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President Isabel de Perón - 1974-1976

By early 1974 the Peronist restoration had lost the support of the trade union rank and file and its more militant followers among students and intellectuals. Peron was nevertheless able to hold onto his office until he died suddenly on July 1, 1974.

Juan Peron's death precipitated a crisis that could be handled neither by his wife and vice president nor by her adviser, José Lopez Rega. Isabel de Perón was inexperienced in politics and only carried Perón's name. Isabel, whose legal name is Maria Estela Martinez, was a cabaret dancer who met Juan Peron in Panama in 1955 during the deposed president's exile. She never gained the popular adoration enjoyed by Peron's second wife, the famed Evita, who died of cancer in 1952 during a previous Peron administration.

Lopez Rega was described as a man with numerous occult interests, including astrology, and a supporter of dissident Catholic groups. A devotee of the occult known as "The Warlock," Lopez Rega was thought to have exercised a Rasputin-like influence over Isabel Peron,

They took power, however, and surprised even Conservative political sectors with an authoritarian, ultraconservative government program designed to end subversion through the use of civilian paramilitary groups, the largest of which was known as the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Alianza Argentina Anticomunista — AAA), created by Lopez Rega.

The new administration also sought to eliminate leftist influence in education, particularly at the University of Buenos Aires, through the appointment of a group of Conservative officials to the Ministry of Education and to the University of Buenos Aires. Economic policies were directed at restructuring wages and currency devaluations in order to attract foreign investment capital to Argentina.

The program soon led to labor reaction. By mid-1975 devaluations had prompted a price explosion that was resented even by organized workers whose wages had benefited from increases. At that point the CGT requested an across-the-board 100-percent wage hike that was rejected by the government, thus prompting labor opposition. Threats of a general strike led to a reshuffling of Isabel's cabinet that failed to satisfy either the CGT or the military leadership, whose allegiance the administration had been so eager to attract.

In response to the economic chaos and the lack of government political control of the country, terrorist attacks began to rise. These were led by leftist organizations such as the Montoneros and the People's Revolutionary Army, as well as by the AAA. A general feeling of uneasiness grew as inflation skyrocketed to some 350 percent by the end of 1975.

Lopez Rega was ousted as Isabel de Perón's adviser in June 1975; General Numa Laplane, the commander in chief of the army who had supported the administration through the Lopez Rega period, was replaced by General Jorge Rafael Videla in August 1975. On Christmas Eve, 1975, Videla issued an ultimatum calling for the government "to adopt decisions to resolve the country's problems."

As her government struggled with the problems of a declining agricultural production, a ballooning budget deficit, the beginning of hyper inflation, and two active guerrilla movements (The Peoples' Revolutionary Army, and the Montoneros), the military overthrew her government. On March 24, 1976, exactly 90 days after the ultimatum was issued and shortly after the CGT had demanded Isabel de Perón's resignation, the armed forces removed her from the presidency. She was held under house arrest for several years before moving to Spain in 1981.

In a message to the nation, the military junta leader, General Jorge Videla, attempted to justify the coup d'etat stating that the armed forces ended "the gravest crisis in our nation's contemporary history.... National authority had reached a phase of disintegration leading to a feudalist Argentina on the way to extinction."

Unlike previous military governments which were generally satisfied to manipulate or disrupt economic or social programs it did not approve of, or end the term of a government with a political ideology counter it its own, these military leaders set out to reform society through its proclaimed Process of National Reorganization (or El Proceso). For years, the carnage wrought by the military regime pushed into relative obscurity the crimes committed under Ms. Peron's government.

Peron testified in 1997 in Madrid as a witness in a Spanish case probing crimes during the military dictatorship. She said she recalled approving a law authorizing the "annihilation" of leftist guerrillas, but did not remember details. She also said that she was unaware of human rights abuses that began during her tenure and expanded after the coup.

There was a push by the government of the incumbent President, Nestor Kirchner, to punish former members of the military regimes for their crimes. The arrest of Isabela Peron in January 2007, then aged 75, marked the expansion of Argentina's human rights investigations beyond dictatorship-era crimes to death squads that terrorized the nation prior to the 1976 coup. Prosecutors say at least 1,500 people were killed or went missing as a result of the Argentine Anti-communist Alliance, or "Triple A," death squad during Peron's rule, what some called the earliest origins of the dirty war.

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