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Justicialist Party (PJ - Peronist)

For most of the last 60 years, the Peronists have been the most powerful political movement in Argentina, alternating in power with the Radical Party (UCR) that earlier in the 20th century had begun the process of expanding suffrage and opening up the political process. Like its founder, the PJ has been tough to pin down ideologically, veering from left to right and back again, often with populist overtones and a pronounced authoritarian streak. The PJ retains the nation's strongest political structure, and the PJ remains a potent brand name.

General Juan Domingo Peron, president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955, founded the Justicialist Party in the 1940s. He built his Peronist movement on a foundation of statist and strongly pro-labor polices. The Peronists first came into play in 1946, when Juan Domingo Perón was first elected to the presidency. Over the next six years his populist policies brought great advances to the nation's lower classes.

The death in 1952 of Eva Duarte de Peron — Peron's second wife, who had adopted the role of personal benefactor to Argentina's working class and assumed a political persona of near mythical proportions — however, coincided with the beginning of a progressively deepening economic recession. By 1955 the armed forces again intervened to oust the Lider, whose mass appeal had rapidly faded with the growth of the economic crisis.

In 1943, when Generals Arturo J. Rawson and Pedro Pablo RamIrez overthrew president RamOn S. Castillo, one of the officers who supported the coup was Colonel Juan Domingo Perón. Later in 1943, when Ramirez replaced Rawson as president, PerOn again supported the coup and received the relatively minor post of secretary of labor and social welfare. From that office PerOn, with the help of his future wife Eva Duarte, organized a powerful political machine based on organized labor that catapulted him to the presidency in 1946. The movement created by Perón and the policies pursued by his government from 1946 until his overthrow by the military in 1955 produced perhaps the most fundamental cleavage in the country's history, dividing Argentines into those who were strong supporters of Peronism and those who were implacably opposed to it.

Despite this fundamental cleavage between Peronism and anti-Peronism, there was little agreement among analysts or among Argentines about what Peronism was. All agreed that it was a mass movement, but few could agree on its exact nature. For some it was a working-class movement seeking social justice; for others it was a multiclass alliance seeking industrialization or a revolutionary movement seeking a transformation of the economy and society toward socialism; and for still others it was a political machine designed to further the personal political and financial ambitions of Peron.

Regardless of its true nature, however, it was clear that from 1943 through the 1970s Peronism was supported by a clear majority of the population. The movement won every free election in which it was allowed to run between 1946 and 1976. The first time it lost an election was in 1983, when it was defeated by the UCR's Alfonsin.

Expressed in the doctrine of Justicialismo (Fairness), Peronism incorporated several preexisting strains of political thought and added some new ones. Fundamental to Peronism was an emphasis on the conciliation of the country's social classes. Peron was concerned that unorganized workers could exacerbate societal conflicts to the point of revolution. Thus the Peronist approach was to organize the working class in order to preclude its independence and simultaneously to provide social justice to alleviate its most pressing grievances. During PerOn's first period of rule, this was accomplished by making all associations of labor and capital dependent on the state. During his second administration (1973-74) this was to be accomplished by getting business and labor groups to agree to a "social pact for national reconstruction" negotiated under government sponsorship.

Peronism created a corporatist state in which each of the interests in society was to be represented by a single, state-sponsored, and state-controlled association. Toward that end, Peron created the General Confederation of Labor (Confederación General de Trabajo — CGT) to represent the unions; the General Economic Confederation (Confederación General Economica — CGE) to represent businessmen; the General Confederation of Professionals (Confederación General de Profesionales—CGP); the General University Confederation (Confederación General Universitaria — CGU) to represent students, faculty, and administrators; and even a corporate organization of high school students, the Union of Secondary Students (Union de Estudiantes Secundarios — UES).

Peronism also advocated the building of a self-reliant economy based on domestic production for domestic markets. This involved providing credit for the manufacturing industry at the expense of the agricultural sector, restricting imports, and protecting domestic industry with high tariffs. This approach also involved trying to reduce the role of foreign investors by restricting their activity, purchasing foreign-owned companies, and nationalizing basic economic resources.

The original support for Peronism came from a number of disparate groups: new industrialist groups that had emerged as a result of the de facto economic protection caused by the trade disruptions accompanying World War II and that were threatened by the probable return to export-based policies at the end of the war; parts of the military interested in industrialization as an aspect of national power; a new working class of migrants from the interior provinces who came to work in the industrial centers of Rosario, Cordoba and, most important, Buenos Aires and its suburbs; and the middle class of the less developed interior provinces.

With Perón in power from 1946 until 1955, virtually all of the old working class of the export industries deserted their socialist leadership and rallied behind Peron. Owing to the efforts of Eva Duarte de Peron, women rallied behind PerOn following their enfranchisement in 1947. Finally, with the expansion of state, a large group of white-collar government workers was added to the coalition.

After 1955 much of Peronism's middle-class and industrialist following joined Illia's Intransigent Radical Civic Union (Union Civica Radical, Intransigente — UCRI) and Frondizi's People's Radical Civic Union (Union Civica Radical del Pueblo — UCRP), leaving Peronism a more purely working-class movement. It retained the support of important middle-class groups, however, particularly that of white-collar government workers in Buenos Aires, some industrial groups that had profited from the economic protection measures employed by Peronism, and much of the provincial middle class.

During the 1960s a division emerged within Peronism between the union leadership, who demanded the return of Peron from exile, and a group of neo-Peronist leaders in several of the interior provinces, who were more willing to reach an agreement with the governments of Frondizi and Illia. The neo-Peronists even spoke of a "Peronism without Peron."

After the 1969 riots in the interior city of Córdoba (commonly known as the Cordobazo) against the military government of Ongania, a more basic cleavage emerged within Peronism between the union sector of the movement and the increasingly radical youth sector. A number of urban guerrilla movements were formed in the late 1960s and early 1970s — some within Peronism, such as the Montoneros and the Peronist Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Peronistas — FAP), and others outside of it, such as the People's Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo — ERP).

In the early 1970s the guerrilla left changed its tactics, ceasing its struggle to replace Peronism and instead seeking to take over the Peronist movement. For the guerrilla left, infiltrating Peronism meant inclusion in the Peronist coalition but rejection of the Peronist orientation toward class conciliation.

In addition, the Peronist Youth (Juventud Peronista—JP) was formed in 1972, largely out of the university-oriented Argentine Youth for National Emancipation (Juventud Argentina por Ia EmancipaciOn Nacional—JAEN). To the union leaders, a Peronist election victory was first a means of attaining greater political power and, second, a means of raising the standard of living of their union members. To the JP, the Montoneros, the FAP, and the ERP, Peron's election was to be the beginning of a socialist revolution. With Peron's return to power in 1973, Peronism tried to reincorporate the elements of the old coalition and include new revolutionary elements as well as military leaders and businessmen interested in stability.

After Peron's death in 1974, maintaining this coalition proved an impossible task for his successor, Maria Estela (Isabel) Martinez de Peron, as the country sank into a multisided guerrilla war. Under the military governments that followed, Peronism retained the support of most organized labor but lost that of most of the middle class and the military. The guerrilla threat was largely eliminated by the military between 1976 and 1978.

Between the 1976 coup and the election of new party officers at the party's July 1983 convention, the PJ was directed by a national committee made up of legislators and cabinet members who had served in the 1973 government. Beneath the party's national committee, however, its membership was divided into several factions: an official and traditional group of political leaders loyal to Isabel de Perón and led by Deolindo Bittel, with the support of Italo Luder, Federico Robledo, and Raül Matera; a smaller group of provincial leaders; two union groups led by Lorenzo Miguel and Saul Ubaldini; and a social democratic group emphasizing intransigence toward the military government and linked to the Peronist Youth (Juventud Peronista—JP), led by Vicente Saadi.

As the process of liberalization leading to the elections of 1983 proceeded, the various factions within the PJ competed for control of the party. The union leadership was concerned about preserving the political power of the unions within the broader Peronist movement. They, together with other leaders loyal to Isabel de Perón — known as the "verticalists" — tried to establish their control over the party at the expense of the more moderate "antiverticalists," many of whom were from interior provinces and wanted to democratize and institutionalize the internal functioning of the party.

The verticalists gained control of the party apparatus in internal party elections in July 1983, which enabled them to control the selection of the party's leadership and candidates for the 1983 elections. At the party congress in September 1983, prominent verticalists, such as Herminio Iglesias, the party leader in Buenos Aires Province; Miguel, the leader of the 62 Peronist Organizations (the political wing of the verticalist union leaders); and Luder, the former president of the Senate during the 1973 government, were confirmed as the party's leadership.

Isabel de Perón was confirmed as the titular head of the party, and Miguel became the party's first vice president. The leadership decided on Luder as presidential candidate with Antonio Cafiero as his running mate. The union leadership, however, refused to accept Cafiero and replaced him with Iglesias. Many of the party's candidates for the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies also came from Miguel's 62 Organizations. As a result, the PJ went into the 1983 elections as a divided party.

The PJ's defeat in the 1983 elections caused a major reexamination of the role of the party. The verticalists moved to strengthen the unions, preferring to adopt a position of intransigence toward the AlfonsIn government, while the antiverticalists preferred to play the role of a loyal opposition. Ironically, the antiverticalists were strengthened by the party's defeat. The poor showing of the PJ in the traditional Peronist base of support in the industrial areas of Buenos Aires Province was balanced by its victory in 11 interior provinces, where the antiverticalists were stronger. These results gave the antiverticalists a strong voice in the PJ's congressional delegation as well as in the provincial party organizations.

The reformist faction democratized the party's structure, which led it to victory in the 1987 congressional elections. The PJ joined the Christian Democratic International in early 1994 and has advocated a political opening to the developed world and close ties to the United States and Europe. In the 1997 mid-term Congressional elections, however, the PJ lost its majority in the lower house, though it retained a plurality.

By November 2002 a power struggle was under way within the governing Peronist party that could affect the scheduled timetable for the Presidential elections early in 2003. The disarray within the party was a reflection of a wider crisis of confidence in Argentina's politicians, who most Argentines blamed for plunging the once-rich South American nation into its deepest recession on record. The dispute involved two leaders of the Peronist party, Argentina's current President Eduardo Duhalde, and former President Carlos Menem, who wanted to return to power. Menem governed Argentina for 10 years, during which he tamed hyperinflation and promoted economic reforms that brought prosperity to this South American nation.

At the heart of the struggle was the party's ideology. Under dictator Peron, the party was founded on an alliance between trade unions and the disenfranchised. It promoted large welfare programs, and increased state control over the economy. When Menem became president, he changed the party's direction and adopted the free-market-free-trade reforms advocated by Washington. However, Duhalde, a more traditional Peronist, is skeptical of this model, and more nationalistic. Like many Argentines, he blamed the country's financial collapse on the policies of Menem, whose government was tainted by widespread corruption.

In 2003 the party did not select a candidate and three candidates were running under smaller party flags. One of the strongest candidates is Carlos Menem, who served as president for 10 years and is blamed by many people here for the country's economic problems. His campaign posters refer to him as a known entity, and that was indeed one of Mr. Menem's key strengths.

Among the candidates who led in public opinion polls were two provincial governors, Nestor Kirchner, of Santa Cruz, and Adolfo Rodriguez-Saa, of San Luis, who are from the same Peronist party as Mr. Menem. Both of the governors ere little known outside their provinces, but both had reputations as effective leaders.

In the first round of the presidential election on April 27, 2003, former President Carlos Menem (PJ) won 24.3% of the vote, Santa Cruz Governor Nestor Kirchner (PJ) won 22%, followed by smaller party/alliance candidates Ricardo Lopez Murphy with 16.4% and Elisa Carrio with 14.2%. Menem withdrew from the May 25 runoff election after polls showed overwhelming support for Kirchner in the second round of elections.

The PJ convention in 2004 ended in a stalemate between two main factions: the Kirchneristas (supporting Kirchner) and the Duhaldistas (supporting former president and estranged Kirchner mentor Eduardo Duhalde). In September 2005, a federal judge appointed a trustee to take temporary control of the party and straighten out its internal procedures in order to resolve the conflict.

The delay in the party's reorganization forced various Peronist presidential aspirants in 2007 to run under different banners. CFK, for example, ran as the candidate of the Victory Front (FpV), the coalition first cobbled together in 2003 to elect NK. Roberto Lavagna, who was once Kirchner's Minister of Economy, ran as presidential candidate under another banner while continuing to proclaim himself a Peronist, as did the governor of San Luis, Alberto Rodriguez Saa, another "Peronist."

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Page last modified: 07-01-2015 18:40:48 ZULU