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10-08-2015, 22:36


Fearful of the forces unleashed by the development of industry, the military intervened in Argentinian politics in 1930 and propped up the cattle and wheat oligarchy that had controlled the government since the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1943, restless military officers staged a coup and seized power. But the new regime was not sure how to deal with the working classes. One of its members, Juan Perón (1895–1974), thought that he could manage the workers and used his position as labor secretary in the military government to curry favor with them. He encouraged workers to join labor unions and increased job benefits as well as the number of paid holidays and vacations. But as Perón grew more popular, other army officers began to fear his power and arrested him. An uprising by workers forced the officers to back down, and in 1946, Perón was elected president. Perón pursued a policy of increased industrialization to please his chief supporters—labor and the urban middle class. At the same time, he sought to free Argentina from foreign investors. The government bought the railways; took over the banking, insurance, shipping, and communications industries; and assumed regulation of imports and exports. But Perón’s regime was also authoritarian. His wife, Eva Perón, organized women’s groups to support the government while Perón created fascist gangs, modeled after Hitler’s Storm Troops, that used violence to overawe his opponents. But growing corruption in the Perón government and the alienation of more and more people by the regime’s excesses encouraged the military to overthrow him in September 1955. Perón went into exile in Spain. It had been easy for the military to seize power, but it was harder to rule, especially now that Argentina had a party of Peronistas clamoring for the return of the exiled leader. In the 1960s and 1970s, military and civilian governments (the latter closely watched by the military) alternated in power. When both failed to provide economic stability, military leaders decided to allow Juan Perón to return. Reelected president in September 1973, Perón died one year later. In 1976, the military installed a new regime, using the occasion to kill more than six thousand leftists. With the economic problems still unsolved, the regime tried to divert people’s attention by invading the Falkland Islands in April 1982. Great Britain, which had controlled the islands since the nineteenth century, decisively defeated the Argentine forces. The loss discredited the military and opened the door once again to civilian rule. In 1983, Raúl Alfonsín (b. 1927) was elected president and sought to reestablish democratic processes. In 1989, however, Alfonsín was defeated in the presidential elections by the Peronist candidate, Carlos Saúl Menem (b. 1930). During his first term, the charismatic Menem won broad popularity for his ability to control the army, long an active force in politics, and he was reelected in 1995. But when he sought to control rampant inflation by curbing government spending, rising unemployment and an economic recession cut into his public acclaim. In 1999, Fernando de la Rúa was elected president on a promise to reduce unemployment—now running at nearly 20 percent—and to bring an end to official corruption. But with Argentina suffering from low growth, rising emigration (a growing number of descendants of European settlers were returning to live in Europe), and shrinking markets abroad, the new government soon collapsed, initiating an era of political chaos. In May 2003, Nestor Kirchner (b. 1950) assumed the presidency and sought to revive public confidence in an economy in paralysis.