March 11, 2012

Drama, Drama, Drama…

Argentina has only been an independent country for a little over 200 years. So it’s not that they have a long history, but they sure do have a dramatic one. It’s hard to go a day in Buenos Aires without hearing some reference to politics. After going on a couple of walking tours with local guides, it’s clear that Argentina’s politicians have more drama than a Brazilian telenovela (soap opera). I am by no means a history expert…I just pick up some of these anecdotes along the way. If you are proficient in Argentine history, please forgive me for butchering the following stories…

In the short time that we’ve been here, I have developed a minor obsession with Eva Peron. It was raining on our first day in the city, so we went to the Evita Museum, which is just a few blocks away from Chris and Mary’s apartment.

Before coming here, I didn’t know much about Eva Peron, but now I find her legend really captivating. She came from nothing, moved to Buenos Aires when she was 14, became an actress, met an up-and-coming Juan Peron, became the First Lady of Argentina, and won the hearts of the working class, children, elderly and women. She was a very polarizing figure…half of the people loved her and half of them hated her. She died from cancer at just 33 years old. Whether you agree with her work or not, it’s amazing to think about all that she accomplished in such a short lifetime.

After her death, Eva’s body went through a series of extremely unusual circumstances. It was embalmed and put on display at the union workers’ building. Then when Juan Peron was ousted, it was stolen by the military dictatorship and hidden under a fake name in a cemetery in Milan, Italy. After the military dictatorship ended, Juan Peron became the President for a third time and then died unexpectedly. His third wife, Isabel, was the Vice President. So she became President, and she had Eva’s body returned to Argentina to be handed over to her father’s family. Is this straight out of a soap opera or what?

Her body now rests 2 stories underground in the Duarte Family tomb in Recoleta. It’s an unassuming tomb, tucked back in a very modest section of the cemetery. Despite it being the most popular tomb in Recoleta, some believe that Eva Durarte Peron came from too low class of a family to be buried there.

It seems that much of Argentina’s modern history is somehow directly tied to the actions of Juan Peron. When his third wife became President, she was overthrown by the military and that was the start of The Dirty War of 1976-1983. During this time, approximately 30,000 people began disappearing. In actuality, they were young educated people who the military claimed were terrorists. They were sent to concentration camps and their children were either sold or kept by the military and raised as their own.

There is a huge movement by the mothers of the missing called Madres de Plaza de Mayo. They started as out small protestors in the 1970s, but now they are a huge organization and are corrupt. The good guys in this story are the grandmothers of the missing called the Abuelos de Plaza de Mayo. This organization is working hard to match the stolen children back up with their grandparents. It’s believed there were 600 children stolen during The Dirty War. Now those children are between the ages of 25-35 and they have matched 105 of them to their real grandparents. Imagine being one of those children and finding out that the parents who have raised you your entire life are not only yours, but that they sent your real parents to die. There are peaceful protests every week to remember the missing.

Argentina currently has a female president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Her husband used to be the President. After his term ended, she was elected President and he passed away right before her second-term elections. The story on the street is that she received a lot of sympathy (and paid for a lot of votes), and consequently was reelected. But everyone seems to have short-term memory loss. They voted her in, but no one likes her! It is openly joked that she is corrupt and doesn’t work very much.

The presidential residence is about 20 kilometers outside of Buenos Aires. Cristina takes a helicopter into the city every day and “works” at Casa Rosada or “The Pink House”. This is the Argentine version of The White House. Why is Casa Rosada pink? Our tour guide told us that no one knows for sure. The most widely accepted theory is that they didn’t have waterproof paint at the time of construction, so they mixed white paint with cow’s blood.

Casa Rosada is open for tours on Saturdays and Sundays. Compared to the White House tour we did early this year, we were surprised at how many rooms they let us see. We traipsed everywhere from the press room and inauguration room to the center balcony and the President’s office. By the way, Evita’s famous speeches were not done from the center balcony. She spoke from the balcony on the far left. Madonna was given access to film the balcony scenes of Evita at Casa Rosada, but she was only allowed on the balconies to the far right.

Compared to the White House, they have very few historical pieces of furniture or paintings on display. Instead, there is a lot of modern artwork and even a museum of sorts dedicated to pulp culture icons.

One night on our drive home from Puerto Madero, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a blaring Casa Rosada out of the corner of our eyes. It was lit up like Disney World. Incredibly odd. This was so intriguing that we later asked out tour guide about it. He told us that the house has always been lit up in some capacity, but that Christina has taken it to a whole new level of tackiness.

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