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Juan Domingo Perón, Argentinian president and populist demagogue

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Controversial, but undisputedly popular former Argentinian president and founder of the Peronist movement, Juan Domingo Perón, was born in the province of Buenos Aires on October 8th, 1895 into a family of Spanish, Sardinian, British and French Basque origin.

From 1904 to 1911 Perón attended a Catholic boarding school directed by his grandmother in the capital and then spent two years at the National Military College, where he excelled less in his studies than in athletics.

He served at different posts around the vast territory, before being named in 1931 to the Superior War School’s faculty, where he taught military history and published a number of papers on the subject.

After serving as military attaché in the Embassy in Santiago de Chile from 1936 to 1938 and a brief return to his teaching post, Perón in 1939 was assigned by the Argentinian War Ministry to study mountain warfare in the Italian Alps.

He took the chance to attend the University of Turin for a semester and served as a military observer in countries across Europe, which offend him the possibility to closely study Fascism, National Socialism and other authoritarian forms of governments across the Old Continent.

Perón developed the concept that what he considered social democracy could be a viable alternative to liberal democracy, which he viewed as a veiled form of plutocracy. He returned to his homeland in 1941 and became an Army skiing instructor in the Andes border region.

As a member of the United Officers’ Group (Grupo de Oficiales Unidos, GOU), a nationalist secret society, in 1943 he participated in a coup d’état led by General Arturo Rawson (1885-1952) against democratically elected conservative president Ramón Castillo (1873-1944).

In his positions as Minister of Labor, Perón established the first national social insurance system and the National Institute of Compensation, which implemented a minimum wage and collected data on living standards, prices, and wages. The General Confederation of Labor of the Argentine Republic which brought him to power grew even stronger.

On October 22nd, 1945 he married prospective actress María Eva Duarte, better known as Evita (1919-1952), who was the leading force behind the introduction of women’s suffrage on September 9th, 1947.

He got elected president on the Labor Party ticket on February 24th, 1946, changing the Constitution to make possible his reelection on November 11th, 1951.

On September 10th, 1955, Perón himself was overthrown during the Liberating Revolution (Revolución Libertadora) headed by generals Eduardo Lonardi (1896-1956) and Pedro Aramburu (1903-1970). He barely escaped alive to Paraguay and lived in Venezuela, Panama and Spain.

On May 20th, 1973, Perón finally returned to Argentina. Recently elected president Héctor José Cámpora (19091980) stepped down about two months later and Perón, as the candidate of the Justicialist Party he founded in 1947, won the new elections held on September 23rd.

His short third term lasted from October 12th, 1973 until his death on July 1st, 1974. His quite unpopular third wife, former nightclub dancer Isabel Martínez de Perón (born 1931) assumed the vice-presidency and thus succeeded him as head of state. The military took over the government on March 24th, 1976 and placed her under house arrest for five years.

About a century ago, Argentina was economically on a par with Germany. Perón’s nine-year rule, in the first half strongly influenced by his glamorous, egocentric and politically ambitious second wife, triggered a tragic spiral of decline due to stagnation and inflation that continues to the present day and is most likely irreversible.

Perón introduced what nowadays would be called left-wing populism. His policies of nationalization, exchange controls, unionization of the labor force, higher taxation and redistribution left a legacy of class envy, strengthened the sense of entitlement and a disregard for the law.

Progressive pioneer Perón implemented the concept of “social justice” in Latin America. By eliminating class struggle, apparently the relations between industrialists and workers changed for the better.

Unfortunately, nowadays in the developed world it’s nothing but as empty term for the unfair, undisciplined redistribution of assets from those who work to those who for whatever reasons don’t.

At the end, in the 21st century both the working and more and more the middle class bear the brunt of its disastrous consequences by enduring a rigid job market and a lack of incentives for creative minds.

The almighty role of the State as the engine of progress that constantly tries in vain to eliminate conflicts inherent to the system has proven to be curse and a heavy burden for the West.

Economic independence, autarky and self-sufficiency all sound tempting, though they imply an appeal to nationalist elements and even xenophobia. Globalization simply has made it redundant.

The appealing phrase “Not allowing the free reign of foreign interests” hides protectionist purposes. The idea of developing a sovereign national industry at all costs to satisfy domestic demand didn’t work in Argentina nor anywhere in the world.

The Supreme Court was heavily politicized, removing a key constraint on his bloated administration. Perón also severely subverted freedoms by nationalizing the broadcasting system, centralizing the unions under his control and monopolizing the supply of newspaper print. Sometimes, he even illegally imprisoned opposition politicians and journalists.

World-famous writer, essayist, poet and translator Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), who headed the national library, was offered the post “poultry inspector” at the Buenos Aires Municipal Wholesale Market.

Before 1989, no serious attempt to change the disastrous economic course was undertaken. Argentina regularly defaulted on its debts and inflation got so bad that step by step 13 zeros were knocked off its currency. Argentinians switched their savings into US dollars and took them abroad. Meanwhile the ablest, the ambitious and the prosperous left for good.

Under President Carlos Menem (born 1930), in charge from 1989 to 1999, inflation was brought down. Market reforms, including privatization, were introduced and the budget deficit cut back. For a while the strategy seemed to be working, though only until the Asian Crisis in 1997.

The national aversion to austerity led to mounting unrest as the deeply entrenched view that the world owed Argentina a living hadn’t gone away. In 2001, the nation passed the point of no return.

Leftist governments usually pursue irreversible change that they believe is in the national interest, but prove to be a delusion brought about by a preference for ideology over experience.

In response to failure, they double down, blaming internal or external saboteurs. Putting their foot on the accelerator, they embark on new, crazy schemes. Everything seems to be dominated by acrimony, demagoguery, corruption and repression.

Countries that Argentina once looked down on, such as Chile, Mexico and Uruguay, have overtaken it in terms of GDP per capita. The example of Venezuela, also once one of the world’s richest countries, shows that things can get much, much worse.

This should be a clear warning to all those who flirt with socialist ideas. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Spain, currently following the Peronist path of destruction, is a very sad example of old mistakes being repeated.

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