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Military


Perón's Second Administration, 1952-55

In 1951 Perón's candidacy for a second term did not please all sectors of Argentine society. Before the elections in November, a military rebellion broke out in Buenos Aires. Although it was easily quelled, the government declared a state of siege, which was not lifted until 1955. In June 1952 Perón was inaugurated for his second term, and the next month Evita died of cancer. With her death an important phase of Peronism came to an end. The Peronist legislative majorities in both houses of Congress and its control of most governorships, as well as the press, made Peronism pervasive throughout Argentina. Perón used his almost complete control of a rapidly growing government bureaucracy to lure the working class away from the old power structure.

The years 1951 and 1952 saw a Peronist attempt to co-opt students through a government-sponsored university reform that abolished admission requirements for all candidates to higher education. Heavy-handed Peronist control of the university system provoked reaction among students, which was met by harsh repression and led to the creation of a new anti-Peronist front among intellectuals.

The improvement of financial conditions was halted by an economic slump that was prompted by bad harvests, an increase in internal meat consumption in Argentina — thus decreasing meat available for export — and low international prices for grain. The 50-percent growth of the Argentine trade deficit between 1951 and 1952 reflected government policies that promoted increased consumption among workers and an inordinate growth of small enterprises and that discouraged capital investments. To counter-balance the bleak prospects for improving the trade balance in 1952 the government decided to encourage agriculture and the pastoral industries. The end of the Korean war in July 1953, however, caused a drop in international agricultural prices.

The industrial elites thus began to press the government for another change of economic policy, one that would concentrate on raising industrial output, reducing workers' real wages, and increasing capital investments. In 1951 the government created the General Economic Confederation (Confederación General Económica—CGE) to regulate production, industry, and commerce. In 1955 the CGE and the CGT negotiated a productivity pact that established the goals of both organizations: interaction between employers and employees; modernization of the enterprises; rational utilization of the labor force; and wage increases in response to increases in productivity.

Peron's dream of creating an "organized community" had been put forth in a 1953 law that regulated collective bargaining on the basis of solidarity instead of opposition between management and labor. These were palliative measures, however, because the much needed capital accumulation required the exploitation of the productive capacity of the labor force. Despite the favorable terms of the 1953 legislation, Argentina was able to attract a total of only US$11 million of foreign capital investments in industry, mining, and petroleum development during that year.

United States, Italian, and German firms took advantage of the protective tariffs and developed high-cost automobile, tractor, and chemical plants, whereas Argentine energy needs were met by the establishment of new power plants. In March 1955 Argentina signed contracts with the Standard Oil Company of California for the exploration — which proved unsuccessful — of oil in Patagonia.

While Peronist support stemmed from its alliance with workers, domestic and foreign industrialists, and the bureaucracy, opposition to Peron grew out of the economic hardships faced by the discontented elements of the middle classes — the armed forces, students, and the church — and the increasing political and economic pressures from the United States, whose presence in Latin America increased substantially after the end of World War II.

The anti-Peronist movement found an ally in the Roman Catholic Church, especially after Perón's speech in November 1954 in which he charged the church with anti-government activities based on its increasing involvement in political affairs and labor relations. Perón had attracted the youth to his government by sponsoring student activities, sports, and outdoor gatherings, thus undermining the church's control of the youth movement. He also removed religious instruction from public schools, introduced legislation to legalize prostitution and divorce, and in May 1955 called for the separation of church and state. On June 12, 1955, the church organized a mass demonstration for the celebration of Corpus Christi that was attended by more than 100,000 people.

A few days later, the seeds of rebellion incited the anti-Peronist air force to attack the Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada, leaving more than 200 people dead. The revolt was soon crushed by the army, however. These events were followed by Peronist attacks on church property, which were followed by Vatican sanctions.

On September 16 the navy revolted with the support of army battalions in the interior, and from Córdoba, General Eduardo Lonardi proclaimed a "Liberating Revolution." A military junta in Buenos Aires took control of the government on September 18, and Perón fled into exile. On September 23 Lonardi was nominated provisional president until Argentina's constitutional democratic institutions were restored. Peron's ouster showed that his populist administration had proved incapable of responding to the needs of the dominant classes in Argentina.





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