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ARGENTINA: More Thunder than Blood

3 minute read

On the balcony of Buenos Aires’ Government House, in view of 100,000 Argentines packed in the Plaza de Mayo, President Juan Perón brushed away a tear with the back of his hand and nervously lit a cigarette.

Theoretically, the nation was waiting in suspense for his resignation to “guarantee peace”—an offer announced that morning by the General Confederation of Labor and the Peronista Party. But all except the most simple-minded Argentine knew that this was only a maneuver. So it was no surprise when Perón said, “I have decided to withdraw my resignation.” What was surprising was the ferocity of his assault on his enemies, identified only as that old whipping boy of Perón balcony speeches, “the oligarchy.”

State of Siege. “From now on,” cried Perón, “let us establish this as permanent conduct for our movement: he who tries to disturb order in opposition to the constituted authorities . . . may be slain by any Argentine . . . The order of the day for every Peronista, whether as an individual or as a member of an organization, is to answer any violent action with an action still more violent. And when one of our people falls, five of them will fall.” Brusquely disposing of his policy of “pacification,” adopted after the bloody military revolt of June 16, Perón thundered: “We have offered peace and they have rejected it. Now we offer them battle, [and] this fight that we have started will not end until we have annihilated them.”

Perón followed up by clamping a state of siege on Buenos Aires. According to the hardboiled new regulations, the security forces may use “maximum severity and energy” in dealing with a wide array of political offenses, from trafficking in arms to spreading rumors.

The only violent deeds that followed Perón’s violent words were scattered, anticlimactic, nonfatal episodes of brick-throwing, tar-splashing and bad-aim pistol-shooting in the provinces. No fatalities directly linked with the Plaza de Mayo show were reported except for the deaths of seven persons who ran afoul of high-tension wires while riding atop a crowded train bound for Buenos Aires.

Deadening Fear. Apparently Perón had several aims in staging his melodrama : to whip up his followers’ flagging loyalty, excuse his scrapping of “pacification,” scare the opposition meeting-holders and leaflet-passers. Most important, perhaps, he may have wanted to forestall any new military move to get rid of him by reminding the high brass—especially in the navy and air force—that he can still draw big, ugly crowds to the Plaza de Mayo.

Whether or not Perón cowed any restive generals or admirals, he effectively put a halt to the verbal street-corner opposition that flourished during the “pacification” interlude. The night after the speech, Buenos Aires was quiet, deadened by fear.

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