During the late 1930s, Perón served as a military observer in Italy, where he became enamored with Italian fascism. Having risen to the rank of colonel by 1943, he was a key participant in the military coup that ousted Ramón Castillo's government in May 1943. In November of that year Perón became secretary of labor and welfare, and in February 1944 he was named vice president and secretary of war. Forced to resign his posts by political opponents in October 1945, he was briefly jailed but was released a few days later after labor unionists staged mass demonstrations and demanded his release.
Challenged by a coalition of established political parties, Perón was overwhelmingly elected president in February 1946. As president, Perón, who has been accused of having fascist tendencies, courted organized labor and the urban poor and promoted industrialism through populist policies that transformed the state into a sponsor of economic modernization and social welfare, an ideology dubbed Perónism. He also became a champion of an independent Argentina that would forge a middle way between capitalism and communism. Perón's so-called third position advanced central economic planning, higher living standards, and an autonomous foreign policy that would help Argentina stand apart in the bipolar Cold War world. Perón was reelected in 1951, but corruption, inefficiency, a deteriorating economy, and disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church resulted in his removal from power via a military coup in September 1955. He went into exile and eventually settled in Madrid.
Perón remained active in Argentine politics even during his exile and prevented rivals from gaining authority over his still-viable political movement. During the late 1950s and 1960s, Argentina was plagued by a stagnant economy, civil unrest, and revolving-door governments. As Argentina became more polarized and as politically motivated terrorism increased in the early 1970s, Perón began to engineer his comeback. In the March 1973 elections, Argentineans elected Perón's handpicked stand-in, who promptly resigned, triggering another election. Perón was elected president for a second time in October 1973.
Perón's second term was doomed by an abominable economy and an acrimonious split between his leftist and rightist supporters. He instinctively turned to the Right and began governing by decree. Perón died on 1 July 1974 in Buenos Aires, leaving the government in the inept hands of his third wife, Isabel, who was overthrown in March 1976 by a military junta.
Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.
Page, Joseph. Perón: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1983.