Argentina has only been an independent nation since 1816, yet, in this relatively short time, it has accumulated any number of fascinating historical stories and events.
You might be familiar with the Perón presidency, the 1976-1983 dictatorship, and the Malvinas/Falklands war but, today, the Indy hopes to extend your knowledge with five interesting historical events that, perhaps, you weren’t aware of.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, so let us know what other offbeat historical stories from Argentina you find most interesting.Murder in the Senate
The period from 1930-1943, known as the ‘Decada Infame’ (Infamous Decade), was dominated by Argentine military leaders, supported by the oligarchy. It was characterised by electoral fraud, the repression of opposition, and widespread corruption.
It was in this context, in 1933, that Argentina and Great Britain signed the highly controversial Pacto Roca-Runciman, in which Britain agreed to continue to import meat from Argentina, albeit at a low price, in exchange for a number of economic concessions from Argentina. These included the removal of import duties on a number of British goods, and measures which gave Britain a virtual monopoly over activities such as meat packing and transport in Buenos Aries.
The senator of Santa Fe, Lisandro de la Torre, of the Democratic Progressive Party, vehemently opposed the deal. In a report to the Senate, he accused several British meat packing companies of fraud and implicated the then economic and agricultural ministers, Federico Pinedo and Luis Dahau, of involvement.
On 23rd July 1935, during a heated debate in the Senate, De la Torre advanced towards the finance minister, Pinedo, saying, ¡Usted no se bate conmigo porque es un cobarde! (You don’t want to face me because you are a coward!).
The Minister of Agriculture, Luis Dahau, tried to block De la Torre and, in doing so, knocked him to the ground. On seeing his friend and party colleague fall, another senator for Santa Fe, Enzo Bordabehere, moved forward. As he did so, he was hit by three bullets, fired from the corner of the Senate chamber, and later died in hospital.
The assassin, ex-police officer Ramón Valdez Cora, one of Dahau’s bodyguards, was later detained by the police. It is widely thought that the gunshots were intended for De la Torre, who escaped the attack unscathed. When he heard of the assassin’s identity, he allegedly muttered, “We know the name of the killer, now we need to know the name of the mastermind”.
As a consequence of the tragic death of his friend and colleague, De la Torre ended his protest. Valdez Cora was sentenced to 20 years in prison, while Pinedo and Dahau, whose reputations had been destroyed, were later removed from their posts. In 1937, Senator De la Torre stepped down – he committed suicide two years later.
The event remained a key, yet often overlooked, part of Argentine history, until in 1984, Argentine director, Juan José Jusid, made a film about it called ‘Asesinato en el Senado de la Nación’.The Revenge of Corina Kavanagh
Although all titles associated with nobility were abolished in Argentina in 1813, renowned families of Spanish descent, who benefitted from the distribution of land during Spanish colonisation, have exerted considerable influence throughout the country’s history.
The Anchorena family is one such example, boasting large stretches of land and holding influential political positions. In Buenos Aires, they owned a beautiful palace, ‘El Palacio Anchorena’, now ‘Palacio San Martín’, which they built between 1905 and 1909, and where they lived with a staff of 150 servants.
As the story goes, one of the Anchorena sons fell hopelessly in love with a girl from another wealthy family, the Kavanaghs. But despite their riches, the Kavanaghs did not have the same lofty social status and Mercedes Catellanos de Anchorena, the boy´s mother, forbade the romance.
The Kavanagh family took the rejection as a personal insult and Corina Kavanagh, mother of the jilted and heartbroken girl, started planning a very particular revenge.
The Anchorena palace looks out over the San Martín plaza. Mercedes Anchorena commissioned the construction of a family mausoleum, the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento, one of the most beautiful churches in the city, on the other side of the plaza. The view from the Palace was magnificent and it is said that the Anchorenas were very proud of it.
In front of the church was an empty plot of land, which Mercedes Anchorena planned to buy. However, she made the mistake of taking a trip to Europe before making the purchase, and while she was away, Corina Kavanagh sold three plots of her own land and bought the land in front of the church. In just 14 months in 1934, she built a reinforced concrete skyscraper on the plot, standing 120 metres tall, with 33 floors and containing 113 luxury apartments. For many years, this building was the tallest in South America and remains an emblematic landmark in the capital.
When Mercedes Anchorena returned from her trip she could no longer see the beautiful church from her house. In fact, the only way she could now admire the view of the front of the church was from a passageway named …. Corina Kavanagh.The Mystery of Eva Peron’s Body
For over 16 years, one of the biggest mysteries in Argentina was the whereabouts of the body of Eva Perón.
On the night of 23rd November 1955, two months after the coup d’état which overthrew Juan Domingo Perón, a group of soldiers led by the head of the Army Intelligence Service, Carlos Moori Keoing, broke into the headquarters of the CGT, the largest umbrella trade union in Argentina, and stole the embalmed body of Eva Perón.
For many years, little was known about what happened to Evita’s body, and the fascinating stories that have since emerged remain shrouded in mystery. According to one version, Moori Koenig, ignored instructions from the de facto president Pedro Aramburu to give the body a clandestine Christian burial and, in the first few months after the kidnap, the body was reportedly driven around Buenos Aires in a flower delivery truck.
After an unsuccessful attempt to deposit the body in a unit of the Marines, the most anti-Peronist regiment of the military, the body was dropped off at the residence of Major Eduardo Arandía. One night, believing that the Peronist resistance had come to reclaim the body, Arandía panicked and fired his gun, killing his pregnant wife.
Moori Koeing became obsessed with the corpse, which was then taken to his office where he is said to have abused it, and even to have shown it off to visitors. News of this reached Aramburu, who dismissed Moori Koeing and gave Colonel Héctor Eduardo Cabanillas the responsibility of giving Evita a Christian burial. But, again, that responsibility was never discharged.
Soon, candles and photographs of Evita started to appear close to where the body was being held, indicating that Peronists knew of the location. Concerned, Coronel Alejandro Agustín Lanusse, with the help of the church, devised a plan to remove the body. Eventually, following approval of the church in Italy, Evita’s body, travelling under the name María Maggi de Magistri, was taken by boat to Italy and buried in a cemetery in Milan.
Only Cabanillas knew exactly where the body had been buried and it remained a secret for nearly 14 years. However, in 1970, the Montoneros, a Peronist guerilla group, kidnapped ex-president Aramburu and, among other things, demanded the return of Evita’s body. Aramburu was assassinated, but the following year, Lanusse became president of Argentina and, in an attempt to appease the Peronists, returned Evita’s body to Juan Domingo Perón, now in exile in Madrid.
The body was exhumed on 1st September 1971 and taken in a truck to Spain where it was given to Perón. According to the doctor who restored the body in 1974, it was in a very poor condition and Perón eventually returned to Argentina without it. Ever persistent, the Montoneros then kidnapped Aramburu’s body, vowing only to return it once Evita was returned to Argentina. Eventually, after Perón’s death in 1974, ‘Isabelita’, his wife, ordered the body to be bought back to Argentina.
In 1976, Eva Peron’s body was finally laid to rest in the family tomb in the Recoleta cemetery, protected by two thick steel plates.A Coffin Burning Electoral Gaffe
1983 heralded the end of the violent military dictatorship and the first democratic elections in the country since 1973. Of the two candidates – Italo Lúder, a Peronist, and the Radical leader, Raúl Alfonsín – it was widely thought that Lúder would be the clear winner.
Lúder attracted huge crowds to the closing rally of his electoral campaign, which took place on 28th October, two days after Alfonsin’s rally and just two days before the vote. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1,200,000 voters turned out to the event, many of them workers from the unions that form the Peronist electoral base.
Lúder was the only speaker at the rally but was accompanied, in the presidential box by union leaders Lorenzo Miguel and Herminio Iglesias. In his speech, Lúder appeared confident that he would win the election, assuring the crowd that on 30th October he would give his first speech as President elect. While he made his speech the crowd cheered and chanted in support.
[box_post]“Siga siga siga el baile, al compás del tamborín, que el domingo lo aplastamos, a Raúl Alfonsín.”
“Let the dance continue, to the rhythm of the tambourine, because on Sunday we are going to destroy Raúl Alfonsín”. [/box_post]
Iglesias, union leader and candidate for the governor of the province of Buenos Aires, was also lauded by the crowd. His sharp remarks had turned him into the main target for criticism from Alfonsin’s Radical Party. Over the entire campaign, the relationship between Iglesias and Alfonsín had been very tense and there had been bitter exchanges between the two.
But at the end of Lúder’s closing rally, Iglesias went one step further. A group approached the platform with a coffin decorated with the colours and symbols of the Radical Party and topped with a wreath. Iglesias set fire to the coffin in front of the crowd, an act that was heavily criticised for its violent message given the circumstances at the time. Argentina, it seems, had seen too much violence and death to tolerate such an act.
Alfonsín went on to win the election with 51% of the vote; Lúder received only 40%. It is commonly held that this sinister act cost the Lúder the election, the first Peronist defeat in open elections since Juan Domingo Perón was first elected in 1946.A Desperate Escape from the Financial Crisis
You probably know about Argentina’s economic default and crash in 2001, but tales of then president Fernando De la Rúa’s unexpected behaviour as the crisis reached its climax may be less familiar to you.
In his book El Corralito, economic journalist Lucio Di Matteo reveals anecdotes, which he says show De la Rúa’s “disconnection from reality” at a crucial moment for Argentina. According to Di Matteo, after it had been revealed that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would not provide Argentina with any more financial assistance, a meeting was arranged between De la Rúa and US President George W. Bush. Before the meeting, it had been established that De la Rúa would use the occasion to ask Bush to put pressure on the IMF to provide Argentina with the money it desperately needed. However, as the 30 minute meeting in the White House drew to a close, De la Rúa was still making small talk, prompting Bush to allude to the problem.
“Tell me, Mr. President, is there nothing more substantial worrying you?” he asked. “Yes,” responded De la Rúa. Then, after a long pause and as everyone present at the meeting expected him to ask for help, he said, “Lemon exports. There are some trade obstacles in your country and it is very important for us that you lift them.”
Also in his book, Di Matteo reports that on the morning of 20th December, while the streets of Buenos Aires descended into chaos as violence escalated between protesters and the police, President de la Rúa casually arrived at the Casa Rosada at 11.50am. He then shut himself in his office, refusing to answer any phone calls.
Di Matteo reveals that a minister went to De la Rúa’s office in search of the president, where he found him watching television. Feeling relieved and also curious, the minister glanced at the screen expecting to see news coverage of the developing situation on the streets. However, instead of monitoring the looting, tear gas attacks, shooting and death that were taking place around him, he found that the president was watching cartoons.
Later that day, De la Rúa resigned and said goodbye to the chaotic scenes of Buenos Aires, escaping in a helicopter from the roof of the Casa Rosada. The image of the president fleeing the chaos from the roof of the Casa Rosada has since become a powerful symbol associated with the severity of the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina and De la Rúa’s powerlessness to address it.