By Lisa Tilley
ISABEL PERÓN, one time president of Argentina, was arrested at her home in Madrid in Spain on Friday January 12 on suspicion of human rights abuses. María Estela Martínez de Perón, Isabelita to her supporters, widow of Argentine political giant Juan Domingo Perón, is wanted in her home country to stand trial for sanctioning political murders committed between 1974 and 1976 while she was president.
Spanish police arrested Mrs Perón at the request of Argentine judge Raúl Acosta – the latest judge to use international legal mechanisms to call to account those implicated in political crimes. After 25 years of virtual anonymity in Madrid, Mrs Perón is the most recent to have her impunity challenged in such a way.
Acosta’s petition alleges that during the short lived presidency of the former nightclub dancer, Isabel Peron rubberstamped the extrajudicial execution of leftist subversives at the hands of extreme right-wing death squad the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance) or Triple A. The arrest warrant was issued on behalf of one particular individual, Hector Aldo Fagetti Gallego whose forced disappearance in 1976 was the work of the Triple A, allegedly with the signed approval of Isabel Perón.
Perón was arrested and subsequently released on the condition she report to police every 15 days while Argentina applies for her extradition. However, incensed at her provisional liberty, a further Argentine judge, Norberto Oyarbide, has issued a warrant for her arrest. In the second judicial resolution in one week against the former president, Oyarbide has ordered the “detention [of Isabel Perón] at both national and international levels.”
In reference to the case made by Acosta, members of the Argentine press have expressed doubt Isabel will be found guilty. She is accused of signing a decree authorising the killing of Hector Fagetti, but reports suggest the evidence for this is thin and will be easily disproved.
In contrast, the case made by Oyarbide has more substance – numerous witness testimonies link her with deaths and disappearances. Furthermore, Oyarbide alleges that during a cabinet meeting on August 8, 1974, Isabel projected images of “subversives” who were to be eliminated, including that of ex-police chief Julio Troxler. One month later, Troxler was found dead in a Buenos Aires street.
The Triple A had operated under Juan Perón’s third and final presidency but continued under Isabel’s government – during which time the most killings were perpetrated by the group. Established by José López Rega, incongruously the then government minister for social welfare, the group killed 428 people, according to a recent investigation. However, the true figure is probably over a thousand.
Villain or Victim?
How the cabaret dancer became president and commander-in-chief of a right-wing death squad
WHEN the ex-president of Argentina, the man who gave his name to an ideology – Peronism, met a glamorous cabaret dancer of less than half his age during a period of exile in Panama, eyebrows were barely raised. Juan Perón’s penchant for alluring young women was no secret, but few expected Isabel to supersede his former wives and take the balcony of the Casa Rosada as the first female president of Argentina. During the two years sometimes referred to as el desgobierno – the non-government – she presided over the nation as well as over a thousand or more political killings. Now, at the age of 75, the past has begun to call her to account.
Populism into fascism
The question was puzzled over for decades: how could Peronism (synonymous with populism) be so precariously perched on the fence between left and right? How could one ideology encompass the swathes of population so loathing of one another? The answer came in 1973: it could not. Perón was returning from 18 years of Spanish exile to take the presidency for the third and final time, and the area around the Ezeiza Airport near Buenos Aires was swarming with a reported three million citizens. They were all hoping for a glimpse of the man who inspired the most political fervour in the history of Argentina.
Then, unexpectedly, the day darkened and Triple A snipers opened fire on the crowd, definitively severing the Peronist left from the Peronist right. A reported 13 people were killed, and over 300 injured but the massacre has remained without an extensive investigation or official death toll.
Perón managed barely an ailing year in office as tensions escalated and, when he was ordered 24 hour rest by medics, he left his wife in charge of the polarised nation.
After Perón’s death his right hand woman (personally and ideologically) was thrust into the Argentine presidency without government experience during one of the most tumultuous periods in Argentine history. Lacking the charisma of Perón’s former wife Eva (remembered affectionately by the diminutive Evita), she struggled in the position for two years until relieved of duty by a bloodless military coup d’etat led by Jorge Videla.
In a phenomenon peculiar to Peronism, Isabel assumed a position in the highest echelons of government in a similar way to Evita had before her timely death from cancer in 1952. The sight of a glamorous woman gesticulating over the balcony of the unlikely pink presidential palace the Casa Rosada seemed to inspire unprecedented passion amongst the populace.
However, Isabel’s time in office was already defined by the Ezeiza massacre and the widening void between left and right. Her previous experience as a night club dancer and tendency toward glamorous exploits left her ill-prepared for presidential office but in the end she was a well placed pawn of the true powers of the extreme right. Argentine political author and academic, Fernando A Iglesias, is of the opinion Isabel was a puppet of López Rega. He suggests Perón appointed her as he did not wish to choose between a left or right-wing candidate. What was unfortunate was that her limited mental capacity left her easily corrupted by the far-right.