Evita Peron finally fits the bill as Argentina's first lady of note


BEFORE SHE died from cancer at the age of 33, Argentina’s first lady Eva Perón supposedly uttered the phrase: “I will return and I will be millions.”

Now the woman known simply as Evita, whose life has already been commemorated in a West End musical, has become the first woman to appear on an Argentinian banknote after President Cristina Kirchner unveiled a new 100-peso note (€18) featuring the iconic leader on the eve of the 60th anniversary of her death.

“This is a historic work which consecrates a woman who marked not only the lives of Argentinians but [who is] a landmark in world history,” said President Kirchner at Wednesday’s ceremony in the Casa Rosada.

Herself a Peronist, Mrs Kirchner has in recent years overseen a revival in the cult of Evita, the second wife of the movement’s founder, Juan Domingo Perón.

The image of Evita is based on a sketch drawn up for a note planned after her death in 1952 but which was hidden following the military coup which overthrew her husband in 1955.

The new note unveiled by the president is a commemorative issue, but at the ceremony she said she wants it to replace the existing 100-peso note, which bears the image of Julio Argentino Roca, who twice served as the country’s president in the late 19th century.

Roca’s reputation has been attacked in recent years by historians and intellectuals close to Mrs Kirchner because of his leading role in the Conquest of the Desert, the military campaign that secured the fertile pampa region from Indian attacks and conquered large swathes of Patagonia. Once a national hero, Roca is now considered by revisionist historians to have committed genocide against the native peoples he encountered a campaign he promised would “extinguish, subdue or expel” any Indians encountered.

But though Mrs Kirchner has revived the cult of Evita in recent years, even mounting a huge mural of her on a ministerial building overlooking Buenos Aires’ main avenue, the former first lady remains a divisive figure.

Peronists like to recall her charitable work for the country’s poor but critics dismiss her as a populist demagogue who asked supporters, “Shall we burn down Barrio Norte?”, referring to a wealthy Buenos Aires neighbourhood.

Controversy has also surrounded the issuing of Argentina’s currency. At the new note’s unveiling, President Kirchner said it would be printed by the Money House, the state body responsible for new banknotes. Her vice-president, Amado Boudou, who attended Wednesday’s ceremony, has been caught up in a corruption scandal after he was accused of awarding a contract to print currency to a private firm when he headed the economy ministry.

The controversy broke after the former wife of an executive in the company that won the contract claimed Boudou was a secret partner in the firm. The vice-president has denied the claim.