Isabel Martínez de Perón

Isabel Martínez de Perón
María Estela Martínez de Perón
42nd President of Argentina
In office
29 June 1974 - 24 March 1976
interim until 1 July
Preceded by Juan Perón
Succeeded by Jorge Videla
Head of the Argentine Justicialist Party
In office
1974 - 1975
Preceded by Juan Perón
28th Vice President of Argentina
In office
12 October 1973 - 1 July 1974
President Juan Perón
Preceded by Office Vacant; Vicente Solano Lima most recent office holder
Succeeded by Office Vacant; Víctor Martínez next to hold office
First Lady of Argentina
In office
12 October 1973 – 1 July 1974
Personal details
Born February 4, 1931 (1931-02-04) (age 80)
La Rioja, Argentina
Nationality Argentine
Political party Justicialist
Spouse(s) Juan Perón

María Estela Martínez Cartas de Perón (born February 4, 1931), better known as Isabel Martínez de Perón or Isabel Perón, is a former President of Argentina. She was also the third wife of another former President, Juan Perón. During her husband's third term as president, Isabel served as vice president and following her husband's death in office, Isabel served as president from July 1, 1974 to March 24, 1976. She was the first non-royal female head of state and head of government in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2007, an Argentine judge ordered the arrest of Isabel Perón over the forced disappearance of an activist in February 1976, on the grounds that the disappearance was authorized by her signing of decrees allowing Argentina's armed forces to take action against "subversives".[1] She was arrested near her home in Spain on 12 January 2007.[2] Spanish courts subsequently refused her extradition to Argentina.[3]


Early life

María Estela Martínez Cartas was born in La Rioja, Argentina, into a lower middle-class family, daughter of María Josefa Cartas Olguín and Carmelo Martínez.[4] She dropped out of school after the fifth grade,[5] and in the early 1950s became a nightclub dancer, adopting a variant of her patron saint, Saint Isabel, as her stage name.[6]

Career and marriage

Juan Perón

She met her future husband during his exile in Panama.[6] Juan Perón, who was 35 years her senior, was attracted by her beauty and believed she could provide him with the female companionship he had been lacking since the death of his second wife, Eva Peron.

Perón brought Isabel with him when he moved to Madrid, Spain, in 1960. Authorities in that Roman Catholic nation did not approve of Perón's living arrangements with the young woman, so on November 15, 1961, the former president reluctantly married for a third time.[6]

Early political career

Ambassador Isabel

As Perón resumed an active role in Argentine politics, Isabel acted as a go-between from Spain to South America. Having been deposed in a coup years before, Perón was forbidden from returning to Argentina, so his new wife would travel in his stead.[7] The trade unionist José Alonso became one of her main advisers in Perón's dispute against Steelworkers' leader Augusto Vandor's faction in the General Confederation of Labour (CGT); Alonso and Vandor were both later assassinated in as-yet unexplained circumstances.[7]

José López Rega

Isabel met José López Rega, an occult philosopher and fortune teller, around 1965. She was interested in occult matters (and as president reportedly employed astrological divination to determine national policy),[8] so the two quickly became friends. Under pressure from Isabel, Perón appointed López as her personal secretary; he later founded the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A), a death squad accused of 1,500 crimes in the 1970s.[9]

Rise to power

Héctor Cámpora was nominated by Perón's Justicialist Party to run in the 1973 presidential elections and won. It was, however, generally understood that Perón held the real power; a popular phrase at the time was "Cámpora al gobierno, Perón al poder" (Cámpora in government, Perón in power). Later that year, Perón returned to Argentina, and Cámpora resigned to allow Perón to run for president. In a surprisingly uncontroversial move, he chose Isabel as his nominee for the Vice Presidency to mollify feuding peronist factions, as these could agree on no other running mate. Perón's return from exile was marked by a growing rift between the right and left wings of the Peronist movement. Cámpora represented the left wing, while López Rega represented the right wing. Under López Rega's influence, Juan and Isabel Perón favored the right wing. Isabel had very little in the way of political experience or ambitions and she was a very different personality from Evita, who was more involved with politics and had been denied the post of vice president years earlier.[7]

Perón's victory in the ensuing election was a foregone conclusion, and he won with 62% of the vote. He began his third term on October 12, 1973, with Isabel, as Vice President. However, Perón was in precarious health; by at least one account he was actually senile. Isabel had to take over as Acting President on several occasions.[5]

The presidency

Juan Perón suffered a series of heart attacks on June 28, 1974. Isabel was summoned home from a European trade mission and secretly sworn in as interim president the next day.[7] Perón died on July 1, 1974, less than a year after his third election to the presidency. Isabel formally assumed the office, becoming the first non-royal female head of state and head of government in the Western Hemisphere. She was popularly known as La Presidente. Grammatically, she should have been called La Presidenta, but the constitution only referred to El Presidente. [5]

José López Rega, officially Minister of Social Welfare, broadly vetted Mrs. Perón's domestic and foreign policy until protests forced him to flee to Spain in July 1975.

Although she seemed to lack Evita's charisma, the nation at first rallied to the grieving widow in this, her role of a lifetime. Even extremist groups were publicly offering her support, it seemed, following their falling out with Juan Perón between May and June. Mrs. Perón, however, abruptly canceled a full agenda of meetings with these people, preferring to entertain the likes of Romania's Nicolae Ceauşescu, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and the Shah of Iran. The goodwill her husband's death had left her soon dissipated. Following a string of mysterious murders, public threats from leftist extremists and a wave of industrial strikes in September, 1974, she became unpopular for the first time since the public had become acquainted with her.[10]

Her indolence aside, the real source of contention between her and the voters was the increasing undeniability that José López Rega, the Minister of Social Welfare, set the agenda over a broad swath of Mrs. Perón's policies. Vetting nearly all domestic and foreign policy, he became de facto prime minister, something not lost on the Argentine public, then benefiting from Latin America's highest access to newspapers, radio, television and education.[11]

Never liked by the public, and loathed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Armed Forces despite his avowed right-wing views, López Rega was a man considered by others in the halls of power as a borderline psychopath, and, worse, the sport of being the "power behind the throne," which he leveraged to secure business partnerships with Qaddafi, Zairean dictator Joseph Mobutu and the Italian Fascist Licio Gelli.[7]

More of a mystery at time was the extent of the Social Welfare Minister's involvement in the recently formed Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A), a seemingly unstoppable commando unit that, between late 1973 and late 1974, had already carried out nearly 300 murders, including that of former President Arturo Frondizi's brother, Professor Silvio Frondizi, Congressman Rodolfo Ortega Peña, activist Father Carlos Mugica, Buenos Aires Province Assistant Police Chief Julio Troxler, and former Córdoba Vice-Governor Atilio López among others. Other prominent public servants, such as UCR Senator Hipólito Solari Yrigoyen and left-wing University of Buenos Aires President Rodolfo Puiggrós, narrowly escaped Triple A attacks with their lives.[12]

Though the 2006 capture in Spain of Triple A death-squad overseer Rodolfo Almirón (then also in charge of López Rega's and Isabel Perón's personal security) later shed light on the extent of Triple A involvement,[13] the public at the time treated the subject with great trepidation and ambivalence, not least because the majority of the political beat press corps had themselves been intimidated (sometimes, worse).

Atrocities were also being committed by left-wing extremists. Organized in 1968, the mysterious Roman Catholic-oriented anarchist Montoneros had already carried out the murder of former de facto President Pedro Aramburu, popular CGT union Secretary General José Ignacio Rucci, construction workers' union leader Rogelio Coria, former Interior Minister Arturo Mor Roig and U.S. Consul John Egan, among other murders and kidnappings. Throughout 1974, moreover, the appearance of a new, nearly equally violent Trotskyite group, the ERP, sped the vicious cycle of violence. Having gained notoriety after the murder of FIAT executive Oberdan Sallustro, they began the year with a violent assault on the Azul barracks and murdered, among others, criminal court Judge Jorge Quiroga and the publisher of La Plata's centrist El Día, David Kraiselburd, as well as kidnapping Esso executive Victor Samuelson. Freed for a ransom of US$12 million, his kidnapping ignited what would become a rash of such crimes.[14]

Following the murder of Buenos Aires Police Chief Alberto Villar (one of López Rega's closest collaborators in the Triple A, as it turned out) and his wife, as well as amid increasing activity by the ERP in the Province of Tucumán, Mrs. Perón was persuaded to declare a state of siege on November 6 (suspending, among other rights, Habeas Corpus). Operation Independence was then initiated in Tucumán on February 5, 1975. This military campaign gained notoriety for the brutality it exacted on not only the violent; but also elected officials, magistrates and University of Tucumán faculty (even secondary school teachers).[12]

The Peronists' own political mainstay (the labor movement) was also subject to the "subversive" labels and consequent reprisals. The November 1974 election of a left-wing union shop steward at a Villa Constitución steel mill and its disapproval by steelworkers' leader Lorenzo Miguel (a leading figure in the paramount CGT), resulted in a brutal March 20, 1975 police assault on the facility. The raid, executed jointly with Triple A heavies, led to the "disappearance" of many of the 300 workers arrested.[15]

Mrs. Perón swears in new Labor Minister Carlos Ruckauf. Instability and power struggles led to 28 cabinet changes in her 21 months in office.

López Rega, meanwhile, had many of the most competent policy makers Mrs. Perón had inherited from her husband's brief last turn at the presidency dismissed; by May, 1975, both Economy Minister José Ber Gelbard and Central Bank President Alfredo Gómez Morales had been replaced with López Rega loyalists.[14] Stacking the State Intelligence Secretariat (SIDE) with Fascists loyal to him, this policy led the corrupt agency to engage in unprecedented intrigue, culminating in the kidnapping of Jorge and Juan Born, prominent local executives who paid US$60 million for their release (a world record at the time). Using contacts from among the Montoneros' many double agents (allegedly including the leader, Mario Firmenich), the agency kept the Born brothers in a known SIDE safehouse for nine months until their June 1975 release without public suspicion of SIDE involvement, a successful false flag operation that led to others (albeit less ambitious ones) in the following months.[12]

Faced with record trade and budget deficits, though with an otherwise stable economy, the new Economy Minister, Celestino Rodrigo proceeded to apply "shock therapy," ordering a surprise halving of the peso's value and, by forcing those who could to stampede towards the U.S. dollar, destroying the fragile financial balance that had been maintained to that point. Consumer prices doubled between May and August, alone, and though sharp, mandatory wage hikes had been negotiated between the government, labor and employers, the resulting shock (known as the Rodrigazo) ignited protest across Argentina, including a two-day general strike by the CGT (the first ever against a Peronist administration). Following a riot in front of his offices, the now hated José López Rega was hastily appointed Ambassador to Spain and boarded a flight into exile.[14]

Fall from power

Ítalo Lúder, whose September 1975, designation as acting president raised hopes that Mrs. Perón's leave of absence might be permanent.

López Rega left the country July 19; shortly afterwards, Mrs. Perón dismissed his protégés in the Economy Ministry, Celestino Rodrigo, and in the Armed Forces High Command, General Alberto Numa Laplane, whom she replaced with General Jorge Videla, a quiet career officer with an uneventful military record. A sudden fall in business investment had by then sent the GDP into a sharp recession (practically cancelling growth chalked up during the prosperous 1974) and her appointment of a pragmatic economist, Peronist wheelhorse Antonio Cafiero and her September 13 announcement of a leave of absence relieved ample sectors of society, from labor unions to business. Designating Senate President Ítalo Lúder, a moderately conservative Peronist, in her stead, it was widely hoped that her leave would become permanent; but, it was not to be.[11]

Having claimed over 800 lives, violence between Trotskyite and Fascist extremists had abated somewhat since López Rega's July exile; the Montoneros, however, began a series of audacious attacks on military installations, including August dynamiting of a nearly finished Navy destroyer near the port of La Plata and the attack on a military base in Formosa Province on October 5. To make matters worse, these groups and (in a bid to control the agenda), the Triple A themselves, both began taking to midnight lightning strikes against civilian targets (such as banks, buses, yachts, parking lots and restaurants), each blaming the other and, as it turned out, both right.[12] This, in any case, forced society into a state of terror very much alien to Argentina's upwardly mobile majority. Anxious to placate the exasperated public, hard-line labor leaders (particularly the steelworkers' Lorenzo Miguel) and most other Peronists, on October 6 she and Lúder signed new measures giving blanket immunity for the Armed Forces that they may (in her words) "annihilate the subversives." The measure won her just enough support to return from "sick leave" and on October 16, (the day before Peronists' historically central "Loyalty Day"), Mrs. Perón appeared at the balcony of the Casa Rosada, back at her post.[10]

Economy Minister Antonio Cafiero, trusted by labor and loyal to Mrs. Perón, could not leverage his credibility into any meaningful compromise; his February 1976 dismissal was followed by a new wave of hyperinflation.

This was, in effect, an extension nationwide of the state of emergency that had been imposed in Tucumán. That operation's military success and the president's November 17 announcement that elections (scheduled for March 1977) would be held in November 1976 instead, again brought renewed hope that an increasingly rumored coup d'état could yet be averted.[12]

Anxiety over inflation, meanwhile, continued to dominate daily life. Monthly inflation did slow from the (then-record) 35% logged in July to 10-15% monthly between September and January 1976 (a level more familiar to the Argentine consumer); but, though the mid-year recession had reduced the trade deficit significantly, the government's 1975 budget had been derailed by the crisis and by earlier commitments to cancel its then still-modest foreign debt, something which, even so cost Argentina US$2.5 billion that year, alone. The resulting budget deficits (over US$5 billion, in 1975) began to reassert pressure on prices after November, leading to hoarding and shortages.[11]

The appointment of General Héctor Fautario, a loyalist of Mrs. Perón, to the branch's high command, fueled broader in the Air Force for action against her administration, and on December 18, General Jesús Capellini attempted a coup d'état by seizing the Móron Air Force base. The military joint chiefs, however, who obtained Fautario's dismissal, stayed the mutiny's hand, secretly concluding that the timing was premature. Partly in response, the nearly defeated ERP besieged the important Monte Chingolo Armory on December 23. This, the most violent among the numerous such attacks in 1975, cost over 100 lives and marked the end of the ERP's violent campaign.[10]

Economy Minister Antonio Cafiero was dismissed on February 4, 1976 and, within days, the head of the National Business Council, Julio Broner, left Argentina with his family, altogether. CGT Secretary General Casildo Herrera followed suit, announcing from exile that he had "erased" himself. Cafiero's replacement, Eugenio Mondelli, announced a new devaluation of the shredded peso, causing prices to jump by over 60% in two months. Near defeat, though still active, the Montoneros detonated a bomb at Army headquarters on March 15, killing 29. Soon afterward, allegations surfaced that Mrs. Perón had embezzled large sums from a government-run charity into her personal accounts in Spain. The allegations destroyed her remaining support in Congress, and the UCR initiated impeachment proceedings against the President with the support of many in her own Justicialist Party. However, it was almost taken for granted that the military would throw her out of office before any impeachment trial took place; indeed, the media were openly counting down the days to the expected coup d'etat. As it turned out, even as the joint chiefs of staff were professing loyalty to La Presidente, they were secretly planning "Operation Aries."[12][14]

Calling it a day at the Casa Rosada after working late into the evening of March 23, 1976, in the hope of averting an impending business lockout, Mrs. Perón celebrated her executive assistant's birthday with staff. Alerted to suspicious military exercises, she boarded the presidential helicopter shortly after midnight. It did not fly her to the Quinta de Olivos presidential residence as she intended; but, instead to an Air Force base in nearby Jorge Newbery International Airport, where she was formally deposed and arrested.[14]

Detention and exile

President Raúl Alfonsín hosts Mrs. Perón during her brief 1984 stay in Argentina. Her call for cooperation with Alfonsín did not prevent a future wave of strikes, however.

The majority of Peronist officials in the national, provincial, and municipal governments were promptly arrested, and many would join the ranks of the "disappeared" during the subsequent Dirty War, including numerous right-wing Peronists.[12] Isabel Perón herself remained under house arrest in Villa La Angostura and other secluded locations for five years, eventually sent into exile in Spain in 1981. She continued to serve as official head of the Peronist Justicialist Party until her resignation in 1985, nearly a decade after her fall from power. Though there were some who desired her return and wished for her return to power, she refused to stand for election to the presidency. She lived in Madrid, maintained close links with Francisco Franco's family, and sometimes went to Marbella, a Spanish coastal city.[13]

Following the restoration of democracy in Argentina, she was pardoned from charges of corruption during her presidency and returned in May 1984 to participate in policy talks arranged by President Raúl Alfonsín and opposition leaders. Still nominally head of Perón's Justicialist Party, she played a constructive role in the talks - supporting cooperation between the restive CGT labor union (her party's political base) and Alfonsín. The talks concluded with a weak agreement, and she resigned from her post as titular head of the party.[16] Mrs. Perón resumed residence in Spain under a very low profile.

Arrest in Spain

In November 2006, a judge in Mendoza, Argentina demanded testimony from Isabel, along with other Peronist ministers of her government, in a case involving forced disappearances during her presidency. On January 12, 2007, she was arrested in Madrid. In particular, she was charged by the Argentine authorities with the disappearance of Héctor Aldo Fagetti Gallego on February 25, 1976, and her issuance of decrees over her signature calling to "annihilate … subversive elements throughout the country".[2] The Nunca Mas ("Never Again") report released in 1984 by the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons recorded 600 disappearances and 500 assassinations under the Peronist governments from 1973 to 1976, and it is today acknowledged that the Triple A alone murdered about 600 people.[17] The extradition to Argentina was denied in Spain on March 28, 2008.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Warrant for ex-Argentine leader, BBC, January 12, 2007
  2. ^ a b Isabel Peron's arrest signals shift in Argentina, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2007
  3. ^ a b Extradition of Isabel Perón To Argentina Is Rejected By Court New York Times. 29 April 2008
  4. ^ Binayán Carmona, Narciso. Maria Estela Martinez Cartas said one day: Zanga Cutiricutanga, that words were a tipic words in that years. Historia genealógica Argentina. EMECE, 1999, p.578.
  5. ^ a b c Buckman, Robert T. (2007). The World Today Series: Latin America 2007. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: Stryker-Post Publications. ISBN 978-1-887985-84-0. 
  6. ^ a b c Eloy Martínez, Tomás. La Novela de Perón. Random House, 1985.
  7. ^ a b c d e Page, Joseph. Perón: A Biography. Random House, 1983.
  8. ^ Ball, Deirdre (ed.): Insight Guides - Argentina. Second edition. Hong Kong: APA Publications (HK) Ltd. 1992, p. 47
  9. ^ 'Argentinian death squad leader' arrested in Spain, The Guardian, December 30, 2006
  10. ^ a b c Crawley, Eduardo. A House Divided. St. Martin's Press, 1985.
  11. ^ a b c Encyclopedia Britannica, Book of the Year, 1976: Argentina.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Andersen, Martin. Dossier Secreto. Westview Press, 1993.
  13. ^ a b Detienen en Valencia al ex dirigente de la Triple A argentina Almirón Sena, El Mundo, December 28, 2006 (Spanish)
  14. ^ a b c d e Lewis, Paul. The Crisis of Argentine Capitalism. University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
  15. ^ Río Negro online: propuesta a Acindar
  16. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica. Book of the Year, 1985: Argentina.
  17. ^ L'ancienne présidente argentine Isabel Peron arrêtée à Madrid, à la demande de Buenos Aires, Le Monde, January 13, 2007 (French).
  • Guareschi, Roberto (Nov. 5, 2005). "Not quite the Evita of Argentine legend". New Straits Times, p. 21.
Political offices
Preceded by
Vicente Solano Lima
Vice President of Argentina
Succeeded by
Víctor Martínez
Preceded by
Juan Perón
President of Argentina
Succeeded by
Jorge Videla

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  • Perón, Isabel Martínez de — orig. María Estela Martínez Cartas (n. 4 feb.1931, La Rioja, Argentina). Tercera mujer de Juan Perón y presidenta de Argentina (1974–76). Nacida en una familia de clase media baja, era bailarina cuando conoció a Perón en 1955 o 1956. Se casaron… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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