed the former president, Aramburu's kidnapping and subsequent murder were
caused by multiple factors: the government sponsored shooting of Montonero
members in 1956, the forced exile of Peron in 1955, and the robbery of Eva's cadaver
during Aramburu's time in office. Sarlo focuses her discussion of the assassination of
Aramburu on the power of nostalgia and the passion that Eva elicited in her
Montonero followers. Sarlo advances an idea similar to Avelar's conception of
nostalgia and lost cultural objects that earn great political and social sway in the
present: "En la nostalgia del objeto perdido, la pasion alimenta su fuerza. Por eso,
para subsistir en la pasion, el objeto siempre es irredento: perdida (de un cuerpo, el de
Evita), de un sentido de justicia (el del regimen peronista), de un lider (el proscripto),
de una posesion espiritual y moral (el honor)" [In the nostalgia for the lost object,
passion feeds its force. So, in order to subsist in passion, the object is always
unredeemed: from loss (Evita's body), from a sense of justice (the Peronist regime),
from a leader (the exile), from a spiritual and moral possession (the honor)] (178).
She continues by explaining that the fact that Eva's cadaver was hidden from her
people, combined with the fact that she had become such a strong symbol of
Peronism's "edad de oro," [golden age] created an atmosphere of passion so great that