Argentina paid a rousing tribute to Eva Peron on Thursday, the 60th anniversary of the national icon’s premature death, with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez hailing her as “eternal.”
A musical on Broadway in New York City, Alan Parker’s 1996 film featuring Madonna and the captivating novel by Tomas Eloy Martinez Santa Evita (“Saint Evita”) have all helped to keep Peron’s legend alive.
An unrivaled orator who delivered impassioned speeches from the balcony of the Casa Rosada presidential palace, Evita in 1949 secured women’s right to vote, earning a legacy comparable to that of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
“She is eternal, unique, but we must draw the lessons of history and know that the path we have chosen, of a country with fewer poor people, means confronting interests,” Fernandez said during a commemoration in Jose C. Paz, a town 40km northeast of Buenos Aires.
“We are back because, she, Eva Peron, had vowed to return among her millions of Argentinians and we had to honor her promise to offer a different country,” the president told a crowd estimated by organizers at 100,000.
At a parallel ceremony in La Recoleta cemetery in an exclusive Buenos Aires district, hundreds of people, including many foreigners, congregated around the grave where the glamorous second wife of former Argentine president Juan Peron, is buried.
“There will never be someone like her,” said 76-year-old Norma Bermudez, a retired nurse who had held a three-day wake in 1952 when Evita, full name Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, died from cancer at the age of 33.
Bermudez said a weeping “human tide” paraded outside Congress while central Buenos Aires was bedecked with carnations, roses and chrysanthemums.
To mark the anniversary, a new 100 peso bill — equivalent to about US$22 — was unveiled on Wednesday imprinted with the image of Evita.
The bank note shows the late first lady in profile, her blond hair swept back into the classic chignon hairstyle she usually wore.
Fernandez said the note was a fitting tribute, noting it marked “the first time in 200 years that a woman appears on a [national] bill.”
A mural depicting Evita painted in a hospital bearing her name was meanwhile inaugurated on Thursday by the governor of Buenos Aires Province, Daniel Scioli.
There was also a musical tribute on the stairs of the Argentine Congress, with the participation of baritone Ernesto Bauer and soprano Eugenia Fuente along with a school orchestra of 60 youths.
At 8:25pm, the precise moment when Evita died, the national anthem was to be sung outside Congress.
Revered by millions, Evita remains a powerful myth in Argentina today.
More than 30,000 copies of historian Felipe Pigna’s biography Jirones de su Vida (“Bits of Her Life”), about her ascent from street to chic and power, have been sold in less than a month.
Evita’s character — she ignored critics who were aghast that she hosted the poorest of the poor, while decked out in pricey jewelry and the latest designer frocks — won people over.
Her face, like Che’s in Havana, still towers over the streets of Buenos Aires, including two sides of the Social Development Ministry.