What’s in a Name?: Atlas de la República Argentina, 1953

“Artículo 1° – La provincia Eva Perón, con los límites que por derecho le corresponden, es parte integrante de la Nación Argentina; organiza su gobierno de acuerdo al sistema republicano representativo y mantiene el goce y ejercicio de todos los derechos que por la Constitución Nacional no han sido delegados al gobierno federal.”

(“Article 1 – The province of Eva Perón, within the limits assigned to it by right, forms part of the Argentine Nation; its government is organized according to the representative republican system and it reserves to itself the exercise of all rights not delegated to the federal government by the National Constitution.”)

Constitución de la Provincia Eva Perón (1952)

As you know if you’ve read my bio, I am a library cataloger by trade, and this sometimes gives me the opportunity to work with amazing items with great historical significance–like this one: a first edition 1953 Atlas of the Argentine Republic, published by the Argentine Army’s Institute of Military Geography.

The atlas was published at the midpoint of the second year of Juan Domingo Perón’s second presidential term–as witnessed by his top billing in the list of approving authorities on the fourth leaf: “Excelentísimo Señor Presidente de la Nación General del Ejército D. Juan Perón.” Its publication also came on the heels of a terrorist bombing of a rally at the Plaza de Mayo on April 15, which killed 7 people and injured 95 others. At the time, the population of Argentina was a little under 18.1 million (to give some perspective, the population of the UK at that time was just around 49.2 million, in a region only 8.7% the size of the former). River Plate won the Primera División soccer championship for the 11th, and not nearly the last, time. Carlos Menem, president of Argentina from 1989 to 1999 and self-styled “heir of Perón” was 22 years old and studying law at the National University of Córdoba. Elsewhere, the Korean War was two months away from its conclusion, with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953. And, although he didn’t realize it at the time, Perón’s regime itself was only two short years away from collapse.

The atlas measures 31 x 37 cm. (approx.), and has 90 unevenly numbered pages (some single-, some double-sided). It consists of 31 color maps, ranging in scale from 1:50,000 to 1:48,000,000, with each provincial map clocking in at 1:1,500,000. Each map is preceded by a leaf of black and white photographs of local features of the region in question. At the time of publication, 8 “national territories” still existed which have since become provinces, including the now defunct Comodoro Rivadavia Military Zone (now part of the province of Chubut) in Patagonia.

It is a beautiful piece in and of itself. However, the uniqueness of this particular atlas in relation to other similar items resides in its ephemerality. For a brief moment in time, Peronismo became a geographic as well as a political reality: two provinces, born in 1951 and 1952, one named after Perón himself, the other named for his wife, Eva.

“We, the representatives of the working classes of the province of Presidente Perón, gathered at this Constitutional Convention, and invoking the protection of God, the source of all reason and justice, in order to establish the public authority, to enact the rights, declarations, and guarantees set forth in the National Constitution, and to advance the shaping of a shared civilization and the consolidation of a socially just, economically independent, and politically sovereign nation, do ratify this Constitution.”

Consti­tución de la Provincia Presidente Perón (1951)

On August 8, 1951, the territories of Chaco and La Pampa became provinces of the Argentine Republic, under Law 14.037. Four months later, on December 22, the legislative assembly of Chaco ratified the new province’s first constitution and adopted the name Presidente Perón. One month after that, on January 29, 1952, the former territory of La Pampa followed suit and adopted the name Eva Perón.

With the ouster of Perón in September 1955, as a result of the so-called Revolución Libertadora, and the subsequent assumption of Pedro Aramburu (preceded very briefly by Eduardo Lonardi, nominal leader of the coup-cum-revolution who was himself deposed after a month and a half, because of his conciliatory tendencies, by the Junta Consultiva Nacional), Juan Perón and the party he represented–or, some might say, the party who represented him–along with any and all political actions the general or his government had taken, were forced into political and social oblivion. The peronists would not be allowed to participate substantively again in an election until 1973. As far as the “liberators” were concerned, the last twelve years had never happened. Under the circumstances, it obviously wouldn’t do to have the man’s name, and that of his wife, smeared across the map of the nation.

On October 17, 1955, ten years to the day from Perón’s triumphant release from imprisonment on Martín García Island following his forced resignation as vice president under accusation of insubordination–October 17, 1945, known to Peronists as the birth of their movement, a day referred to as Loyalty Day–Decree-Law 4145 stripped both provinces of their Peronist labels and returned them to their original territorial names. The Junta government, evidently, had a healthy appreciation for historical irony, seasoned by a nasty streak of political vindictiveness.

The “liberators” followed up this initial legislative salvo with a political double whammy. First, on November 24, 1955, via Decree-Law 3855, the Peronist party was forcibly dissolved and effectively removed from the political process. Then, on March 5, 1956, Decree-Law 4161 outlawed possession and/or exhibition for purposes of propaganda of any and all “images, symbols, signs, meaningful expressions, articles of doctrine and works of art” related to Perón himself, his family, or Peronism writ large. These decrees had as their collective purpose, according to Catalina Scoufalos, the attempt “to banish from the political and institutional horizon, as well as public – and perhaps even private – discourse, all evocation, even indirect, of Peronism and its leaders.”1

“Use of the following shall be considered especially egregious violations of this provision: photographs, portraits, or sculptures of Peronist officials or their relatives, the Peronist coat of arms and flag, the proper name of the deposed president or those of his relatives, the expressions ‘Peronism,’ ‘Peronist,’ ‘justicialism,’ ‘justicialist,’ ‘Third Position,’ the abbreviation P.P. [Partido Peronista], dates celebrated by the deposed regime, the musical compositions ‘March of the Peronist Boys’ and ‘Evita Capitana’ or fragments thereof, or the speeches of the deposed president or his wife or fragments thereof.”

Decreto-Ley 4161 (March 5, 1956)

So, what’s in a name? Everything…and nothing at all.

It has come to my attention that this bit of Argentine onomastic history is unknown to many Argentines, so one could argue that the people who attempted to erase Perón’s “New Argentina” from existence did a fairly thorough job of it, at least in the short term. However, all was not forgotten: on March 8, 2020–International Women’s Day–La Pampa became Provincia Eva Perón again,2 for one day, as part of a campaign honoring women important to the province and local communities. Liliana Robledo, Secretary of Women’s Issues of La Pampa, emphasized not only the social and charitable work for which Evita is known, but also specifically her mobilization of women by way of the Women’s Peronist Party, founded in 1949 and, significantly, overwhelmingly successful in the elections of 1951–the first to enfranchise women on a wide scale–in which 109 women were elected to legislative positions, at both the national and provincial levels. The Peronists garnered over 50% of the vote in every territory in the nation, and shortly thereafter, the provinces of Eva and Presidente Perón were born.

In an article published in The Sunday Times (London) on March 1, seven days before the symbolic “rebaptism” of La Pampa, Cristina Kirchner, once president, now vice-president, of Argentina is dubbed “Argentina’s new Evita.”3 Considering repeated assertions by pundits and politicians, that Alberto Fernández, the sitting president, is in reality only a figurehead, and that the presidential term that began in December 2019 is essentially Kirchner’s third, the timing is interesting at least. It would seem that, in 2020 as in 1952, the (re)naming of the province was an inherently political act, and one which reveals the true effect of the Revolution’s proscription of the Peronist party and all its trappings.

Rather than silencing the Peronists, their banishment from political participation effectively transformed them into the ultimate opposition party, a fact made even worse by their own lack of internal consistency. The Peronist party had, in reality, no set doctrine outside of that which emanated from the figure of Juan Perón himself. As Federico Finchelstein observed, in his La Argentina fascista (2008), “in terms of political thought, Peronism admits only the paraphrastic, a timid adaptation of the leader’s ideas to the needs of concrete policymaking.”4 So, proscription not only drove the Peronists underground; it also splintered them hopelessly, which in turn led to radicalization to the left of the left wing and rendered any overt political participation almost necessarily violent. (Pedro Aramburu, Perón’s successor as president and one of the chief instigators of Peronism’s downfall, was himself kidnapped and executed in 1970 by the Montoneros, the so-called “soldiers of Perón,” a left-wing Peronist guerrilla organization whose radicalization had proceeded to such a grave extent that Perón himself disavowed them in 1974 after his return to the presidency–a resounding bit of poetic (in)justice).

Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the first successful post-Perón Peronist presidential candidate, Carlos Menem, didn’t seem to fit the party mold in anything other than campaign promises: by the presidential primaries of 1988, no one had a clue what that mold really looked like. The only thing that mattered was a return to political legitimacy, and to that end everyone who was anyone within the Peronist fold had been playing all sides against the middle for years. Menem himself attached himself to any number of upstart party apparatus on his way up, including one fronted by Emilio Massera, a naval officer recognized by many as the mastermind behind the infamous Dirty War which led to the disappearance of at least 13,000 (probably more) Argentine citizens between 1976 and 1983.

Skip ahead to 2022. Someone recently asked me if I thought the Kirchner brand of Peronism (the so-called Kirchnerismo associated with Néstor Kirchner, who became president in 2007, and his wife and eventual successor Cristina) could legitimately be labeled “nationalist.” It is true that they, to a much greater degree than Carlos Menem, represent a renewed focus on the socially oriented style of government espoused by Perón himself–as demonstrated by their oft-quoted tagline “para todos y todas.” They were also responsible for the “reciprocity fee,” an amount charged to travelers from certain countries (the United States, Canada, and Australia) in order to gain admittance to Argentina, and which many characterized–correctly–as a “reprisal tax” levied on countries that charged Argentines similar fees for entrance into their space. This, along with a revival of diplomatic hostilities vis-à-vis the Malvinas/Falklands, is illustrative of a leftward turn in Argentine foreign policy, away from alignment with the United States and toward inter-Latin American cooperation in the face of the neoliberal order. So, they cater (at least superficially) to the people, and they make at least a show of standing up to the global North. To that extent, I suppose Kirchnerismo might be considered nationalist in ideology.

As for “Albertismo,” which has been described by at least one pundit as “stillborn,”5 there appears to be a definite leftward shift, exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Some say (and those who don’t, tend to be fellow travelers) that the initial failure of Fernández’s government to seal a vaccine deal with Pfizer, Moderna, et. al., instead opting to negotiate with Russia and China (Sinopharm and Sputnik), stemmed from his refusal to do business with “capitalist countries.” At time of writing, Fernández himself is in Moscow meeting with Vladimir Putin; as the Western world gears up to prevent Russia from invading the Ukraine, Fernández has announced that it is time that Argentina loosen its ties with the United States and the IMF, and that Russia holds great potential for partnership moving forward.6 Finally, there is Atucha 3, the newest addition to the Atucha Nuclear Complex in Buenos Aires Province, the contract for which has been given to the China National Nuclear Corporation, from the ground up.7

All this being said, many saw the Kirchners’ populist efforts as a campaign of distraction, shifting attention from their own corrupt political and financial schemes (for some of which Cristina Kirchner, currently vice-president of the nation, is still being investigated). And, whatever the rhetoric used by Alberto Fernández as he sits across from the Russian president, one must bear in mind that all his talk about cutting ties with the IMF comes only a few days after the successful negotiation of a new and hard-fought accord with that very same organization. Given the midterm defeat suffered by the Fernández-Kirchner dyad in November 2021, it becomes very clear that an attempt is afoot, again, to be all things to all people in the interests of staying politically afloat.

Seventy years down the road, it appears that when the “liberators” literally wiped Perón off the map in 1955, what they really managed to do was not to erase the name, which promptly went underground and became arguably more ingrained in the Argentine psyche than it had been before–often the result of martyrdom, either physical or political–but to empty that name of its ideological content. In so doing, they created an enemy ten times harder to defeat. The name of Juan Perón became a symbol the resiliency and strength of which resided in its total lack of substance, and Peronism a term which persists to the degree that it eschews definition. The Peronist party’s reason for being was reduced to being the Peronist party, and its chief vocation became to win, and an opponent with no more substantive a calling than victory at any cost is extremely difficult to beat. Political platform took a backseat to political relevance, and for more than half a decade the true goal of the Peronist party–at least at the national level–became not to govern according to some idea of a greater or national good, but simply to govern again.

So, again…Perón; what’s in a name? Nothing…and absolutely anything.

1. Catalina Scoufalos, “El decreto 4161: La batalla por la identidad,” Lic. diss. (Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2005), 1.
2. “La Pampa vuelve a llamarse provincia «Eva Perón» por un día,” La Arena, March 8, 2020, https://www.laarena.com.ar/la-pampa/2020-3-8-14-44-24-la-pampa-vuelve-a-llamarse-provincia-eva-peron-por-un-dia (accessed February 4, 2022).
3. Matthew Campbell, “Argentina’s new Evita: Cristina Kirchner calls the tune and waits for her cue,” The Times, March 1, 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/argentinas-new-evita-cristina-kirchner-calls-the-tune-and-waits-for-her-cue-5rmb5jbj7 (accessed February 4, 2022).
4. Federico Finchelstein, La Argentina fascista: Los orígenes ideológicos de la dictadura, (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2008).
5. Carlos Pagni, “Murió el “albertismo”. Antes de nacer,” La Nación, March 2, 2021, https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/murio-albertismo-antes-nacer-nid2617188/ (accessed February 4, 2022).
6. Elisabetta Piqué, “La Argentina tiene que dejar de tener esa dependencia tan grande que tiene con el FMI y EE.UU.,” La Nación, February 3, 2022, https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/alberto-fernandez-con-vladimir-putin-en-rusia-la-argentina-tiene-que-dejar-de-tener-esa-dependencia-nid03022022/ (accessed February 4, 2022).
7. “China and Argentina sign nuclear project deal,” World Nuclear News, February 2, 2022, https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/China-and-Argentina-sign-nuclear-project-deal (accessed February 4, 2022).

© 2022 – Vance Woods

Review – Luis Majul, Por qué cayó Alfonsín: El nuevo terrorismo económico: Los personajes; las conexiones; las claves secretas. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1990.

“La administración radical se despidió con la sensación de ser inoperante, ineficiente, e indiferente ante las necesidades de los más pobres. Algunos funcionarios fueron sospechados de corruptos, y la memoria colectiva se reserva el derecho de la duda. Pero también la primera etapa del gobierno de Carlos Menem se está empezando a teñir de esos presupuestos. ¿El Estado nacional es un instrumento para satisfacer el bienestar común o la palanca para que algunos funcionarios, muchas veces en complicidad con ciertos empresarios y sindicalistas coimeros, se enriquezcan con velocidad y sin esfuerzo?”

(“The Radical administration left in its wake a sense of its own dysfunction, inefficiency, and indifference to the needs of the poorest citizens. Some officials were suspected of corruption, and the collective memory reserves the right of doubt. But the first stage of Carlos Menem’s government is also beginning to be colored by these suppositions. Is the State supposed to be an instrument whereby the common welfare may be achieved, or is it meant only as a mechanism by means of which government officials, often in complicity with certain greasy-palmed businessmen and trade unionists, may enrich themselves quickly and without effort?”)

Luis Majul

Majul’s narrative, which reads like a dime store thriller, begins three days before “Black Monday,” February 6, 1989, and covers the tumultuous five-month period between that day and July 8, when Raúl Alfonsín ceded the presidency to newly elected Carlos Menem, six months before the end of the former’s official term.

The author gives a blow by blow account of the unfolding hyperinflationary crisis, from the initial surge in February, through the tribulations and fall from grace of two consecutive ministers of the economy, Juan Sourrouille and Juan Carlos Pugliese, the failure of the outgoing Radical and the incoming Peronist administrations to reach any sort of impartial accord regarding the handling of the ongoing crisis, and the social explosion that rocked the nation from late May into June, and finally to the passing of the presidential baton on July 8, in the Salon Blanco of the Casa Rosada.

At the center of the “biggest social and economic mess in the history of the nation” lies the eventual partnership between two countervailing forces: on one hand, the “exporter class,” whose refusal to convert their reserves from dollars to australes in order to bolster the local currency drove the value of the dollar ever higher; on the other, the Menem effect, the businessman’s fear of a Peronist hyper-regulatory government, which supposedly drained the economy of 4 billion dollars, money which might have been used by the Alfonsín administration to combat the crisis. In the event, the two forces coalesced in the so-called Menemtroika, and Bunge & Born, one of the chief offenders among the exporters, was placed in charge of Menem’s Ministry of Economy. The businessmen, who supposedly feared a Menem presidency too much to risk priming the austral, actually found themselves sheltered by his administration.

In any case, it is doubtful whether access to those 4 billion dollars would have done much to counteract the Alfonsín administration’s inability to curb the crisis. Alfonsín’s plans were effectively derailed by the midterm elections of 1987, which were swept by the Peronists, and by the time things came to a head in 1989, his main concern was to get out of the presidency with his reputation intact, and–if possible–to preside over the first democratic transition of power in 61 years. Consequently, talks during those final five months had less to do with economic solutions than with political survival. And thus, the crisis was kicked down the line.

The key moment, as far as Majul is concerned, is the failure of Operativo Retirada (Operation Retreat). This is the name given to the talks between Radicals and Peronists regarding an early and graceful departure from office for Alfonsín, which began immediately after Menem’s electoral victory on May 14. They are, according to Majul, “an overwhelming proof of the suicidal vocation and immaturity of the Argentine political leadership.” This is an opinion voiced by many in the years following the end of the Proceso in 1983; Argentine politicians were not used to functioning in a democratic environment, and had no idea how to include the welfare of the people in their equations of power. Menem’s demand for essentially plenipotentiary powers, which ironically was ultimately legitimated by the departing administration in the July accord, blew the conversation out of the water, and these negotiations, which should have acted as a social palliative, ended in stalemate as the rest of the country imploded.

The book includes 4 one-on-one interviews (“monologues”) set within the context of the crisis of 1989. First, Majul speaks to Juan Sourrouille, the minister responsible for the Plan Primavera, which the author describes as little more than an attempt to keep a lid on inflation for the duration of Alfonsín’s administration and let the “time bomb…go off in his successor’s face.” Then, there is a conversation with Carlos Menem, the successor, about the time bomb and how he dealt with having it thrown in his lap. Next, with a 14-year-old named Martín Laguna, who witnessed and participated in the social meltdown in May and June of 1989, defined by violent looting and equally violent repression. Finally, he speaks with Raúl Alfonsín himself, around the time his term was supposed to have ended, about the way and why things fell apart, and how the former president expects to be judged by history.

Majul concludes his work with a postscript dedicated to a “new creature,” a new Argentine who offers solutions to successive crises out of everyday experience, from the local and the micro, rather than seeking answers from above–a cult of individuality rather than of personality. This, to Majul, is essential: politics, labor, and business are so intertwined and each so closely implicated in the malfeasances of the others that it is virtually impossible for a workable and equitable solution to lie in that direction. It is an optimistic ending, envisioning a country kept afloat by the right action of its people when right action from its leaders cannot be depended upon. Thirty years and several crises after the fact, the reader can decide whether or not Majul’s observations are justified or merely wishful thinking.

©2021 – Vance Woods