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Argentina. Five photos (3)

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The Ministerio de Obras Publicas (Ministry of Public Works, a common way in South America to designate the institution that in theory builds public structures) is located in a peculiar location. It is in the Avenida 9 de Julio, which is not odd as that is the center of the city. What is odd is that it is IN THE MIDDLE. Yes, to the side you have the Avenida Lima but the structure of the building sits alone inside 9 de Julio, separated from any other buildings by streets on all sides.
The Ministry is famous because of one mural: to one side you have a metal structure depicting one of the icons of the country, the famous Mrs Evita Peron. Argentina is a country of passionate people and one side effect of being a passionate person is that you are easily polarized. Diego Maradona, a person that for all practical purposes is a villain, is an idol that people of other countries will never understand. He guided Argentina to their second world cup but, if you talk to an Argie, he won it all by himself. The other 10 players on the field were there simply to hoist him when he finished his heroics and because of that, nothing that Mr. Maradona has ever done since has been criticized at all.
Mrs Peron also holds such a position. To some, sainthood is not good enough for her. She was a champion of women’s rights, of the poor, of the left, and, together with the Che Guevara (whom she never met, by the way), is the embodiment of the Argentinian Leftist movement. To others, she was a cunning actress who came very close to power by marrying well, her husband Juan Peron. Together, they form the dual buttresses of PERONISMO, a political and popular movement that for 21 years I have asked Argentinians what is it about and which I have never received an answer. Marxism is a movement (good or bad) with a philosophical base (Das Kapital), Nazism is another (clearly evil this time) based on another book (Mein Kampf). But Peronismo defies definition and only once in all my travels to Argentina (in this trip) has a person loyal to the movement (but in reality a Kichnerista, an amalgam of socialist ideas that also is undefined) been able to tell me what it is. Except that he didn’t. While talking politics (an extreme sport here) I mentioned that I was a capitalist on some issues, and a socialist in others, to which he replied that that was exactly what Peronismo was. So I prodded him, he did not venture the answer. The fact that almost all right wing people dislike Peronismo (and Kichnerismo) completely, and therefore belie the idea, seemed to escape him.
And the mural is an analogy for Peronismo itself. Whether you find it beautiful or not, when you look closer you can see that, below the mural, lies an incredibly horrible building. Drab and grey, built as in sections added as they were needed, the building is dirty on the outside and being a public ministry in a South American country, perhaps the same inside. Evita therefore adorns the façade of a structure that really is unappealing, a reminder that if you want to keep your heroes you better not look too much underneath. If you idolize somebody you better not read a proper biography and certainly you better not give it much thought to who they really were. JFK, MLK, Ghandi, Churchill, Clinton and many others lose their luster in quite a hurry when you properly find out about their lives.
Evita is protected. The mural is way too high for people to reach it an deface it and she has been given a coat of fine paint by popular culture, specially Lloyd Weber’s awful stuff, so distorted that the only thing missing in that pathetic “Opera” is for her to marry Che and not Juan Domingo, to become some sort of Adam and Eve of Latin America socialism and communism.
I always say that Argentina is beautiful. I love it, and I owe it a lot. But Argentina, in reality, has no excuses for being third world. Argentina should be first world and the only people to blame are Argies themselves. And if they really want to stop being what they are, they have to look at themselves and say so: We are underachieving. Like an alcoholic coming to terms with the fact that the bottle controls him, Argentina has to start being more cerebral and less passionate about many things and plenty of people.
I don’t believe they have to start with Mrs Peron. But she is on that list, and the mural in 9 de Julio is a reminder. The building beneath needs a good cleaning. So does their history.

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  1. GlennHarman's Avatar
    Thanks again for this blog. I hope Drop will comment. GH