One of the military coup leaders, populist Juan Domingo Perón, becomes Minister of Labor. Campaigning among workers with promises of land, higher wages, and social security, he wins a decisive victory in the 1946 presidential elections. Rocky relations with the U.S. improve when Argentina, accused of aiding the Axis powers, signs a compact among American nations for mutual aid against aggressors.
Perón turns Argentina into a corporatist country in which powerful organized interest groups negotiate for positions and resources. The embodiment of populism, Perón incites nationalist passions. His wife, Eva Duarte, manages labor relations and social services. The adoration the masses have for "Evita" greatly helps her husband's reelection campaign.
Perón wins reelection in 1952. He owes his victory in large part to the suppression of opposition, which becomes increasingly critical of his government. The independent daily "La Prensa" is expropriated. Perón continues to pursue policies aimed at giving an economic and political voice to the working class. But Evita's death brings decreased support for the president.
Dissidents in the Navy launch a rebellion in Buenos Aires that a loyal Army crushes. Tensions increase until a few months later when insurgent groupings within all three branches of the armed forces stage a concerted rebellion. After three days of bloody civil war, Perón resigns and goes into exile. The insurgent leader Lonardi takes office as president, promising to restore democratic government.
General Lonardi's failure to suppress Peronism provokes another coup d'état within two months. A new military regime crushes a Peronist revolt, arresting thousands, executing many. From exile, Perón encourages Peronists, forbidden to function as a party, to cast blank ballots in the presidential election. Blanks exceed the votes of any single party, but Arturo Frondizi wins.
Having won the presidency with Peronist and Communist support, Frondizi, of the somewhat leftist Intransigent Radical Party, restores representative government and achieves some economic stability with the aid of foreign loans and credits. His popularity rapidly declines as those who supported his candidacy return their allegiance to their own parties.
Frondizi is deposed by military leaders who perceive him as too lenient toward Peronists. Senate president José María Guido leads a government dominated by the armed forces until national elections in 1963. Barred from participating, Peronists and Communists watch as Arturo Illia, a moderate of the People's Radical Party, wins the presidency. Illia announces a program of national recovery.
Illia's government is short-lived; a military coup removes him in 1966. The junta names succeeding presidents, the third of whom, General Alejandro Augustín, takes office in 1971. His military government fails to suppress violent strikes, student riots, and terrorist activities. Vocal Peronists nominate Perón for the presidency. As he remains in exile, his stand-in Hector Cámpora takes his place.
Cámpora wins the general elections but resigns within months, facing escalating terrorism and violent divisions between moderate and leftist Peronists. An ailing Perón returns as president; his second wife, Isabel, is vice president. She succeeds him upon his death in 1974. Her administration is undermined by worsening economic and political conditions. A military junta deposes her in 1976.
The military junta in power wages a "dirty war" against the left. Lieutenant-General Jorge Videla, the self-proclaimed president, amends the constitution and bans union activity. His successors, Generals Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri, promise to return to democracy but continue his policies. Some 12,000 people suspected of leftist leanings "disappear." Thousands more are confirmed killed.
General Galtieri, seeking popular support and wishing to distract attention from the deteriorating economy, orders the invasion of the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) over which Britain has sovereignty. Argentina's humiliating defeat discredits the military regime. Under public pressure, the junta allows national elections. Raúl Alfonsín of the Radical Civic Union wins the presidency.
Argentina returns to constitutional rule. The government attempts to account for the "disappeared," establishes civilian control of the armed forces, and consolidates democratic institutions. Despite restructuring the foreign debt, however, Alfonsín's administration fails to redress the economy. Peronist Carlos Saúl Menem, a flamboyant provincial governor, wins the 1989 national elections.
Menem proves to be a decisive leader with a controversial agenda. He institutes a major overhaul of domestic policy, issuing decrees when Congress cannot reach consensus on his proposed reforms. He improves economic conditions, but the political arena becomes increasingly corrupt. A reformed Constitution limits the president's powers somewhat but enables him to seek, and win, reelection.
Political infighting and corruption weigh heavily on Menem's second term. Top officials resign, some amid scandal and others in protest of government austerity. The two main opposition parties, FREPASO and UCR, form a coalition promising to uphold economic reform while fighting unemployment, crime, and corruption. Their presidential candidate, Fernando de la Rúa, wins the 1999 elections.
De la Rúa's attempt to project an image of austerity and intolerance for corruption fails. The economy does not rebound, and a kickback scandal taints his administration. He rearranges the Cabinet, provoking the resignation of the vice president. As the social, economic and political crisis escalates, de la Rua resigns and an interim government led by Adolfo Rodriguez Saa is in place for a week.
Peronist leader Eduardo Duhalde is chosen by Congress as Argentina's third president in as many weeks. He devalues the peso and presides over the apparent disintegration of the economic system. He manages to retain power despite popular protests, international creditor pressures, and opposition maneuvers, and calls fresh elections for April 2003 in which he hopes to consolidate his position.
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