The Ezeiza Massacre:
On June 20, 1973, Juan Domingo Peron
, former and future President of Argentina, returned to Buenos Aires
after eighteen years in exile. Argentina had not fared well in his absence and millions looked to Peron to make positive changes. An estimated three million people showed up at the Ezeiza airport to greet Peron that day. Peron, ever the skilled politician, had deftly played both liberal and conservative elements of Argentine society so well that Argentines of all political stripes were clamoring for his return. These different factions agreed on little else, however, and at the rally for Peron at the Ezeiza airport, right-wing Peronists opened fire on left-wing Peronists, killing at least 13. The Ezeiza massacre, in some ways, marks the beginning of the Dirty War that would terrorize Argentina for the next decade.
Juan Domingo Peron in Power:
Juan Domingo Peron was a masterful politician. Together with his beautiful wife Evita
, he energized the Argentine electorate like no one before him had ever done. He was elected to two terms, first in 1946 and then in 1951. He was a populist and progressive, passing changes such as a limit on hours people could work in a day and establishing a decent minimum wage. He coolly negotiated the nascent Cold War
, maintaining good relations with both the USA and the Soviet Union. In his second term, things got rough for Peron. Evita died, robbing him of his most important supporter. His attempts to legalize prostitution and divorce alienated conservatives and the church. He was removed by a military coup in 1955.
Peron in Exile:
Peron spent years in exile, mostly in Spain. Even in exile, Peron had a powerful hold on the people of Argentina. The new government even forbade speaking Peron’s name in public. While a succession of governments bungled things in Argentina, Peron waited patiently. He cultivated relationships with several different factions in the increasingly polarized Argentina. A political master, he made contradictory promises to Argentine liberals and conservatives, making all of them believe that he would support their platforms if returned to power.
Return to Argentina:
Even from afar, Peron cast a long shadow on Argentine politics. Candidates that he publicly supported frequently won elections and an increasing number of people demanded his return. In 1973, Héctor Cámpora ran for president, basically promising to hand the office over to Peron if elected. He was elected and Peron began to plan his long-awaited return to power. Meanwhile, astute Argentines began wondering how he was going to keep all of the promises he had kept. The more radicalized factions on either side began jockeying for position in what they knew was going to be a struggle for power within the Peronist movement.
The Ezeiza Massacre:
The day before Peron’s return, a raised platform stage was constructed at the airport: here Perón would accept the welcome of adoring Argentines. The various factions immediately began staking out positions, intending to be as close to the platform as possible. Conservative Peronists, many of them members of an assortment of trade unions, were the first to occupy the places they wanted – and they were well armed. They hid some gunmen inside the platform. On June 20, as Perón was flying home from Spain, millions of people began arriving. Among those who arrived were militant left-wing Peronists from the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) and the Montoneros guerrilla group. When the members of the FAR and Montoneros attempted to get close to the platform, the conservative Peronists opened fire. According to official statistics, 13 were killed and over 300 wounded. Some historians say the actual number of killed was higher. After the massacre, Peron’s airplane was diverted to a military airport.
Aftermath of the Ezeiza Massacre:
The Ezeiza Massacre was a predictable result of the increasing polarization of Argentina coupled with the return of the extremely charismatic Perón. In the chaos that followed, no one ever really got to the bottom of who had laid the ambush for the Montoneros and the FAR. Perón himself moved increasingly toward the right, giving implicit support the perpetrators of the massacre. Within the year, the Montoneros and the FAR would join forces, go underground and resume terrorist guerrilla warfare.
The planners of the massacre would organize under José López Rega, Perón's Minister of Social Welfare. Ezeiza was an important step in the creation of the AAA, or Argentine Anti-communist Alliance, a right-wing death squad responsible for hundreds of deaths during the decade which followed the massacre.
Perón, ever the masterful politician, managed (just barely) to keep the contradictory forces he had unleashed under control. He died about a year later, however, on July 1, 1974, of a heart attack. With his death, any semblance of co-operation between the various factions disintegrated. Perón's weak-willed widow Isabela was left in power, but in March of 1976 she was removed by a military coup. The military would continue to rule Argentina until 1983, a reign of terror known as "the Dirty War."
The Ezeiza Massacre is an important moment on any timeline of Argentine politics. In some ways, it marked the beginning of the so-called "Dirty War" which would eventually claim the lives of thousands of Argentine civilians. Although the violence had begun years earlier, the Ezeiza massacre proved that these militant, rival factions would not be able to unite under Peron.
Alaniz, Rogelio. La Masacre de Ezeiza. Spanish.
Calvo, Pablo. Ezeiza, una masacre que causó el estallido del peronismo. Spanish.
Eichelbaum, Carlos. Ezeiza, un massacre premonitoria. Spanish.