Isabel Peron is a former President of Argentina; the first woman to hold this position. She also holds the distinction of being the first female president of any country in the world. She was married to the former president, Juan Peron, and during her husband’s third term as president from 1973 to 1974, she served as both vice president and First Lady. She was made the president following her husband’s death. The daughter of a lower middle-class family, she struggled throughout childhood due to financial insecurity. Unable to continue her education beyond the fifth grade, she became a nightclub dancer as a young girl. She became acquainted with Juan Peron, a politician who was 35 years her senior, while he was on exile. The powerful politician who was at that time a widower, immediately became attracted to the young dancer’s beauty and began living with her. The couple soon married as their live-in relationship was unacceptable to the conservative society. Following her marriage she too became involved in politics and was made the vice president upon her husband’s election to presidency, and the president upon his death. Her tenure was, however, fraught with controversies and she was forced to go into exile.
Childhood & Early Life
Isabel Peron was born as María Estela Martínez Cartas on February 4, 1931, in La Rioja, Argentina, into a lower middle-class family to María Josefa Cartas Olguín and Carmelo Martínez. Her father was a local bank manager.
The death of her father when she was a young child plunged the family into a financial crisis. She did not receive much formal education and dropped out of school after fifth grade. However, she received training in piano, dance, and French.
After dropping out of school, she found work as a dancer. Initially she performed in folk music groups and night clubs before getting the chance to dance in leading theaters in Buenos Aires. During this time, she adopted the name Isabel as her professional name.
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She was on tour with a dance troupe in 1956 when she met former Argentine president Juan Peron in Latin America. The politician had recently been removed from the Argentine presidency and was now in exile.
Peron, a middle-aged man at that time, was immediately impressed by Isabel’s charms and made her his personal secretary. Isabel accompanied him in exile and moved with him to Spain in 1960. They got married the next year.
Isabel Peron became involved in resurrecting her husband’s political career while honing her own. Since her husband was forbidden to return to Argentina, Isabel made several trips to the country on his behalf, building support for Juan Peron in anticipation of his return to politics.
Juan Peron was finally allowed to return to Argentina to run for president in 1973. He chose Isabel as his nominee for vice presidency at the suggestion of his close adviser José López Rega.
Juan Peron won the election with 62% of the vote and began his third term as the president in October 1973, with Isabel as both the First Lady and the vice president. By this time Juan’s health was deteriorating and gradually Isabel began taking up more political responsibilities upon her own shoulders.
The president’s health became very delicate in June 1974 after he suffered from a series of heart attacks. Juan Peron died on 1 July 1974 and Isabel Peron formally assumed the presidency, thus becoming the first woman in the world to become the president of any country.
As the president, her first significant economic policy decision was the enactment of a new, pro-labor employment contract law. Initially she received much support, primarily in the form of sympathy as she was a grieving widow thrust into the responsible role of the president.
However, she began losing the public’s support following a string of politically motivated murders. Her close friendship with a corrupt minister in her cabinet, José López Rega, the Minister of Social Welfare, also added to Isabel’s deteriorating public image.
The nation was rocked by escalating violence as political murders continued to rise rapidly. Following the murder of Buenos Aires Police Chief Alberto Villar and his wife, Isabel was persuaded to declare a state of siege in November 1974.
In February 1975, the military campaign Operation Independence was initiated. The campaign though considered successful from a military point of view gained notoriety for its brutality as several innocent citizens were also attacked in addition to the insurgents.
Political chaos continued and citizens grew increasingly frustrated with her presidency. She was asked to resign but she refused. Finally in March 1976 she was deposed in a bloodless coup and placed under house arrest for five years.
She was convicted of corrupt practices in 1981 but was later paroled following which she went into exile to Spain. She was pardoned in 1983 following which she resumed a low-profile life in Spain.
In 2007, an Argentine judge ordered her arrest over the forced disappearance of an activist in February 1976. She was soon arrested near her home but Spanish courts refused her extradition to Argentina.
Personal Life & Legacy
Isabel Peron first met her future husband Juan Peron when he was in exile in Panama. Peron, 35 years her senior, had lost his beloved second wife Eva a few years ago and became attracted to the young dancer. Isabel moved with Juan to Spain in 1960. The couple got married the next year.
She presently lives in exile in Spain.