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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Evita: 50 years as a symbol
The house where Eva Peron was born
Evita's birthplace is a place of pilgrimage

"Evita vive- Evita lives" say the slogans on walls in the poorer districts of Argentina's capital Buenos Aires.

On the 50th anniversary of Eva Peron's death, many Argentines still feel the need to turn to her for help and support.

Eva and Juan Peron in the 1940s
Eva became a formidable politician
With official unemployment at more than 20%, and at least 40% of Argentines living in poverty, the image of Evita Peron conjures up a time when life in Argentina was very different.

Evita was born as Maria Eva Ibarurgen in a small town on the Argentine pampas in 1919.

As a young woman, she headed for the capital and launched herself on a career as an actress on the radio and in films.

She came to prominence after her marriage to the then Colonel Juan Domingo Peron in 1945.

She was at his side when he was elected president in 1946, and was an essential part of the triumphant growth of Peronism.

Peronist hope

In the late 1940s, Argentina was rich and full of hope.

Evita, as she soon became known, helped bring in new laws which for example gave Argentine women the vote for the first time, and extended equal rights to illegitimate children.

Her political appeal was immense, above all among the new immigrants and the poorer people from Argentina's interior.

Eva Peron's funeral cortege
Thousands lined the streets for her funeral
This was helped by her passionate speech-making, coupled with the sense of vulnerability she conveyed.

This image of frailty increased when she fell ill with cancer, and died on 26 July 1952.

Millions of Argentines lined the streets for her funeral or filed past her body during the lying-in-state.

After her death, Evita's embalmed body was first kept by a military officer, then began a bizarre tour of several European countries, before finally being laid to rest in a Buenos Aires cemetery.

On her tomb figure the famous words: "Don't cry for me, Argentina, I remain very near you."

Rejection

Not everyone in Argentina saw Evita in such a positive light.

For many middle class Argentines, she was the image of anti-democratic populism, someone who used her position for personal gain.

They saw the emergence of Peronism, and her part in it, not as a golden age, but as the beginning of Argentina's chronic social and economic problems.

Juan Peron himself was overthrown by a military coup three years after Evita's death, since when Argentina has experienced more than four decades of military rule, corruption, social conflict and a worsening economic position.

Dark days

Fifty years on from Evita's death, everyday life in Argentina is grim for many of its 35 million inhabitants.

Eva Peron on a balcony
Evita saluting her Peronist followers
In the past six months, the value of wages against the US dollar has fallen by three-quarters.

Although Argentina is one of the world's greatest agricultural exporters, there is scarcity and malnutrition at home.

There have been five presidents in the past year, and almost no-one trusts politicians, whatever their party.

In the face of all this, the image of Evita has only grown in importance for many Argentines.

BBC News Online explains how Argentina suffered the near-collapse of its economy

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See also:

02 Jan 01 | UK Confidential
03 Jun 00 | Health
27 Apr 02 | Business
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