White Evil: Peronist Argentina in the US Popular Imagination Since 1955

Victoria Allison. American Studies International. Volume 42, Issue 1. February 2004.

“There is something singularly pathetic about a national dream based on an aging one-time dictator and the memory of a woman who has been dead for 20 years.” ~ Time, November 27, 1972

“Long Live Germany! Long Live Argentina! Long Live Austria!” ~ Adolf Eichmann, gallows statement, 1962

In February 1999 a New York Times article appearing in the annual magazine supplement entitled "The Sophisticated Traveler" noted, with some amazement, that Buenos Aires was a modern city. What explains the surprised reaction of the American author and his assumption, as indicated by the name of the special edition, that this would also be a startling revelation to his presumably well-educated audience? The short answer is that the author's serendipitous discovery of Buenos Aires' modernity is a reflection of a dominant narrative about Argentina wherein most cultural references to Argentina in the United States revolve around events and personages of five and six decades ago. But the placement of Argentina outside the temporal boundaries occupied by the United States requires a more complex set of questions. Why is Argentina frozen in the Peronist moment in the U.S. popular imagination and why would a static cast of characters, most long dead, from the Peron era still provoke interest and controversy in the United States after 50 years?

This essay seeks to explain the continuing cultural relevance of Peronist Argentina in the U.S. popular imagination by examining the evolution of the mythology and iconography of Peronist Argentina since 1955. In the absence of any open conflict between the two nations, the American media in the late 20th century concentrated, sometimes obsessively, on two ultimately related phenomena: Eva Peron and the existence of escaped Nazis in Argentina. This focus dwarfs all Argentine leaders subsequent to Peron as well as the compelling saga of Argentina's ongoing, frequently violent struggle to define itself. I argue that the post-1955 American commodification of specific myths and images has preserved Argentina in a cultural amber while simultaneously utilizing Peronist Argentina, or an American version of it, as a source of ever-changing signifiers, adaptable to marketing strategies and current domestic debates ranging from the United States' obligation to uphold Western civilization, to the battle over properly remembering the Holocaust, to the role of women in the public arena.

El Vivo


Between the steady glare of the media spotlight trained on Eva Peron during her years as a public figure and the resurgence of interest in her person in the 1970s, it is difficult to conceive of a time when Evita was not a hotly debated celebrity more famous than her husband. Yet in the years following her death in 1952 and the bizarre circumstances surrounding the reappearance of her corpse in 1971 (it disappeared in 1955), Evita was nearly a forgotten figure outside of Argentina. During this period there were almost no popular or scholarly books or articles produced in the United States about La Presidenta and no visual media treatments at all. The only notable mention of Evita in the U.S. media in the years immediately after Peron's ouster revisited earlier depictions of the dying La Presidenta as a fulcrum for Argentine violence. The New York Times reported in 1957 that celebrations of the anniversary of Evita's death precipitated riots, street fighting, and injuries from police-administered tear gas. There was no further substantive mention of Evita until 1970. But the very much alive Juan Peron, identified in 1957 by Time magazine as the personification of the Latin type known as el vivo, the "crafty live one," secured a place in the American public imagination, if only for the short time between the birth and rebirth of Evitamania. The U.S. media fascination with Peron as the Argentine El Vivo is an unexplored but important component in the political and cultural context that explains the resurrection of Evita's celebrity in the 1970s.

After the humiliating circumstances of his departure in 1955, ex-president Juan Peron did not disappear entirely from the public eye. Journalists and media commentators in the late 1950s and 1960s could barely contain their amusement at how "domestic" Peron had become in exile. Few articles written about Peron after his ouster failed to note his plush surroundings and his fondness for poodles and bridge. A 1958 Newsweek cartoon poked fun at Peron's loss of masculinity in an illustration featuring a card game consisting of Peron, his latest host, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and the recently ousted Venezuelan president Marco Perez Jimenez. Absent a fourth chair, Trujillo is on the phone looking for another player; the caption reads, "Hello, Batista—you like bridge?" Will Lissner of the New York Times wrote the following description of Peron's existence in the Dominican Republic or "Domingo's Hideaway" as Lissner calls it: "Peron likes gay parties of witty male guests, and beautiful and modishly dressed women, with good food, vintage wine and a background of classical music. He also likes to entertain intimate friends while dressed in the gayest of lounging attire ..." The excessive materialism and accusations of sexual improprieties, either hetero- or homosexual ("gay" in the '50s and '60s was widely understood as a double entendre with sexual connotations), was enough to reinforce Argentine President Pedro Aramburu's assertion in Newsweek in 1957 that Peron had lost his machismo when he did not mount a counter-revolution in September 1955.

Despite being comfortable (and ridiculed) in distant exile, Peron was still firmly ensconced in the Argentine consciousness as a great political Oz. Peron haunts Argentina as a "highly effective political ghost" wrote Tad Szulc in the New York Times in 1958. President Aramburu, eager to exorcise the remaining Peron and discredit his political philosophy in a show of Argentina's progress, happily contributed to the American media's sensationalized coverage of Peron. In terms reminiscent of American assertions about Peron's mental instability and opportunism a decade earlier, the new president characterized the ex-president in a 1957 Newsweek article as a "megalomaniac" bent on destroying his own country through "absurd subversion and criminal sabotage." Aramburu also castigated those South American countries (Peron resided in Paraguay, Panama, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic before finally settling in Spain in 1961) that "shelter[ed] one of the most sinister creatures of the century." The president further declared, "This monster will never set foot again on Argentine soil." And if Peron does try to return, said Aramburu, there are numerous criminal charges awaiting him. The most salacious of those charges was statutory rape accusation lodged by 19-year-old Nelly Rivas, who claimed to have been the sexagenarian's mistress from 1952 at the tender age of 13 until he fled in 1955. Later reports that his new mistress, Maria Estela "Isabelita" Martinez, described as a blonde former chorus girl, was in her twenties burnished the depiction of the ex-president as a prototypical fascist, complete with the requisite deviant psychological matrix of sexual perversion mixed with megalomania.

The October 1965 arrival of Isabelita Martinez de Peron (they married in 1961 in Madrid) in Argentina as her husband's political proxy refueled the gendered analyses of Peronism as a deleterious feminizing force in Argentina. Legal difficulties which continued to prevent Peron from leading the increasingly factional Peronista party in person prompted the dispatch of the 30-ish "slender, sexy platinum blonde" with an eerily similar diminutive in a transparent attempt to recapture Evita's psychic hold on the Peronista faithful. The U.S. media portrayed Isabelita's mixed reception in Argentina in the same language used to describe the politically unsettling effect of Evita's celebritized feminine presence at her husband's side: a Loyalty Day rally held shortly after her arrival degenerated into a riot between Peronists and anti-Peronists, the latter chanting, reportedly, "Bitch! Prostitute! Go Home! Death to Peron!" What was most alarming to American commentators about this Evita manquee was Isabelita's revival of Evita's questionable political and economic practices. In March 1966 Time reported that Isabelita had begun receiving delegations of the needy, handing out pesos with the Evita-like comment "I am the little mother of all Peronistas: I only wish their union." El Vivo's nostalgia tactics worked; in 1971 successive, and unsuccessful, military governments voided the statutory rape charge and accorded official recognition to the Justicialista Party, Peron's previously outlawed political organization. Peron could now return and stand for the presidency in the 1973 elections. Interestingly, El Vivo did not orchestrate the most bizarre but also the most politically significant incident of Peron nostalgia, an act that finally convinced the floundering procession of military governments that Peronismo could not be destroyed and, just as importantly, reintroduced Evita to the American popular imagination.

Eva Presente (Era Is With Us)


The primary reason Peron sent Isabelita to Argentina was to counteract or at least co-opt the emerging political phenomenon of Peronismo sin Peron (Peronism without Peron). A wide range of disparate Argentine groups claimed Peronista ideals and symbols (though not necessarily Peron himself) for diverse socio-political purposes. The reclamation of the physical body of Evita, missing since 1955, was a crucial component in the growing agitation by many Peronista factions for the inclusion of Peronistas in the federal government. To U.S. commentators, Evita's inclusion in neo-Peronist rhetoric and imagery indicated a revival of Argentina's macabre and "regressive" national penchant for necrophilia first noted at the turn of the twentieth century. Surprisingly, the redeployment of the Evita myth did not come at the direction of Peron. Though Isabelita's presence in Argentina was designed to evoke the spirit of Evita and her work, the function of the third Sra. Peron was to represent her husband, not build a cult around his dead second wife. Ironically, it was the aggressive tactics of the most devoted Evitistas within the Peronist movement that paved the way for Peron's return to Argentina.

In May 1970 Montoneros (leftist guerrilla Peronistas) kidnapped former president Aramburu, who, fearing a Peronist restoration in late 1955, had confiscated and secreted Eva's body in Milan, Italy, allegedly with the help of Pope Pius XII. The kidnappers' only demand was the disclosure of the whereabouts of Evita's body. When the government of General Juan Carlos Ongania refused to reveal the body's location, the Montoneros killed Aramburu in June 1970 and then hid his body, hoping to later exchange his remains for Evita's. The exchange failed when Aramburu's body was discovered by the Argentine federal police buried underneath the cellar of the captured kidnappers' hide-out. The grisly political act announced the arrival of a Marxist form of Peronismo, complete with an Evita iconography drawn from her well-documented passion for redressing Argentina's socio-economic inequalities and her stated devotion to Peron. The Montoneros' defiant Evita was their revolutionary mother and primera guerrilla: her efforts on behalf of the poor constituted a Peronista proto-vanguard. But in the American media, the killing of Aramburu in her name placed Evita firmly in the same freakishly fetishized category as the traveling carnival and amusement park sideshow "mummies" (usually the preserved corpse of a minor but notorious figure such as a train robber) popular in the U.S. up through the mid-20th century. While the Montoneros saw political salvation in the re-appearance of the preserved Evita, the U.S. media and the various Argentine military governments viewed her body, like that of King Tutankhamen, another (in)famous mummy, as a violence-shrouded cursed artifact.

In a compromise decision, the government of General Alejandro Lanusse recovered but did not repatriate Evita's body in September 1971. Peron took the body to his villa in Madrid where it was openly displayed in its original silver coffin with Evita's perfectly preserved face visible through a glass window. The reappearance of Evita's body and its new-found significance in the campaign to return Peron to power sparked a short but transformative renewal of interest in the United States in Evita's life and legacy. While the biographical sketches accompanying the reports of her body's recovery in 1971 and Peron's return to Argentina in 1972 served more as a denigration of Peron and Peronism than analyses of Evita, in an interesting reversal of the media snickering in the 1940s and 1950s about Evita's professed altruism, the portrait of the Evita who emerges in the early 1970s is of a sincere, fully politicized advocate for the disadvantaged. Time and Newsweek emphasized the last years of Evita's life; none of the Rainbow Tour era, glamour-girl Evita, searching for her role in Peron's administration, was apparent. The reason for this American reassessment was the durability of the cult of Evita the descamisada (working class) in Argentina. Time noted that "the walls of Buenos Aires are plastered with fresh posters of a sleek and inspiring Evita Peron, 'flag bearer of the workers, 1952-1972.'" Peron's posters bore no such appellations linking him to the working classes.

As in most media analyses made during her lifetime, this latest rendering of Evita attributed much more individual political power to her than she actually enjoyed. Newsweek and the New York Times repeated the old and erroneous tale of Evita's role in mustering a half million workers on October 17, 1945. But the new Evita narrative also imbued her with a feminist, anti-patriarchal fire reflective of the contemporary moment in the United States. In 1972 her illegitimate birth, once believed to be the neurotic source of her selfish pursuit of power, was now cited as proof of her political legitimacy and desire for equality. By contrast, Time described Peron as "primarily motivated" by "political opportunism, not the making of a new social order." In 1973, shortly before Peron took office, Newsweek hinted that the Argentine people also shared this view of the Perons, "You can joke about Peron and get away with it ... But don't ever try it with Evita." The Montoneros "revolutionary mother" image was not Evita's only manifestation. She was still the descamisados' magical Santa Evita, whose portrait adorned Peronista homes "like an icon" and whose name was invoked by those seeking "miraculous cures."

Newsweek reported in 1973 that Peron's return to the presidency was sure to provoke "another feverish orgy of Evita adulation." But El Vivo was apparently reluctant to share the spotlight with so potent a symbol; he left Evita's body in Madrid. The anticipated revival of Evitamania did not occur in Argentina. Peron died in 1974 after one turmoil-filled year as president. In his last year, it was not clear what Peron stood for politically, leaving a shaky foundation for his vice president, Isabelita. Peron's widow assumed the presidency and repatriated Evita's body but even this obvious invocation of the Peron legend was not enough to unite the warring Peronista factions in time to prevent a military coup in 1976. Despite being the first woman president of any country in the Americas, Isabelita never captured the imagination of Argentinos or anyone else. But the global press coverage of Isabelita's historic win as the Justicialista vice-presidential candidate in 1973 had prompted the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) that same year to take another look at Evita, the woman who first stood for Argentine vice-president in 1951. Listening to the Legends in Our Lifetime radio broadcast featuring Evita was Tim Rice, the lyricist of the immensely successful rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. In a 1979 interview with the New York Times, Rice admits he grew "fascinated" with Evita because of the announcement that the next Legends in Our Lifetime program would focus on James Dean. Rice wanted to discover how Evita could be considered as interesting as the tragic teen idol. After reading Fleur Cowles' Bloody Precedent, and even taking Cowles to lunch for a more in-depth discussion, Rice convinced his artistic partner, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, that a musical about Evita would be an intriguing project. Three decades after being snubbed by the British government during the Rainbow Tour, the initial steps towards Evita's enshrinement in American popular culture were taken, ironically, in England.

Then, as now, there was a scarcity of any studies of Evita, sympathetic, objective or partisan, for Rice and Lloyd Webber to consult. The only two English-language biographies, Cowles' Bloody Precedent and Mary Main's The Woman With the Whip, both published in 1952 and out of print, were essentially extended anti-Peronista gossip columns. Cowles' Evita was unerotic, coldly calculating, and devoid of real glamour. Main's Evita was a sadistic whore. Rice and Lloyd Webber knew from the experience of making the studio album Jesus Christ Superstar and later staging a musical of the same name that such one-note depictions would not sustain audience interest. Lloyd Webber later explained that the technique of combining several (re)interpretations into one story line was a means of coherently tendering the "private life of a public figure." This broader set of interpretations did not mean the musical would be a more truthful account. Like others before them, Rice and Lloyd Webber would prevent Evita from narrating her own life story unmediated. As a politicized woman in the male-dominated political sphere, Evita's story was never fully her own to write or interpret even during her lifetime. Her "autobiographical" La Razon de mi Vida was ghosted by a man, she rewrote her history to conform with Peron's political trajectory, and Peron's enemies channeled much of their hatred for Peron through the repetition and sale of Evita the Everybitch stories. Yet the core of the Evita phenomenon and the genius of the Rice-Lloyd Webber musical is this synthesis of the existing Evita stories into a single commodity, based not just on Evita's story but also on her celebrity status.

In 1976 Rice and Lloyd Webber released the Evita concept album sung by an all-British studio cast. The narrative structure of the concept album and most of the key songs have remained intact throughout all the various stagings of Evita. In effect, there are several Evita stories being told simultaneously through two primary and numerous secondary commentators. Despite the focus on Evita, she does not sing a single song without some form of annotation. The insertion of a depoliticized Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the famed Marxist revolutionary, as an acerbic Greek chorus is both erroneous and anachronistic. Guevara was a university student studying chemistry at the time of Peron's first presidency, was not a prominent figure, and had never met Evita. But he was the only other famous Argentine known to Rice and Lloyd Webber at the time and one who had enough popular culture recognition as a political malcontent to be believable in his role as the wry commentator. Nevertheless, Che's function as a primary interior narrator and external commentator is more than a dramatic device; he also serves as a "rational" male corrective to Evita's retelling of her Cinderella tale. In addition to Che, the Argentine army ("Dangerous Jade," "She Is a Diamond," and "Eva's Final Broadcast") and the Argentine oligarchy ("Dangerous Jade" and "The Actress Hasn't Learned the Lines You'd Like to Hear") also perform short but crucial narration or commentary.

Besides including the Argentine oligarchy as a narrative device, other key elements of the Main and Cowles accounts survived intact. The very decision to focus on Evita's story alone echoed the two authors' depiction of Eva as the real head of the Peronist state. Little of Peron, the dangerous fascist of the post war years, survived the transition to the pop culture musical; the former president is barely a supporting player in Evita, relegated to the background in the many Casa Rosada balcony scenes. Instead, Evita's Peron appears based on his post-1955 El Vivo characterization. In a nod to the rumors of Peron's sexual degeneracy, Rice and Lloyd Webber included "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" sung by an unnamed, clearly teenaged mistress displaced by Evita. This Peron is decidedly not muy macho. In several tense situations the fictional Peron alludes to the comforts of exile ("A New Argentina" and "Dice Are Rolling") and has to be prodded by Evita to seize the initiative to establish or maintain Peronismo.

But there were differences in interpretation that veered from the anti-Peronist path of Cowles and Main. A major departure of Evita the album from the shrill virago and supporter of fascism in Bloody Precedent and The Woman With the Whip was the portrayal of Evita as a quiet seductress. The sweetly plaintive voice of Julie Covington as the studio Evita summoned an image of a very feminine, sensual being, one who enchanted her suitors and romanced her descamisados. Her fashion fetish ("Rainbow High"), far from being a symbol of fascist over-consumption, was presented as just another extension of her seductive personality and love for her people. Writing from a middle-class perspective, Cowles and Main both castigated Eva's alleged use of her sexuality to escape a hardscrabble childhood. Evita includes this unsubstantiated allegation in the songs "Goodnight and Thank You" and "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You." However, the studio album presents Eva's "prostitute past" within the lyrics of another song, "Eva Beware of the City," as a facet of her romanticized yearning to "be somebody" and thus a necessary stepping stone given her lack of choices as a woman in a totally male-dominated society. At its core, Evita the studio album is a sympathetic commentary about Evita's contradictory nature and the travails of ambitious women. Evita's Evita does step outside the established societal boundaries—as the many commentators are there to remind the audience—but she is presented as a social climber and a bad girl with the heart of gold, admittedly yet another entrenched media stereotype, not the cold bitch bent on avenging every slight as in Main and Cowles' works.

The single greatest divergence from the Cowles/Main biographies catapulted the studio album, and the later stagings and movie, beyond an adherence to the "truth" and into the rarified stratum of celebrity fetishization populated by Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Cowles and Main aimed their vitriol at Evita because of her involvement in a political movement they found morally repugnant. Rice and Lloyd Webber avoided making an overt political statement about Peronismo and instead focused on the actual phenomenon of Evita the celebrity, territory previously unexamined in earlier treatments of Evita the historical personage. In the process, the musical itself becomes a cultural text explaining not the "real" Evita, but Evita the image, Evita the story. Evita/Evita transcends historical contextualization to become the personification of a feminized, degenerate Argentina: "I'm Argentina/And always will be," she claims at the musical's conclusion. By the end of the album Rice and Lloyd Webber leave no doubt about the cultural validity of that statement.

Within the confines of the four act musical, Argentina and Peronismo conflate and are reduced to well-worn stereotypes or oversimplifications, a narrative device that unites all the various permutations of the musical. The only mention of Argentina as a nation is contained within the lyrics of the virtually non-specific "Buenos Aires," whose lyrics contained a quickly sung list of the city's major streets and shopping areas. Evita's Argentina is merely a stereotyped backdrop to her story. It is a land of lush tangos ("On This Night of A Thousand Stars"), of emotional, easily manipulated poor people ("Oh What a Circus," "She Is a Diamond"), and corruption ("And the Money Kept Rolling In"). Peronismo and Argentina seamlessly merge, united in the spectacle of Evita's rise to prominence. And spectacle is what held the country together, according to Rice and Lloyd Webber. In Evita, Peronismo is nothing more than clever stage management according to the first song on the album, "Oh What A Circus": "Show business kept us all alive/Since 17 October 1945/But the star has gone, the glamour's worn thin/That's a pretty bad state for a state to be in." The complexities and breadth of Peronismo are reduced to just six lines of verse within a single song, "A New Argentina":

Nationalization of the industries
That the foreigners control
Participation in the profits that we make
Shorter hours, higher wages
Votes for women, larger dole
More public spending, a bigger slice of every cake

The same could have been said about almost any Latin American nation in the 1940s and 1950s.

The political and geographical elisions are joined by a temporal disjuncture. For the musical to remain fresh, the narrative must strive for a universal and timeless quality, the chief reason Evita is about her celebrity rather than a history lesson starring Evita. Aside from Peron, Che, and brief references to Francisco Franco, actress Lauren Bacall, and fashion designer Christian Dior, no other contemporaneous personages are named. For anyone unaware of Argentine history, the aforementioned people and the style of clothing are the only indication that the events took place in the 1940s and 1950s. As a result, Evita's story freezes Argentina in the Peronist moment aesthetically without dating the narrative contained in Evita the musical.

The studio album was an immediate success in Britain; Evita's signature solo, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," was a number one single for several weeks. But it flopped in the United States and there was little mention in the U.S. media of the studio album or the catchy single. When Rice and Lloyd Webber transferred Evita to the London stage under American director Harold Prince in 1978, Elaine Paige's big, sexy voice replaced Julie Covington's dreamy tones. Paige sang virtually the same libretto yet her Evita was more of an enthusiastic and passionate cheerleader for herself and her descamisados than a sly seductress. Che appears in a laughably stereotypical, and anachronistic, Latin American revolutionary guerrilla costume of fatigues, combat boots, and black beret, a visual device that telegraphs a political aspect to his character without specifically committing to one. Is he a revolutionary? Non-conformist? Anti-military? The audience is left to decide.

British critics praised the technical achievements and the cast's talent but criticized the "soft-focus" surrounding Evita's "real" legacy. Bernard Levin, writing for the (London) Sunday Times, claimed that the politics of the musical "... provided me with one of the most disagreeable evenings I have ever spent in my life, in or out of the theatre." He warned that the attention to Evita's "rise to power, megalomania, dictatorship, cruelty, [and] corruption" would cause society to "take her enthusiastically to its heart." Frank Rich, the American cultural critic for Time magazine, scoffed at the stage production's "comic-book version" history of a "bizarre historical figure." He specifically castigated Rice's libretto for making fascism "more a cultural style than a political ideology." Rice defended the decision to sidestep political judgments in favor of the celebrity aspects, "If your subject happens to be one of the most glamorous women who ever lived, you will inevitably be accused of glamorizing her. The only political messages we hope will emerge are that extremists are dangerous and attractive ones even more so."

Criticisms aside, the success of the West End stage production of Evita convinced Rice, Lloyd Webber, and Prince to hazard a Broadway production in 1979 despite the dismal reception of the studio album in the U.S. Far from having a free creative hand, the trio discovered that they would have to alter their presentation of the musical's Evita. The American understanding of the "real" Evita as cruel and as a "Latin American Lady Macbeth" had its own trajectory and well-known proponents in the media. Nor would they be able to straddle the political fence. The campaign waged by Ambassador Spruille Braden and the U.S. media in the immediate postwar clearly had succeeded in convincing successive generations of Americans that Peronismo was an unequivocally Nazi-fascist movement: The New York Times made the observation that in previews, some audience members sat "clearly shaken by a [crowd] scene suggestive of one of Hitler's Nuremberg rallies ..." Based upon critical reviews like the Times' in the American press about the historical accuracy of the British production, Prince suggested some changes to the Anglicized portrait of Evita that would remove ambiguities about her motivations and legacy. A source close to the Broadway production said in an anonymous interview conducted by the New York Times, "It's more of a warning than a glorification, a demonstration of how the Argentine people were taken in by her."

Prince cast actors dramatically different from those in the London production. The sharp features of Patti LuPone were more in keeping with the New York Times' description of Evita as an "anti-heroine" than the fleshier curves of Elaine Paige. Bob Gunton's Peron was more menacing in appearance than the avuncular countenance of Joss Ackland. The overall narrative remained the same but the narration itself changed substantially to remove traces of political relativism. Rice made the character of Che more of an anti-fascist political counterpoint to Evita than just a cynical commentator on the vagaries of human nature. By adding lyrics to "Oh What a Circus," Rice allows Che to express his anger at Evita's plundering of Argentina just as he was reaching maturity. The Americanization of the musical is clearly evident in the addition of historical and political commentary spoken by Che or the Army. Rice appeared to have written new lines and rewritten others with Fleur Cowles perched on his shoulder. An entirely new song, "The Art of the Possible," showcases Peron's opportunism and inclination to use force to achieve his ends. In "She Is a Diamond," Che ends the song with the following clumsy addition:

What's new Buenos Aires? Your nation, which a few years ago
had the second largest gold reserves in the world, is bankrupt!
A country which grew up and grew rich on beef is rationing it!
La Prensa, one of the few newspapers which dares to oppose
Peronism, has been silenced, and so have all other reasonable
voices!

Small adjustments to some lyrics and the addition of new lyrics to existing songs emphasized the fascist nature of Peronismo. Rice reworked lines in "A New Argentina" to reflect a brutal and dangerously proletariat movement rather than the earlier characterization of Peronism as a replacement for a corrupt civilian government: "A new Argentina/The old one's gone sadly wrong/A new Argentina/The voice of the people rings out loud and strong" became "A new Argentina/The worker's battle song/A new Argentina/The voice of the people rings out loud and strong." In case the term "workers" could be construed as too labor-friendly, Rice also added to the same song this obvious reference to authoritarianism: "A new Argentina/We face the world together and no dissent within."

The new or altered lyrics also conformed to the Cowles/Main depiction of Evita's "true" personality. Coupled with Patti LuPone's performance of Evita as a shrill-voiced, grasping, sneering megalomaniac, the Broadway Evita was a musical advisory about how political ambition de-feminized women. The starry-eyed British Evita sings, "I only want variety of society." Her motives are completely recast in the American version: "I only want variety—notoriety!" Gone was the implied romance and understanding between Evita and poor Argentines; LuPone's Evita is an imperious diva ordering her descamisados to obey. Rice replaced the last verse of "The Actress Hasn't Learned the Lines You'd Like to Hear," in which Che proffers his insecticide (Rice eliminated a confusing subplot in the album and London production about Che's university fruit-fly insecticide research) to an uninterested Evita, with this broader commentary on Evita's megalomania: "Forgive my intrusion but fine as these sentiments sound/Little has changed for us peasants down here on the ground/I hate to seem churlish, ungrateful, I don't like to moan/ But do you represent anyone's interest but your own?" The addition of a new verse to "And the Money Kept Rolling In" about "creaming a little off the top" and stashing it in Swiss bank accounts altered the message of the two earlier renditions which characterized Evita's charitable foundation work as a sincere effort besmirched by its disregard for accounts.

Though some influential critics chafed at LuPone's one-note portrayal of Evita—Walter Kerr, the New York Times' theater critic, labeled the Broadway Evita a "bold step backward," saying it represented a return to the stock characters of the medieval morality play—Evita won the Tony award for best musical in 1980 and Patti LuPone emerged as a major Broadway star with her Tony for best actress in a musical. Thanks to brisk sales of the cast album, the Rice-Lloyd Webber interpretation of Evita's story spread beyond New York. Three decades after the State Department denied Evita's requests for a state visit Evita/Evita literally became a hot commodity in the United States.

The London and Broadway productions re-ignited media interest in the "real" Evita, with uneven results. Two hastily penned Evita biographies propelled the commodification of the Evita the Bitch Goddess image. In 1978 John Barnes, a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote a surprisingly straightforward and balanced account, Evita—First Lady, only to see it transferred to the small screen in 1981 as the execrable Evita Peron, a made-for-television movie starring a wildly over-acting Faye Dunaway (her much-lampooned, scenery-chewing performance in Mommie Dearest was the same year) as a hysterical Evita. In 1979 Paul Montgomery of the New York Times wrote Eva, Evita, a devastating and virtually undocumented "factual" account of Evita's life. The book was a Main/Cowles re-hash that actually out-Fleured Fleur with its mix of anti-Evita/anti-Peronismo vitriol and a frankly pornographic, detailed interest in Evita's "prostitute past" and Peron's "aberrant" sexual practices, the latter based mainly on the testimony of Nelly Rivas. Fleur herself retold the story of her 1950 Evita encounter in Friends & Memories, published in 1978, noting that she warmly approved of LuPone's interpretation.

The angriest, and saddest, of the immediate post-Evita commentaries revisited earlier characterizations of Evita's body as an evil talisman. V.S. Naipaul's essay, "The Return of Eva Peron," written between 1972 and 1977 but which appeared in a collection of the same name in 1981, places Eva's body at the center of a lament about the cultural regression of Argentina and its habit of re-writing the past to justify and/or glorify present events. Naipaul observes that the rumors about the impending return of Eva's body to Argentina in 1972 (it did not actually happen until 1974) had sent the country into a frenzy of Evita necrophilia marked by a resurgence in folk magic and witchcraft. The 1980 reissue of Mary Main's The Woman With the Whip specifically linked the return of Eva's body with the seven year reign of terror (1976-1983) known as the Dirty War. After Isabelita's failed presidency, the military government waged a war on Argentine leftists of all stripes who were "disappeared" off the streets in full view of bystanders. Most were tortured, many drugged and thrown alive from military aircraft to their deaths in the Atlantic Ocean. Some were never found and others were shot and then dumped in public spaces as warnings. In all about 14,000 died or simply vanished. Main wrote only ten new pages of material for the reissue, including these lines from a new foreword:

If this book should serve to recall the real Evita, the woman
obscured by rumor, scandal, and the glamour of a musical,
I shall be grateful ... she and Peron set in motion those
forces which were to destroy their country. No, it is not for
Evita that Argentina should cry! It is for all those Argentinians
who have, since her time, and in increasing numbers,
mysteriously disappeared, and whose deaths remain
unaccounted for. It is to the memory of those desaparecidos
I dedicate the new edition of this book.

By 1982, after three successful recordings, two stage productions, several new and reissued biographies, a television movie, and a Disco Evita dance album, the rebirth of Evitamania had ended. But this time Evita would not slip into celebrity oblivion; American popular culture had fully assimilated the blonde, glamorous, tough-minded Bitch Goddess imagery created by the Broadway musical and successive biographical treatments. It took thirteen years to find a celebrity who could take the Bitch Goddess iconography to its next logical step—the globalization of the American version of Evita.

The American media revived interest in the Bitch Goddess image of Evita with the announcement in 1995 that director Alan Parker had chosen globally recognized super-celebrity Madonna to play the title role. When Madonna accepted the role, her reputation as a sexual adventuress and professional provocateur indicated the filmic Evita would reflect Madonna's own street-wise diva persona, akin to Patti LuPone's interpretation of Evita as a prima donna. The New York Times reported that Peronistas, even though they had yet to see a performance of the musical Evita staged in their country, were appalled that a celebrity better known for her outrageous sexual behavior than her thespian talent would interpret Evita. Upon arriving in Buenos Aires in early 1996 to begin filming, the cast was greeted with graffiti reading: "Evita Lives! Madonna, Get Out!"

The tremendous pre-release hype of the film version sparked an interest in the details of the life of the "real" Evita and a reassessment of her character. A&E TV and the Lifetime Channel each quickly churned out one hour documentary biographies timed to capitalize on the movie's release. Both documentaries used the on-screen commentary of Evita scholars Julie Taylor, Tomas Eloy Martinez, and Marysa Navarro but undercut their balanced portrait of Evita with footage and narration which conformed to the highly critical, and titillating, Cowles/Main depictions. Even Fleur Cowles was not above invoking Evita ("that dreadful woman") to help sell yet another set of memoirs, She Made Friends and She Kept Them, published in November 1996. Evita's photograph appears on the front of the dust jacket and she figures prominently in a chapter entitled "Power Hungry Women."

The first indication that the Madonna/Evita celebrity synergy might not be based upon a reading of Evita as an ambitious hustler came to light when Vanity Fair published Madonna's diary of the movie's filming which she kept, at Vanity Fair's request, specifically for publication. Published in November 1996, two months before the release of the film, Madonna wrote: "This is the part of the script I find a little dodgy. The implication was that Evita slept her way to the top. I guess I am offended by it because people always imply that about me." Madonna felt she understood Evita, or at least who she thought Evita was, and literally felt herself becoming Evita as she filmed a scene on the balcony of the Cas a Rosada:

In the exact place she had stood so many times before, I
raised my arms and looked into the hungry eyes of humanity,
and at that moment I felt her entering my body
like a heat missile ... Afterward I could not speak and I was
so happy. But I felt a great sadness too. Because she is haunting
She is pushing me to feel things. 

But which Evita did Madonna experience during that scene? The Bitch Goddess? The Little Mother of the Descamisados? Director Alan Parker told a New York Times reporter months before the film debuted that he had listened to the original London studio album while writing the script. Parker's implication and Madonna's public statements indicated that she would portray Evita in a sympathetic light but Madonna gave no other details except she believed Evita was "misunderstood."

Under Alan Parker's direction the movie Evita, released December 25, 1996, surpassed the studio album in its de-politicization of Evita and Peronism. Jonathan Pryce's Peron primarily serves as a father-figure to Madonna's Evita. Their relationship appears to consist of Evita gazing in his direction for approval or resting her head on his chest. Che Guevara as narrator is stripped of all his political connotations. Instead he is a good-looking (Antonio Banderas), wryly amusing commentator simply named "Che." In a major alteration, Che is no longer Evita's nemesis but more like a partner in a testy romance. The film kept the stage musical's view of a dangerously proletariat Argentina but eliminated the only six lines explaining Peronism within "A New Argentina." Evita's hatred of the oligarchy is also downplayed. In the London and Broadway stage productions Evita sings the following lines after completing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina": "But your despicable class is dead!/Look who they are calling for now!" In the film the oligarchs sing: "But our privileged class is dead!/Look who they are calling for now!" While staying close to the original libretto, Parker altered some of the narrative to highlight Madonna's interpretation of Evita as ambitious, but weary from the price she has to pay for success. He shifted the despair of Peron's unnamed teenage mistress (who is shown briefly in the film), expressed in "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," to Evita, where it becomes her lament about the failure of love. The addition of a new song, "You Must Love Me," at the end of the film indicated that all Evita (Madonna?) truly wanted was to be loved: Madonna's Evita is, in the end, a heart-broken one.

Even before the release of the film, the promise of a benign, revisionist portrait of Evita prompted an angry op-ed article in the New York Times. In "Once Villainous, Now Virtuous," Karen DeWitt decried the current Hollywood penchant for revising "evil historical figures," leading off the article with a blast at Madonna's re-working of Evita as "a material girl with a penchant for charity, who only dons her Diors in service to the underclass." The "real" Eva Peron, claimed the author, was a "vengeful social climber" who was "as corrupt ... and power hungry as her husband." DeWitt's article, and several others echoing her distaste for historical whitewashing in the name of popular consumption, confused storytelling with truthtelling. Evita the musical and the movie, despite Madonna's claims to kinship with Evita, are not history any more than the Estee Lauder's 1996 "Face of Evita" cosmetics line was; they are commodities, symbols of an idea, not the idea itself. DeWitt's understanding of a conniving, corrupt Evita was also no more "real" in the historically accurate sense than was Madonna's Evita; it, too, is an image, originally deployed for consumer and ideological purposes in the 1940s and 1950s. The historical Evita, which includes her incarnations as poor, illegitimate Eva Duarte and La Jefa Espiritual, did not sell the retro-style dresses at Bloomingdale's "Evita Boutique" or Estee Lauder's "Evita Flame Lips" lipstick. The ahistorical, already commodified image of Evita as a glamorous woman who wielded power and loved luxurious items propelled the merchandising campaigns. Despite complaints that it glorified an evil Evita, the movie also reflected this economic imperative to universalize in order to sell. Madonna's Evita is more Cinderella than bitch but there is still enough of the calculating and ruthless Evita persona in her performance to allow for more than one reading of the Evita image.

The most damning argument to emerge from the many media correctives to Madonna's portrayal was the accusation that Evita aided and profited from escaped Nazis. Evita had been accused in her lifetime of squirreling large sums of money from the unregulated Eva Peron Foundation in unnumbered accounts in Swiss banks (interestingly, the libretto of the movie Evita reverted to the studio album's version of "And the Money Kept Rolling In" in omitting the verse about Swiss bank accounts) and of employing fascist techniques of spectacle and propaganda in furtherance of her husband's allegedly fascist regime. But she had never been implicated in her husband's rumored activities with Nazi war criminals. In early 1997 Argentine researchers uncovered evidence pointing to Evita's complicity. The two most recognizable stereotypes in the United States about Peronist Argentina had finally merged.

Chasing Nazis


In October 1998, Rabbi Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, wrote an impassioned op-ed piece for the New York Times about the trivialization of Holocaust imagery. Rabbi Foxman wondered how the once sacrosanct memory and language of the Holocaust could be appropriated for shock value by rap groups (Concentration Camp II and their album Da Halocaust), be used to express annoyance, rather than evil, as in Seinfeld's Soup Nazi and become part of the vernacular with the casual employ of terms such as "Gestapo tactics" and "femi-Nazi." The transformation of Holocaust imagery into commodities and cultural texts far removed from the sacred memory Rabbi Foxman wished to preserve began, innocently enough, with the 1952 publication of enormously popular The Diary of Anne Frank and the subsequent stage and film productions in 1955 and 1959, respectively. Exodus, Leon Uris' bestselling 1958 saga (and big-budget Hollywood production in 1960) of the founding of Israel, popularized the already familiar stereotype of the "tough Jew." But the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann, the chief architect of the Final Solution, from his home in Buenos Aires by Israeli secret service agents (the Mossad) in May 1960 sparked an American (and worldwide) historical reappraisal of the Holocaust and of the legacy of World War II. Isser Harel, the legendary Mossad founder and leader of the Eichmann recovery mission, was only slightly overstating his case when he said, "Until the Eichmann trial no-one wanted to hear of the Holocaust." It also refreshed memories of Spruille Braden's warnings about the existence of a Nazi Argentina.

Eichmann's capture proved beyond question that Spruille Braden was right in 1946: Argentina was a Nazi haven. Worse still, as his trial in Israel progressed, it became clear that the Nazis who escaped to Argentina associated almost exclusively with each other in the well-established German-Argentine communities that worried Americans during the war. Were they reconstituting (or had they already?) Hitler's Thousand Year Reich with Argentina's help as Braden had warned not too long ago? Suspicion increased throughout the 1960s when Argentina refused to honor Israel's requests to seek out and extradite additional escaped Nazis. The Argentine Federal Police, who had aided Israel in Eichmann's capture, claimed they had no credible information about the whereabouts of other suspects. Israel, anxious to keep their Latin American markets, did not press the issue; nor did any other nation. The only organizations investigating the growing number of reports on Nazi sightings in Argentina were Jewish organizations. Their requests for the release of federal and provincial police files about suspected Nazis were repeatedly denied; lists of suspected Nazi war criminals submitted to the Argentine government were ignored.

Despite the intense international attention focused on the Eichmann trial, there was no official American action on the clear evidence of Argentine complicity in sheltering war criminals. Two diplomatically sensitive issues explain the U.S. reluctance to initiate any Nazi hunt in Argentina. By the mid-1950s, Argentina's emergence as one of the United States' strongest Latin American allies against Communism had replaced American anger at Peron's refusal to expel all German economic interests during and after the war. Ironically, the various military and civilian governments after Peron's ouster contained members who were even more nationalistic than Peron and who had opposed the declaration of war in March 1945. Also, it is likely that the U.S. government's own top-secret recruitment of Gestapo and German intelligence officers after the war to combat Communism in Europe mitigated against any diplomatic finger-pointing about harboring escaped Nazis. These reasons, and possibly just a simple lack of official interest, may account for the silence about Nazis in Argentina and, incredibly, about the source of Peron's wealth in exile. There was no mention of suspected Nazi connections in all the U.S. media commentary about Peron in the years immediately after his ouster. The articles that did speculate about the source of his post-presidency wealth attributed his financial comfort to substantial Swiss bank accounts funded by proceeds from the Eva Peron Foundation, not fleeing Nazis.

Where did Nazi Argentina exist, if not at the official level as it did in the 1940s? Despite the lack of diplomatic pressure, curiosity about the obvious and continued existence of Argentinized Nazis remained at the forefront of public consciousness because of the media's fascination with visually rendering Western civilization's capacity for evil that Hannah Arendt so chillingly described at Eichmann's trial, an evil doubly frightening because it appeared in the guise of the familiar, not the monstrous. Significantly, Eichmann's trial renewed American interest in the wartime notion of a white, Europeanized Nazi Argentina except now Nazi Argentina and Peronist Argentina were synonymous, eliding the role of earlier Argentine governments in maintaining relations with Germany. The newly Peronized Nazi Argentina entered the popular imagination through both non-fiction sources and through fictional portrayals in formats ranging from television sitcoms to experimental surrealistic novels to espionage films. The post-Eichmann media attention did as much, if not more, than earlier efforts to immobilize Argentina in the Peronist moment.

Nazi Argentina re-emerged as a cultural metaphor in the United States just as the country was experiencing a revolution in youth culture. The iconoclastic pose and the maintenance of ironic detachment characterized one strain of the revolution and profoundly affected the media's portrayal of World War II. After two decades of rally-'round-the-flag movies starring ultra-patriots John Wayne and Audie Murphy, taboo-breaking anti-heroes appeared in World War II films made in the 1960s and early 70s such as Von Ryan's Express (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), and Kelly's Heroes (1970). An irreverence for the status quo allowed for darkly humorous mainstream depictions of escaped Nazis. Joking about Nazis in Argentina was not an option in the 1940s and 1950s when the legacy of Spruille Braden's white-hot anger prevented any such commentary. By the late 1960s, however, ridiculing Argentina as a decadent playground for Nazis was acceptable. Two former members of the popular rock band Lovin' Spoonful named their 1967 album Alive and Well in Argentina after seeing the ubiquitous graffito "Hitler Is Alive and Well in Argentina" on a water tank in Lagunitas, California. One of the album's tracks focused on Argentina as a sybaritic paradise. That song, and the album's title, echo an updated version (Hitler and Nazis instead of Butch and Sundance) of the decades-old Euro-American stereotype of Argentina as an amoral and ultimately forgiving refuge for those who needed to escape their past. A 1968 episode of the weirdly hip prison camp comedy Hogan's Heroes reworked the American wartime vision of over-consuming Argentines selling their country's comforts to the highest bidder with no questions asked. Colonel Hogan, the ranking American officer running a prison camp version of Fagin's den, dupes the stupid (and unhip) camp commandant into believing that a jealous husband is about to confront him. Commandant Klink quickly packs for his departure to "our friends in the Argentine." After Klink tells Hogan of his destination, Hogan quips "You'll love it there, Colonel. I hear Goering has already made reservations."

Escaped Nazis living in luxury in Argentina is a common theme all across the spectrum of fictional and non-fiction works about Nazi in hiding. Argentina as a cultural metaphor for the evils of over-consumption had manifested itself in a variety of forms in the United States since the 1890s. Postwar stories about a massive Nazi fortune based on plunder and banked in an accommodating Argentina reinforced the long-held American belief in Argentina's susceptibility to corruption due to an inherent desire to consume without struggling to produce. During the 1960s and 1970s Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal was greatest proponent and popularizer of stories about the life of ease enjoyed by two of the most intriguing figures in postwar Nazi mythology, Deputy Reichsfuhrer Martin Bormann and the "Angel of Death," Dr. Josef Mengele. There were (and still are) so many sightings of Bormann, more often in Argentina but occasionally elsewhere, that one journalist described him in the 1990s as the "Nazi Elvis." Bormann went missing in May 1945, last seen near a bridge in Berlin. At the request of his family, a West German court officially declared Bormann dead in 1954 but reopened the case in the late 1960s after Wiesenthal convinced the German War Crimes office that the Vatican had smuggled Bormann into Argentina. Specifically, Wiesenthal claimed that Bormann was organizing Nazis in Bariloche, a winter resort town often referred to as "Little Bavaria" or "Little Switzerland," close to the Chilean border. Wiesenthal swore he had evidence that Mengele, too, was spirited out of Germany, with the help of his family's substantial fortune, the Swiss Red Cross, and the Vatican. The famed Nazi hunter told Time magazine in 1971 that Mengele was living the lifestyle of an Argentine playboy (it was true that Mengele's wife had stayed behind in Germany with their son) and had been seen "nightclubbing" with Bormann in Mar del Plata, the fashionable gambling resort area south of Buenos Aires.

Fiction and non-fiction are not mutually exclusive categories in depictions of Nazi Argentina; Bormann and Mengele have countless fictional counterparts that continue to lead lives in a Nazified Argentina separate from any known reality. One reason Nazi Argentina has such a hold on the U.S. popular imagination is that men declared dead elsewhere are resurrected there and, through the continuation of their nefarious plans, the wartime fears about the invincibility of Nazi evil becomes a tangible reality. Juan Peron stepped into this strange mix of re-configured history and storytelling in the company of both the fictional and the real Bormann and Mengele who figure prominently in the first revelations about Peron's role in helping Nazi war criminals. Those revelations coincided almost exactly with Peron's first visit to Argentina since his hasty departure in 1955. Just two weeks before he alighted from the plane carrying him from Madrid in late November 1972, Peron appeared on page 172 of Frederick Forsyth's The Odessa File, an enormously successful quasi-fictional account of an alleged network of former Nazis operating out of Argentina. Interspersing real historical personages and events with an authoritatively stated analysis of "Odessa'—Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehorigen (Organization of Former Members of the SS)—the novel helpfully provides the elusive "proof" of Peronist Argentina's complicity with Nazis. In the book, Peron plays a small but crucial role in supplying Odessa operatives with blank Argentine passports. The book's foreword warned that some characters might be readily recognizable and others may not but that "the publishers do not wish to elucidate further because it is in this ability to perplex the reader as to how much is true and how much is false that much of the grip of the story lies." The verisimilitude of The Odessa File, and many espionage thrillers like it, relied on the assumption that Argentina's wartime involvement with Nazi Germany would not be a new revelation to American readers and the belief that Argentina was essentially still a Peronist state three decades after the war. Peron's 1972 return appeared to confirm the latter even if the actual existence of Odessa was never proven.

Peron's return also gave further credence to the alarmist, and nonfiction, claims of Hungarian adventurer Ladislas Farago that the emergence of the Fourth Reich was close at hand. In November and December of 1972, the (London) Daily Express serialized the story of Farago's efforts to discover Martin Bormann in Argentina. Farago produced authentic-looking documentation allegedly proving Bormann had escaped to Argentina in 1948 with the help of a reallife Odessa, its Vatican-based escape network known as Die Spinne (The Spider), and a $500 million-dollar payoff to Peron, who made no public comment about the accusations. Farago's most chilling assertion appeared to confirm the old rumors about gold-laden Uboats landing at night on the Argentine coast. Farago swore that an Argentine federal police officer told him that Bormann had transferred a fortune in looted treasure from Germany to Argentina via U-boats just after the war in Europe ended. That fortune was now being used to finance the revival of the Third Reich through the manufacture of nuclear devices. The latter charge was more persuasive as the United States had known since the late 1940s that Peron had recruited German scientists to start a nuclear energy program as a corrective to Argentina's chronic energy supply problem.

Much to Farago's dismay, the Argentine government said the documents were forgeries, the West German government again declared Bormann dead in April 1973 after finding bones in late December 1972 at the spot he was last seen, and the British, U.S., French, and Soviet intelligence offices refused to de-brief him. Even Simon Wiesenthal declared himself satisfied in 1973 that Bormann was dead, saying his earlier denials were the result of disinformation campaigns designed by Communists eager to embarrass West Germany and by Nazis struggling to keep Nazism alive. But publishers Simon & Schuster and Paramount Studios were very interested in his story. Simon & Schuster released Aftermath in 1974, sidestepping the issue of its validity (they made no attempt at independent confirmation) by using carefully edited endorsements calling attention to the book's resemblance to the newly popular espionage sub-genre of undead Nazis pioneered by writers such as Frederick Forsyth. They touted the book as "an exciting tale" and "the stuff of which thrillers are made." The soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture never made it out of production; the similarly plotted and supposedly fictional The Odessa File was released as a motion picture in 1974 before filming could begin.

For all its questionable data, Farago's failed stab at documenting Nazi war criminals in Argentina was one of very few such efforts outside those of Argentine Jewish groups. But the dearth of reliable information about Argentina's Nazi past permitted a multitude of plausibly plotted fictional treatments continually supplying missing pieces to the never-complete Nazi Argentina puzzle. The post-Watergate culture of paranoia and conspiracy also undoubtedly contributed to the popularity of a spate of Nazis-in-hiding movies and novels published in the 1970s. Most referred in some fashion to an Argentina trapped in the fascist 1940s, serving as an evil weigh-station for Nazis bent on destroying American democracy; even Ira Levin's 1976 The Boys From Brazil refers repeatedly to the Nazi home base in Argentina. In William Goldman's The Marathon Man (the novel and the movie were both released in 1976), a Mengele-like dentist is sent from Argentina to wreak havoc on those who hunt Nazis hidden in the United States. In Thomas Pynchon's surreal masterpiece, Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Francisco Squalidozzi, an Argentine anarchist, flees the current "mess with Peron" in 1945, despondent that Argentina had finally lost its connection to the land that produced its greatness by embracing Peron and his fascistic plans for industrialization. Squalidozzi hijacks a U-boat used to transport Nazis to Argentina and pilots it and a crew of Argentine stereotypes (the gaucho, the playboy, and the tango singer) to a depolarized, stateless Germany where individual autonomy is once again attainable. These detailed, but fictional tales, outlining Argentina's degeneracy into a Nazi puppet state often eclipsed the stories of actual participants in Nazi hunting in Argentina. Isser Harel's account of Eichmann's capture, The House on Garibaldi Street (1975), was a best-seller but was not optioned by Hollywood for the big screen. Instead, it became a low-budget made-for-television movie in 1979.

Nazi Argentina also figured in a series of non-fiction works in the 1980s that uncovered evidence showing Allied-Axis relations were more complicated than originally presented. Research into American business contacts with Nazi Germany during the war and about escaped Nazis placed the United States in an unexpectedly unflattering light. Charles Higham wrote a damning but mostly anonymously sourced account of the United States' economic collaboration with leading German companies during the war. Trading With the Enemy (1983) is a gossipy, tabloid-esque account of how some of the largest American corporations-Ford, IT&T, Standard Oil and General Motors—continued to conduct business with their German subsidiaries during the war through the offices of the Rockefeller-controlled National City Bank and Chase Manhattan Bank. The author claims that immediately after the war the U.S. government hid corporate complicity by provoking the Cold War to prevent any Soviet questioning. It then smeared the members of Roosevelt's administration who knew of the Nazi ties by inducing unmasked Soviet spy Elizabeth Bentley to link them to communists. One of Higham's more astonishing assertions was that the United States did not pursue the search for Nazi assets in neutral countries, including Argentina, because any such search would lead back to U.S. collaborators and their support of fascist regimes. Had Peron held the United States hostage all these years?

Higham answered his question in American Swastika (1985). This book was on more solid factual ground, focusing on the well-documented and highly publicized trial of Klaus Barbie, a convicted war criminal and former Gestapo chief known as the "Butcher of Lyon." He was brought to justice in France in 1983 after living for many years unmolested in Bolivia. During his trial it came to light that the U.S. Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) in Europe hid Barbie from French officials after the war so he could gather intelligence on suspected German and French communist groups. One of the groups the United States believed was Communist-run was the Surete, the French national investigative body. The Surete's repeated requests for Barbie's extradition were subsequently ignored. When French journalists learned of Barbie's existence within the American intelligence community in 1950, the CIC spirited him out of Germany to Argentina and then into Bolivia using a "ratline" similar to the one Farago described as Die Spinne, but without the incriminating and embarrassing U.S. link. Barbie's testimony confirmed much of Farago's information about how Nazis entered Argentina though not exactly who or how many Argentina welcomed. Alois Hudal, a German bishop in Rome well-known as a Nazi sympathizer, was the allegedly Vatican-approved link between the Americans and Peron. Hudal provided new identities (verified by passports supplied by the Argentine government or the International Red Cross) and shelter in a series of church facilities that moved the escapees from Germany to Italy or Spain and then to Argentina.

The U.S. Department of Justice conducted its own investigation into the Barbie case and published its results in 1984. The U.S. government formally apologized to the French government for the Barbie fiasco but disingenuously claimed that the United States was not aware of his conviction as a war criminal, calling the Barbie case an isolated incident of the U.S. employ of a former Nazi. Higham dismissed the latter claim, arguing that the U.S. government helped many "lesser-evil" Nazis to combat "greater evil" communists. Other researchers would more fully document Higham's assertion through the Freedom of Information Act. Using newly declassified documents, journalist Christopher Simpson wrote Blowback in 1988 outlining the United States' recruitment of Nazi intelligence officers and later of German scientists, many of whom entered the United States in great secrecy at the government's direction. His most interesting observation after talking with former CIC agents is that the majority of Nazis, even those who were wanted war criminals, never left Germany; they stayed behind as business and political leaders in the U.S.-protected West German bulwark against Communism. The notoriety followed those comparatively few who fled. Ratlines, published in 1991, provided more information about how those Nazis left Germany and their link to Argentina. Co-author John Loftus, a former attorney with the Justice Department office responsible for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the United States, interviewed Fr. Robert Graham, the official Vatican historian, about Bishop Hudal. Graham admitted Hudal was a "philo-Nazi" and that he did help "a few Nazi war criminals," including Eichmann, escape to Argentina, but that his culpability was still in question as many of those men "might not have used their real names." In any case, said Graham, Hudal did not represent the Vatican and was not a friend of Pope Pius XII.

The accumulation of verifiable evidence pointing to Peronist Argentina's active role in receiving Nazi war criminals emboldened journalist/historian Gerald Posner to write a scathing op-ed piece in the New York Times asking why Argentina would not release the "one-foot thick" federal police file on Bormann that he had spied in the Argentine Federal Police archives while researching a book on Mengele in 1984. Posner timed his article to coincide with the U.S. visit of Argentine President Carlos Saul Menem, the first Justicialista president since Isabel Peron, in November 1991. The Argentine government had repeatedly refused Posner's requests to release the file, citing Argentina's strict privacy laws. Clearly incensed, Posner trotted out the old but still unsupported (despite his citing of unspecified "Nazi records') claims of Bormann's connection to Argentina:

Bormann directed a German submarine operation whose
purpose was to ship death-camp booty to Argentina. Nazi
records show that as muchas 555,000 ounces of gold, 3,500
ounces of platinum and 4,438 carats of diamonds, hundreds
of works of art as well as millions in gold marks,
pounds, dollars and Swiss francs were sent aboard six Uboats
to Argentina.

But Posner was not just interested discovering Bormann's true fate (he described the 1972 West German examination of Bormann's alleged remains as "slipshod') or the location of "Nazi loot." Posner posed a question with far greater implications: why had Argentina not "owned up" to its Nazi pastas the eastern European and Baltic states were now doing? Posner's article had the desired impact. Menem met with representatives from the World Jewish Congress while in New York and promised to open secret government files on Nazi war criminals. Instead of moving Argentina forward into the future promised by its once fabled potential, Menem found himself leading a reluctant Argentina into territory the United States had been mining for three decades—its Nazi past.

The Haunted Country


Menem signed the decree opening government files in February 1992 with the following comment: "Argentina has been hiding the truth for 40 years that the whole world wants to see. This is a debt Argentina is paying to the world." The emphasis on therapeutic truth-telling as a means of preserving the sacred meaning of the Holocaust would test Argentina's willingness to re-write its history. When the available files failed to provide a complete picture of Argentine complicity, what began as an attempt at public expiation and national exorcism of its Nazi ghosts ended in depictions of Argentina as even more entangled in and haunted by its Nazi past.

In addition to information gleaned from their own files, the Argentine government finally made use of the lists submitted by Jewish organizations that it had ignored for years. Some Nazis were easy to find as they never changed their names and lived openly. Josef Schwammberger, wanted for the execution of thousands of Polish Jews, was quickly arrested and turned over to the German authorities in 1992. The Argentine government warned, however, that many files on other suspected Nazis were "cleansed" in the early 1970s before Peron's return. The promisingly thick Bormann file kept by the Federal Police consisted solely of press clippings and reports of sightings. There were no files (or were they destroyed?) on several major war criminals wanted for extradition on the list supplied by the Wiesenthal Center. Even dead Nazis proved difficult to document; there were no existing files on Eichmann. That Argentina was indeed an easy country in which to disappear and escape justice, wrote Nathaniel Nash of the New York Times, was the only issue that was fully resolved.

The search of the Federal Police files did turn up new information on Mengele's activities while living in Argentina from 1949 to 1960 (he was a sometime abortionist) and confirmed that he entered Argentina under the name Gregor Helmut using an International Red Cross passport. The police files also revealed that they had become aware of Mengele's presence in Argentina when they detained him in the 1950s after a botched abortion ended in the death of a patient. A large amount of money secured silence of the Argentine officials and the unnamed patient's family. Even more shocking was the discovery that Mengele used his real name to obtain a new passport and to initiate divorce proceedings from his first wife while in Argentina.

In 1992, Nathaniel Nash of the New York Times asked why Argentina did not expose the Nazis in their midst in the 1950s and 1960s even when it had incontrovertible evidence. Nash provided an interesting answer to his question in an article ominously entitled "Argentina Faces Some Evil History, But Not All." That Peron was an admirer of fascism was a partial answer. Anti-Semitism was certainly a factor. But echoing similar North American observations of Argentina dating back to the 1890s, Nash concluded that there was something askew in the Argentine national character that allowed them to live calmly amongst the truly evil:

There is no good evidence that any Nazis played any part
in the Dirty War. But the fact that the culture tolerated both
seems to indicate that the intense nationalism instilled by
General Peron—and a willingness to overlook abuses of
power in exchange for social order—lasted well beyond
his Government and crossed party lines.

Nash concluded that this flaw in the Argentine character was also the reason Menem had not opened the files on the Dirty War and had pardoned convicted military and police officers charged with "disappearing" their fellow citizens. It was also the reason why ex-Nazis and Nazi war criminals continued to live in Argentina even after Menem's February 1992 announcement and Schwammberger's extradition later that year.

Nash wrote several more articles in 1992 and 1993 for the New York Times about the imminent collapse of Argentine efforts to reexamine Peron's legacy of turning a blind eye. Many Argentine agencies had ignored the initial order to turn over files, including the foreign ministry. Shimon Samuels campaigned for the release of the files, warning that Holocaust revisionists will succeed if the "memory [of the Holocaust]" is not kept "fresh" by "continu[ing] the education process of exactly what happened." An embarrassed Guido Di Tella, Menem's foreign minister, invited investigators sponsored by Argentine and international Jewish groups to examine the ministry's files which were in a state of complete disarray. The investigators found over 1,000 names of suspected Nazi war criminals, plus their collaborators from German-occupied or allied countries, who had escaped to Argentina. Most were believed dead but among those presumed still living was former SS captain Erich Priebke. Priebke was wanted by the Italian government for the massacre of Italian civilians and partisans in the Adreatine caves in 1944. In a stunning visual demonstration of the banal nature of Nazi evil Hannah Arendt wrote about three decades earlier and of the near mythic Argentine ability to co-exist with Nazi evil, an American television film crew casually and calmly unmasked Priebke in May 1994.

Amazingly, it was a fellow Nazi-in-hiding, Reinhard Kopps, who revealed Priebke's location to an ABC crew filming a segment in Argentina on the outcome of Di Tella's release of foreign ministry records. Even more astoundingly, Sam Donaldson of ABC's investigative television program PrimeTime Live simply walked up to the eighty year-old Priebke near his tidy home in quiet Bariloche and asked him to confirm his identity. Priebke, who arrived in Argentina in 1951 using his real name, admonished Donaldson for not being a gentleman by ambushing him in public. He said he was not a war criminal; he had his orders to kill partisans in reprisal for the killing of German soldiers. Some of Priebke's Argentine neighbors admitted they knew about his Nazi past but that it was "so long ago." Even the Italian vice-consul in Bariloche knew about Priebke but did nothing as he believed Priebke had repented. Argentina extradited Priebke in 1995. But the support of his Argentine neighbors only reinforced the American belief that Argentina still suffered from, as one Jewish-sponsored Argentine investigator told PrimeTime Live, Peronist Argentina's "absence of moral responsibility." The media glare on Argentina's unreconstructed past and cultural devolution intensified with the United States' decision in April 1996 to formally investigate the Nazis' network of economic allies for the first time since the end of the war.

To combat the growing number of Holocaust deniers, Jewish groups and Holocaust historians in the 1990s expanded their search for evidence of the systematic destruction of Jews to include those who facilitated that destruction but did not actually participate in the killings. What was not known, and was of increasing interest in the United States as large numbers of Holocaust survivors reached the end of their lives, was the disposition of the financial assets stolen or confiscated by the Nazis from Holocaust victims. The December 1993 report of the Argentine investigative team reflected the new and broader approach to defining criminal and moral complicity in the Holocaust with the inclusion of pro-fascist Belgian, French, and Croatian intermediaries, most of whom were not wanted for war crimes, but who arranged for the transfer of Nazis and their stolen assets from Europe to Argentina. But the Argentine files could provide only partial answers to the mystery surrounding the disbursement of the stolen Nazi assets. In 1996 Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, personally urged Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), chair of the Senate Banking Committee, to throw the weight of the U.S. government behind an effort to trace neutral Switzerland's financing of Nazi Germany's war machine and its handling of Nazi plunder within its ultra-secretive banking system.

With much public fanfare about the United States' desire for an accounting, D'Amato sent a team of researchers to the National Archives to scour "top secret" documents. In actuality, most of the documents were declassified years earlier; none of the documents relating to Argentina were still classified. After just a few weeks of searching, the team discovered a smoking gun. The postwar Salmonovitz report, found in the captured German records, indicated that Swiss banks knew they held unclaimed Jewish accounts and did not make any effort to trace the holders or their heirs. Unfortunately, the team and D'Amato accorded too many documents the same sort of significance. The rapid release of "incriminating documents" about the alleged Swiss-Argentine money-laundering scheme turned the search into a media spectacle, giving them far more credence than they deserved. One letter in particular from Secretary of Treasury Morgenthau to Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew in February 1945 became the Rosetta Stone for several journalists in the 1990s seeking to prove Argentina's Nazi economic ties. Morgenthau did state his belief that Argentina was the center of Nazi financial operations (which was not breaking news even in 1945) but the letter is mostly a series of educated guesses as to what Argentina was holding for the Nazis. Other "discoveries" in the State Department files, heatedly announced by D'Amato, included a 1946 consular report of an unconfirmed rumor that Goering and Goebbels had moved $20 million dollars into Argentina via Swiss diplomatic pouch. Two 1997 television documentaries about the Nazi-Swiss bank connection, A&E's "Blood Money" and PBS' "Nazi Gold," cited these documents as providing the definitive link between Switzerland and Argentina.

D'Amato's high-profile press releases about Argentina's complicity coincided with two other events that would merge the two most recognizable stereotypes about Peronist Argentina in the American popular imagination into single spectacle of moral depravity. The over-hyped and under-whelming movie version of the musical Evita was released in the United States on December 25, 1996. Just weeks after the movie's American debut, a second report from Argentine investigators disclosed evidence of a Nazi recruitment team organized by Peron and Rodolfo Freude, the son of his close friend and rumored Nazi front man Ludwig Freude. On Peron's orders, this team arranged for the immigration of German scientists and technicians, which had long been suspected by the United States. The extent of Peron's involvement, outside of the recruitment of "helpful" Germans, was unclear but it now appeared that a major source of Peron's post-1955 wealth carne from the proceeds of the sale of passports and visas to all and sundry (estimates range from 8,000 to 60-90,000), some of whom were war criminals. Pierre Daye, a Peron confidante and former Nazi collaborator in Belgium, kept records of the team's meetings along with a list of participants including Branko Benzon, a pro-Nazi Croatian who had been that country's ambassador to Berlin; French collaborator Jacques Marie de Mahieu; and, more significantly, Eva Peron.

The discovery of this list in the Argentine national archives furnished the first solid connection between Evita and Nazis. In 1974 Ladislas Farago had accused Evita of being a Nazi go-between beginning in 1941, two years before she met Peron. He provided no evidence for the charge and it was discounted along with most of his research.

The 1997 revelation appeared to confirm the long-standing and dominant media image of Evita the Bitch Goddess, the co-ruler if not primary political leader of Peronist Argentina. The list indicated Evita was privy to recruitment efforts but no other documents surfaced detailing the extent of her involvement. Rumor replaced research in the haste to fill in the blanks of the Evita-as-Nazi portrait with much of the focus placed on discerning the "real" purpose of her 1947 European visit. Journalist Anne Louise Bardach's March 1997 Vanity Fair article on Edgar Bronfman and his efforts to unmask the complicit Swiss repeated Shimon Samuels' assertion made in January 1997 that Evita deposited Nazi funds into numbered Swiss bank accounts during the Rainbow Tour. A photograph of Evita with the following caption accompanies the text: "Nazi sympathizer Eva Peron with four-time Swiss president Philipp Etter in Bern in 1945 [sic]." In Hitler's Silent Partners (1997), author Isabel Vincent claimed Evita met with Ante Pavelic, the leader of the collaborationist Croatian Ustashe regime. Pavelic allegedly traveled to Switzerland to hand over the tainted money for the visas and passports ferried by Evita. In Pack of Thieves (1999), journalist Richard Chesnoff states the case even more firmly, but with no supporting evidence or citations: "Historians believe that Senora Peron's first and only visit to Switzerland was tied more to the Perons' Swiss bank accounts ... than it was to foreign affairs." The accusation that there was an evil intent behind the undertaking of the Rainbow Tour assumes that Switzerland was always on Evita's itinerary. The trip to Switzerland was hastily arranged when Evita decided, after she had already arrived in Europe, that she would not accept England's offer of a private meeting with the King and Queen instead of the requested official state visit. Speculation about Evita's complicity will continue until the Swiss banks search for such accounts. Despite requests from Peron himself in the 1960s and more recently by Shimon Samuels, the Swiss have refused.

Bardach also wrote an op-ed piece entitled "Argentina Evades Its Nazi Past" for the New York Times in March 1997, blurring the line between present-day Argentina and Peron's Argentina. Specifically, Bardach claimed that Argentina refused to admit to Peronismo's essential wickedness:

The complicity of the European neutrals, however, paled
in comparison with the treachery of a country that deserves
greater scrutiny: Argentina. Whereas the Swiss-Nazi relationship
was entirely mercenary, that between Juan Peron's
Argentina and Hitler's Germany was seamless and symbiotic,
and ideological marriage of caudillismo (local boss
rule) and Fascism.

Bardach did not elaborate on who or what Argentina betrayed but the implication is clear that Argentina was once considered a civilized country before turning traitorous under Peron. The current Justicialista government is perpetuating the tradition of treacherous behavior as it has extended only "token cooperation," wrote Bardach, "parceling out just enough information to stave off international condemnation." The country will continue to be a safe haven for the "many Nazis [that] are alive and thriving in Argentina," claimed the author, as long as Argentina is concerned mainly with protecting its national pride and the founder of the Justicialista Party.

The release of the preliminary findings report by the D'Amato investigative team in May 1997 clarified the source of the United States' disappointment with Peronist Argentina. The report stated that there was not enough verifiable information to conclude that Argentina's economic dealings with Switzerland and with Nazi Germany were criminal. But the large amount of anecdotal evidence pointed to a far worse crime, one that had only come to light with recent reassessments of the Holocaust. Stuart Eizenstat, coordinator of the U.S. effort, outlined this charge in the 1997 report:

... in the unique circumstances of World War II, neutrality
collided with morality; too often being neutral provided a
pretext for avoiding moral considerations ... it is painfully
clear that Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland,
Turkey, and other neutral countries were slow to recognize
and acknowledge that this was not just another war.
Most never did. Nazi Germany was a mortal threat to
Western civilization itself, and had it been victorious, to
the survival of even the neutral countries themselves.

Shortly before the report's release in April 1997, the Argentine government announced it would establish a "truth commission" similar to the one the Swiss set up at the United States' request in 1996. Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella said that Argentina wanted to "satisfy [its] debt to society for the sins that Argentina committed in accepting Nazis after the war." The committee reached the same conclusions as the D'Amato team and the earlier Argentine investigators with the proviso that it seems unlikely that the documentation exists to conclusively resolve all the questions about Argentina's Nazi past. In any case, the U.S. government and print media lost interest in Argentina's promise to cleanse itself after Eizenstat's sad commentary on Peronist Argentina's devolution. When the new Argentine president, Fernando de la Rua, journeyed to the United States in June 2000 to publicly apologize and ask forgiveness for hiding Nazis, the New York Times and the Washington Post barely mentioned the visit. The major newsmagazines ignored it altogether. The Argentina portrayed in the American media remains in the new millennium a haunted nation, trapped in its evil but glamorously seductive Nazi-Peronist past.

Even as the exact details of the United States' anger with Peron's Argentina fade from the public consciousness, the undying evil implicit in any invocation of Nazi Argentina holds the pre-eminent place alongside Evita the Cinderella/Bitch Goddess in the hierarchy of stereotypes about Argentina in the American popular imagination that stretch back to the 1870s. Best-selling spy novelist W.E.B. Griffin continues to mine wartime Argentina for his popular "Argentine series" of espionage thrillers. The director of Hannibal (2000), the much awaited sequel to the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs, avoided the book's original ending which featured the cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter and his former nemesis, FBI agent Clarice Starling, living glamorously in Buenos Aires, surgically altered to physically resemble Juan and Eva Peron. In 2001, the Globe, a supermarket tabloid known for its ridiculously doctored photos of the freak show variety, claimed that superannuated Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler were alive in Argentina—with accompanying photographs. Conspiracy theories linking the undead Bormann with the assassination of President John E Kennedy in 1963 have found a new lease on life on the Internet.

If indeed Evita did say on her deathbed, "I shall return, and I shall be millions," she certainly received her wish, though maybe not in the manner she expected. Evita the historical personage has long since been eclipsed by Evita the commodity and cultural cliche. Now there are many Evitas, each serving a different political, cultural, or economic purpose. In 1997 dollmaker Madame Alexander released an Evita doll (dressed in a white strapless gown with her arms raised in the "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" pose, microphone included) as part of its benignly presented "famous women in history" series. Numerous cyber-altars dot the Internet, reinterpreting "independent" Evita as a symbol of "girl power" or emphasizing her Santa Evita persona as an example of "feminine" compassion. A Halloween website listed "the Evita" as one of their favorite "celebrity" costumes ("Blonde hair slicked back into a tight bun, twin sweater set, simple skirt, high heels and make-up. Feign a Spanish accent'). In the ultimate example of pop cultural relevance, in 1999 the creators of the enormously popular television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer coined the neologism "Evita-like" to describe anyone acting "arrogant and/or self-centered."

The portrait of the politicized, de-feminized, and destabilizing Evita continues to inform the debate over the placement of women in the public arena. An op-ed piece in the Washington Post during the New York senatorial race in 2000 labeled candidate (and then First Lady) Hillary Clinton as "our own Evita" for her "political machinations" within her husband's government. In naming Evita one of the most influential women of the 20th century, the Ladies" Home Journal carefully crafted the essay about Evita so as not to glorify or celebrate her particular brand of "feminine" glamour and politics. It will be interesting to see how and if the new information about Evita's ties to escaped Nazis changes her portrayal in the American media or alters future productions of the Rice/Lloyd Webber rock opera.

In 1995 Argentine historian Ignacio Klich observed that "some are more concerned with preserving in the public imagination a link between Peron and Nazism that is not entirely accurate nor wholly inaccurate." He lamented that "past experience suggests that some perceptions will not be adjusted, not in a month of Sundays, to conform to inconvenient historical facts." Klich is correct is assessing the American disregard in separating fact from fiction but misses the cultural significance of the American mythology about Peronist Argentina. Peron's Nazi Argentina fascinated the United States in the 1940s and 1950s because it helped define, in an uncomplicated fashion, the wartime and postwar American understanding of civilization as a product of democratic capitalism. Earlier descriptions of Argentina as a proto-America explain why American disappointment with Peron's Argentina was felt so keenly. Though the initial validity of the comparison between the two countries has long since been forgotten by most Americans, the sporadic yet intense media fascination with Peronist Argentina secured it a place in the American popular imagination. The recent appropriation and fetishizing of old stereotypes demonstrate that as long as there are new ways to interpret and commodify the spectacle of Juan and Eva Peron and the Nazi inhabitants of their Argentina, they will be a part of the American popular imagination.