Ever since Juan Doming Peron first came to power in 1943, his style of politics has been interwoven into Argentina’s social fabric, as a Peronist party comes to power again, what does this mean for the country?
Peronism is a political and social movement which continues to play an important role in Argentina’s political landscape. As a social movement it unifies many different sectors of society. As a political party it is regarded as championing workers’ rights, calling on the support of labour unions and focusing on national industry. Historically it has incorporated beliefs from both sides of the political divide from radicals and leftists to conservatives. Peronism’s three tenants are widely regarded as political sovereignty, economic independence and social justice.
In October 2019 Alberto Fernandez won the presidential election with the Peronist Party, Frente de Todos as the political pendulum swung from right to left. He is set to assume the presidency in December, following in the footsteps of previous Peronists.
“Peronism has been around for almost 80 years. It has governed in several locations and it has both won and lost national elections, so it’s one of the biggest parties,” says political scientist Maria Esperanza Casullo from the University of Rio Negro.
“If you look at the elections from 1983 to today, Peronism has the highest vote around 40 percent. It can be beaten and certainly has been beaten. But it is also hard to beat it at the polls, because roughly 32-40 percent of people feel that they are Peronist,” explains Casullo.
Fernando Anibal Protto is a 38-year-old history teacher and from a long family of Peronists. He says he took part in his first political march at the young age of eight.
“It’s a way to understand the world, a bottom upwards approach - to create power to influence things,” says Fernando, explaining how to understand the ideas and practices of Peronism.
“It has multi-class roots because it is made up of the industrialised sectors, the owners of production and as far as the workers within the factories,” he says referring to its origins.
Casullo says Peronism’s “biological flexibility” allows it to adapt to different situations as a political model.
“In the 90s the big neoliberal reform was done by Carlos Menem,” she says. “In the 2000s, the more left-leaning strengthening of the state was done by the Kirchners who were also Peronists.”
Fernando says he was disenchanted by Peronism during the period of Menem and his market friendly approach, focusing on privatisation.
“Then the government of Nestor Kirchner arrived in 2003 and it confirmed my Peronist position,” says Fernando who feels that during that period in time the quality of life for Argentines improved.
“Salaries were above inflation rates” he says.
Return of de Kirchner
Fernando says this period allowed Argentines to have more purchasing power than before to buy things like homes and cars. He says it was difficult for Argentines like him before.
“I didn’t stop having my criticisms,” he says though of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner who governed Argentina from 2003-2015.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will return as the vice president. Argentines are divided on this. Her supporters welcome her return, whilst her detractors accuse her of corruption, a charge she denies and says is politically motivated
But Peronism’s adaptability has allowed it to reach wide sectors of society which resonate deeply, helping it to remain popular today.
“What really explains the resilience of Peronism is the way in which it connects to and integrates with a variety of social movements and civil society organisations - from labour unions, neighbourhood associations, students centres in universities and secondary colleagues, now LGBT groups,” says Casullo.
“All these different layers of society have some connection to Peronism and I think that’s what really gives Peronism it’s vitality.
“They can mobilise and bring support from very different groups of society.”
Around a century ago Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world through exports of grain and meat, but fell into recession during the First World War.
“You have to take into consideration what context it emerges from in the country,” says 65-year-old Argentine journalist Rodolfo Muchela, in reference to the rise of Peronism.
“Peronism is part of the national DNA. It’s part of Argentine identity,” says Muchela.
“You cannot study Argentina without knowing that it’s a substantial part of social, political and economic life.”
According to Cesar Litvin, a 66-year-old Peronist: “It’s a political, social, cultural movement which is born from the Argentine people during crisis [the 40s economic recession].”
In Argentina, Juan Doming Peron, a former army general, rose to power initially through a military coup in 1943 and was later democratically voted president in 1946.
He governed Argentina three times, initially from 1946-1952, then 1952-1955. In 1955 he was overthrown in a coup, returning to govern after more than 17 years in exile in Spain from 1973-1974 until his death.
“During the first 10 years of government, Juan Domingo Peron liked to use these mass demonstrations of support with workers on the streets,” says Casullo.
Over its history, Peronism has overcome difficulties like military dictatorships and prohibition. Despite this there have been some criticisms in the past.
According to Litvin: “If one comes with prejudices or is won over by the idea that Peronism was neo-fascism or part of right-wing movements from Europe in the past, one would be making a large mistake.
“Peronism was hit hard for defending national interests, the resources of the country and for trying to be more autonomous.”
He says Peronism's popularity relates to how Peron changed labour and workers’ rights, guaranteeing them things like paid holidays and sick leave, which he says was new for Argentina.
Alongside these measures, Peron built support with trade unions, industrial and rural workers, whilst creating welfare schemes for marginalised sectors of society.
Under Peron, Argentina made significant advances in areas like education and healthcare, whilst his detractors from Argentina’s elite, such as the landowners and business leaders, accused him of authoritarian tendencies, creating a split which still exists today in Argentine politics.
Peron’s first wife, Evita’s legacy is still popular after close to 70 years after her death, coming from humble beginnings and championing the rights of the poorest sectors of society. Her image can still be seen today adorning the side of the Ministry of Work’s building in downtown Buenos Aires.
During this period the middle class grew at a period when much of Latin America was poor, due to a boom in wheat.
But today Argentina is once again facing a difficult situation, a deep economic crisis which has hit the country hard.
Muchela believes this recession affected the vote and why Argentines voted for a Peronist government.
Inflation is set to reach 55 percent by the end of the year.
According to Muchela the feeling amongst many Argentines is that their personal and financial situation has worsened under Mauricio Macri’s government, from the cutting of subsidies for basic utilities which he says hit the poorest hard, to other issues like pensions for retirees.
In September, following pressure and mobilisations from social organisations and unions, Congress passed a food emergency bill for those hardest hit.
“When people imagine a way out of situations of profound crisis, from the loss of rights, of purchasing power and low salaries, that’s when people think of Peronism,” according to Litvin, who explains why Peronism remains relevant today.
Unemployment sits at 10.6 percent and the national currency has lost significant value affecting salaries.
Today poverty is at 35.4 percent for adults according to The World Bank, which is the highest level since the 2001 economic collapse
Child poverty is at 52.6 percent.
Today, Casullo says that in very low-income districts there is a Peronist presence from labour unions to other Peronist affiliations.
“You will not very often find other political parties doing that,” she says.
Alberto Fernandez now faces the challenge of the economy.
Casullo believes that Fernandez will try to do a more “negotiated government” and to create a “social pact” between sectors of society like the labour and business associations and the Church.
She says: “Quite clearly different actors are going to have to accept compromises in terms of higher revenue, higher taxes or not raising wages as quickly as the labour union base would like to.”
Argentina reportedly owes $100bn and strict currency controls have returned, allowing only $200 US to be purchased per month.
“Argentine politics is very polarising. It’s very polarised right now,” says Casullo in reference to whether Fernandez can be a success.
“This opposition government [Frente de Todos] is going to come into power with a clear mandate or legitimacy but at the same time, the opposition party has 40 percent of the vote,” she says.
“They [Frente de Todos] are quite strong. They are unified and there is a doubt in my mind whether this negotiated tactic is going to work in the next two years,” says Casullo.
As Argentina faces a difficult economic future, many Peronists feel this approach to politics still offers possibilities of a brighter future.
“It’s a national movement which seeks to create a just society, with levels of consumption and fair distribution of wealth, with a national outlook first”
“You have to strive towards a more just society, that’s part of its discourse,” explains Litvin. “The problem is putting it into practice."