After all, it rhymes with arsonists...
…Peronists, that is.
Peronists in fact, that is, supporters of Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón, in that tragic year 1955, unleashed their rage against the Catholic Church who, in their view, was trying to subvert the government of the country. It was inevitable that the Peronist ideal of an all-encompassing state, through which individuals realize their full potential, came in conflict with the Christian social doctrine, as it had happened in Italy during Benito Mussolini’s rule. But in Argentina that conflict degenerated into a true war which, as terrible as it was, was only a facet of the larger and bloody conflict, known in Spanish as the Revolución Libertadora, that eventually led to the toppling of Perón’s presidency and to his exile.
This interesting post assumes that the
readers know more than an average people know about Argentine President Juan
Domingo Perón and Argentinian politics and history, and I hope that this first installment
will stimulate you English-speaking readers to study more about the history of
that wonderful country.
Attack against the Cathedral (The Year the Churches Burned)
On November 10, 1954, Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón unleashed a campaign against the Catholic church, accusing her of interfering with national policies and encouraging the opposition to his government.
On the morning of that day, the Argentinian chief executive organized a plenary session in the Quinta Presidencial de Olivos (official residence of the Argentine president) during which he announced the countermeasures that he was going to adopt to the state secretaries, the legislators, the union representatives, the officials of the Partido Peronista, of the CGE (Confederación General Económica), of the CGU (Confederación General Universitaria) and of the UES (Unión de Estudiantes Secundarios).
During a very long monologue that lasted for hours, President Perón accused the Argentine Curia of fomenting the opposition and of making maneuvers aimed to destabilize his government. He explicitly accused of social disruptive acts many prelates and religious people, among whom the bishops of Córdoba and Santa Fe.
Bewilderment took hold in a good part of the population, and even within the ruling regime. Notwithstanding the fact that many people thought the Perón’s were just inconsequential words, in the days that followed it became clear that the President of the Nation intended to unleash a real war against the Church.
In fact, Perón sent Bill No. 14.394 to Congress, the 31st article of which included the legalization of divorce. With this bill, he also promoted the “Prophylaxis Law” which encouraged the opening of brothels, the suspension of religious education in schools, it prohibited all religious processions and ordered the closure of the Catholic newspaper "El Pueblo", founded on April 1, 1900, by Father Federico Grote.
When, in May 1955 Catholicism ceased to be the official state religion, the citizenry understood that a new era had begun in Argentina.
On April 25 of that year, the government signed the controversial oil contract with California's Standard Oil Inc. Co., granting the North American corporation a special concession in the distant administrative region of Santa Cruz, with the right to exploitation and extraterritoriality. With a stroke of the pen, Perón had put aside his ten-year reiterative preaching against the United States and had made a choice that would be defined as clearly “entreguista” (that is, betraying, in Spanish).
The word “entreguista,” though, will be widely used by Perón's followers when referring to the opposition, ten years later.
The new provisions in matter of religion made the atmosphere in Buenos Aires extremely tense. Religious persecution, something truly unheard of for the Argentine population in those days, gained force when the government of the La Rioja province prohibited the traditional procession with the images of Saint Nicholas of Bari and the Niño Alcalde, which had been taking place since time immemorial, simultaneously laying off and even arresting people in public office.
On March 21, 1955, the Argentine government suspended by law several religious holidays from the official calendar, including All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Immaculate Conception and Corpus Christi, replacing them with others of a partisan nature, the main one, on October 17, designated "Loyalty Day".
On May 1, Eduardo Vuletich, general secretary of the CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo, the pro-Perón workers’ union) exclaimed before a crowd gathered in Plaza de Mayo: “We workers prefer one who speaks to us in our language and not one who prays in Latin, looking towards the altar and giving the back to the people!”
|Catholics according to Peronists|
After a public mass ceremony in which Perón intimated that the clerical leadership "should leave the country", the Chamber of Deputies abolished the "For God and on the Holy Gospels" oath, repealed religious teaching, passed the “Prophylaxis Law” and imposed heavy taxes to Catholic establishments.
When on April 17 the Episcopate had a pastoral read in the churches that referred to what was happening, several Catholic priests and militants were arrested; a fact that in later days led some officials of the regime to present their resignations.
Slowly, the façade of the regime began to show signs of fracture.
The day of the Corpus Christi procession arrived. It had been held since the second foundation of Buenos Aires in 1580, with the city authorities following the Blessed Sacrament under a canopy to the Cathedral.
The celebration had been prohibited by Bill No. 14.400, which also declared that date a "workday," allowing employers to deduct the day for those employees who did not show up for work. However, in open defiance of the authorities and Perón himself, Catholic groups worked feverishly to make it happen.
Aware of the catholic “maneuvering", the government informed the public that the commemoration was going to be allowed only inside the Cathedral, a clear attempt to calm people down. The measure, however, did not deter the faithful from mobilizing their forces so that the procession could take place, as it had been done since the 16th century.
It was the first time that the omnipotent Peronist government had been openly challenged.
The fact prompted an urgent meeting between the government and representatives of the Church, which was attended by the Minister of the Interior, Ángel Borlenghi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship, Julio Atilio Bramuglia, the Chief of Police, Miguel Gamboa, and representatives of the Metropolitan Curia, Monsignors Manuel Tato, and Ramón Novoa.
During the meeting, the government representatives suggested not carrying out the procession, arguing that acts of violence could occur that would be impossible to avoid.
Their arguments did not deter the Catholic flock.
On June 11, 1955, at around 3:00 p.m., thousands of men, women, and children gathered in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral to attend the ceremony.
The procession was led by Monsignor Antonio Rocca, vicar general, who carried the Blessed Sacrament under a canopy while the crowd sang and chanted religious hymns.
It was an imposing demonstration.
At the end of the mass (6:00 p.m.), a long column of faithful took Avenida de Mayo in the direction of the National Congress, while singing the National Anthem and incorporating people as they went.
Slogans such as “Cristo sí, otro no”, (Christ yes, others no), “Argentina católica” (Catholic Argentina), “Perón o Cristo” (Either Perón or Christ!), "Freedom" and "The people is also us!" were heard over and over again throughout the tour.
Upon arriving at the Congress, the demonstrators remained in front of the place a little, and after a while they dispersed in order, taking different directions. However, small groups of angry militants began to shout slogans against the government and tore down a plaque next to one of the torches of the large building. The plaque read verbatim: “Justicialismo Integral. Esta llama fue encendida por la Sra. Eva Perón el 18-X-1950, Año del Libertador Gral. San Martín”
[Total Justicialismo (Justicialismo was Perón’s movement) This flame was lit by Mrs. Eva Perón on 18-10 -1950, Year of the Liberator, General San Martín].
Another militant did the same with two plaques that he threw inside the building, under the large iron gates, while his companions wrote on the walls of Av. Callao and Rivadavia: “Fuera Nerón” (Nero out), “Cristo vence” (Christ wins) and “Zoológico Nacional” (National Zoo) and painted a large cross over the “V” for victory.
The Argentine flag was hoisted on the pole of the Congress and under it the papal ensign, and thus the group withdrew. However, things did not end there. Commissioner Gamboa had infiltrated agents in the demonstration to provoke disturbances. Taking advantage of the confusion and of the fervor and enthusiasm that excited the protesters, insults were hurled against Perón, his deceased wife Evita, the CGT, and the official newspaper "Democracia." The windows of the newspaper "La Prensa"and the windshields of some cars were smashed.
That night, militants from the Alianza Libertadora Nacionalistas, accompanied by activists from the General Confederation of Labor and members of the pro-Peronist police, daubed the statues of Sarmiento, Alberdi, Roque Sáenz Peña and Rivadavia with ink, as well as the facades of the embassies of Israel and Yugoslavia, destroying a vehicle belonging to the Peruvian embassy in their path. Radio del Estado (the government radio) spread the false information that the religious demonstration had not been very large but extremely aggressive and attributed the excesses of violence to it.
But the worst happened the next day when the newspapers - headed by "Democracia” - reported the burning of the national flag by "clerical mobs". “TRAICION” (treason), read its headlines while the pro-government paper reported:
“They burned the flag of the Homeland and hoisted the flag of the Vatican State in Congress. Clerical groups led by priests in cassocks insulted Evita, yelled against the CGT and the UES, targeted Democracia and La Prensa, perpetrating a series of serious outrages in their wake.”
For its part, “El Laborista” said: “They burned our flag. Oligarchic clerical elements promoted riots in the city. They have turned against the people” and the same did the rest of the press obsequious to the government.
|A photo of Perón next to the burned flag, surrounded by high-ranking government officials, including Borlenghi and Gamboa.|
On Sunday, June 12, there began the circulate the rumor that Peronist demonstrators were going to burn down the Cathedral. Faced with such a threat, members of the Argentine Acción Católica organized a sort of chain of communication to alert the population and call for a rally in Plaza de Mayo, for the purpose of defending the main church of the capital.
Among the first to respond to the call was the young engineering student Florencio José Arnaudo, a rugby player on the starting team of the Obras Sanitarias Club and one of those responsible for the clandestine newspaper "Verdad". A truly exceptional individual who has left a detailed chronicle of those days in a book entitled: “El año que quemaron las iglesias.” (The Year the Churches Burned).
Endowed with leadership skills and a lot of self-confidence, Arnaudo was one of the first to arrive at the square, accompanied by several friends. Once there, the group met the organizers, and immediately afterwards the bulk of the Acción Católica activists stationed themselves on the steps of the cathedral and waited.
They were there for about an hour, talking with some affiliates, when Arnaudo noticed that a small column of Peronist demonstrators was approaching the place shouting, jumping, and cheering their leader. They were humble people, typical inhabitants of the outskirts of the city, but among them Arnaudo identified several thugs from the CGT union (General Confederation of Labor) and provocateurs of diverse backgrounds. The presence of the former ones made him more sad than annoyed, and he was immersed in those thoughts when someone on the steps ordered to close ranks to prevent the group from getting closer.
“Clericals, oligarchs! They are all traitors and want to the sell country out!” Shouted the newcomers.
|Away with these Catholics!!!|
As time passed though, the defending group increased in number and that was enough for the Peronists to stop their march.
“Perón, Perón!” They chanted as the situation became very tense.
At that moment, Monsignor Manuel Tato came out from the Cathedral to give instructions and try to calm things down.
“Nobody say a word!” He ordered. “Nobody move! We will only defend ourselves if we are attacked!”
(Monsignor Tato in Rome, after his expulsion from Argentina)
At about 4:00 p.m., the Peronist demonstration had grown in number and doubled the hundred defenders of the church who, arms crossed and determined looks, stood firm on the steps, narrowing ranks.
It was then that someone approached Arnaudo to tell him that individuals wearing gray raincoats (it was a sunny day) were infiltrating the protesters. Arnaudo calmed him down and remained in his place, fearing in his heart that the raincoat-wearing men could be armed individuals from the ALN Alianza Libertadora Nacionalista (Nationalist Liberation Alliance), the fearsome “Justicialista” shock force, responsible for the 1953 arson attacks and several deaths and violent attacks on the opposition.
While this was happening, Monsignor Tato kept repeating the order not to react or make threatening movements, as long as the situation did not require it.
The climate was becoming increasingly worrying since at that time the first faithful began to arrive to attend the afternoon mass.
Fully understanding their role of protectors, the militants of the Acción Católica opened gaps in their ranks to let the parishioners pass, closing them immediately when they had crossed the human fence they had formed.
Suddenly a jeep appeared in which two members of the Alianza Libertadora Nacionalista were traveling, one driving and the other throwing flyers. The vehicle stopped in front of the Cathedral and one of the individuals wearing a grey raincoat approached to speak briefly with the occupants of it. That confirmed Arnaudo's suspicions that the men in gray were members of the group, and that they were there ready to cause disturbances.
When the service began at 4:30 p.m., the temple was packed even though several people, fearful of an outbreak of violence, had chosen to leave. The jeep with the members of the ALN moved away but after a few minutes two black cars appeared from which several dark-looking subjects got out.
In this tense environment the hours passed until 6:00 p.m. when, almost at night, the services ended and the people began to withdraw hastily, with a few people remaining inside. It was then that someone proposed to enter, but the decision to remain firm in place was final.
By then the Peronists had increased their numbers considerably and were surrounding their opponents, who in all numbered some five hundred and sixteen people. Four hundred and thirty-four of them were men, almost all outside on the steps of the temple. The rest were sixty-five women, plus the seventeen priests who had remained with the women inside the Cathedral.
The tension grew until, at a time when the insults and provocations intensified, suddenly a brick thrown from the Peronist ranks hit a defender in the face. The victim, a blond young man, rolled down the steps leaving a trail of blood. Almost instantly, another Catholic militant fell backwards while clutching his head. His companions lifted them both and carrying them on their backs, began to back away at the precise moment that a rain of stones, bricks, sticks and bottles fell on them.
“INSIDE!!” Several people shouted at the same time. “Everyone inside!”
Carrying their wounded -a total of twenty- the church defenders retreated into the interior of the Cathedral, entering through the main portal, which was the only one that remained open. Arnaudo was the last to do so, previously making sure that everyone was under cover. Once they were inside the church, numerous arms fought hard to close the heavy porticoes, fighting with the Peronists who were struggling to open them.
Several gunshots were heard outside, while an individual
carrying an Argentine flag was making superhuman efforts to enter. He himself, stocky and wearing thick glasses, desperately shouted “Cristo Jesús!” while
several hands were trying to push him out. Arnaudo approached him and struck him several times in the face, breaking
his glasses and injuring his eye. However, the
individual continued to struggle until he managed to enter, falling on the
floor of the Cathedral, while someone snatched the flag from him. A barrage of blows, sticks and kicks fell on his body, leaving him
“Denle duro que este es de la Alianza!! (Hit him hard! This guy is from the Alianza!!) someone shouted, while people continued to hit him.
Fortunately for him, pious hands took the man and removed him to another part of the church, saving him from being killed.
Meanwhile, in the atrium, the Peronists continued to struggle to open the doors and the defenders did the same to close them.
Far from what everyone believed, the individual with the glasses – who had been supposedly tried to brake in - was not a member of the Justicialista shock force but a Catholic militant named Pin Errecaborde, who had snatched the flag from an aggressor to rush into the cathedral with it. When Arnaudo found out, he shook his head in despair and immediately wanted to know where they had taken him to apologize. He had been one of those who had beaten him the hardest and he felt terribly guilty for the injuries he had caused.
One of his companions pointed out the sacristy, where Errecaborde was being cared for by some women along with other wounded men, and without wasting time he ran towards the place, anguished and embarrassed. Once there, he found the poor guy with a bruised left cheekbone, a bleeding nose, and an injured eye.
Arnaudo approached him and apologized profusely. The man explained that he had infiltrated the Peronist mob to snatch the flag from one of its members.
Confusion now reigned in the hallowed precinct of the Cathedral, where the constant banging of bricks, iron and bottles against the doors and walls of the building became deafening and the screaming bloodcurdling.
At the entrance of the Cathedral, a group of catholic defenders was trying to free the main gate that had not completed closed because a stuck brick prevented it. Not even the strength of a dozen burly boys seemed enough to accomplish the task. Fearful of a shooting attack by the Alianza, Arnaudo pounced on the group and sticking daringly part of his body out of the gate, he tried to remove the obstacle without success because a hail of projectiles prevented him.
While this was happening, another group of defenders led by Humberto Podetti, smashed the pews to provide themselves with clubs and prop up the porticoes, while the women came and went assisting the wounded. At last, the brick was removed, and the main door was closed, almost at the precise moment that Father Menéndez's voice issued directives from the pulpit:
“Atención por favor, atención!”
Hearing him, several young men approached him.
“Necesitamos organizarnos! ¡Alguien debe imponer el orden! ¡Elijan a un jefe! (We need to get organized! Someone must impose order! Elect a chief!)
There were no doubts about it. The choice fell on Arnaudo given his height, his corpulence, his physical strength, and his presence of mind. Arnaudo climbed to the pulpit and harangued the defenders, ordering the formation of two groups, one destined to protect the church and the other to do the same with the Curia. The command of the first group fell to the engineer Isidoro Lafuente and the leader of the Acción Católica, Augusto Rodríguez Larreta was chosen as head of the second group. Arnaudo then arranged for the women and the wounded to remain in the sacristy and then asked if anyone had weapons.
"If any of you have a gun, see me when I climb down," said Arnaudo.
“No, not that!” Father Menéndez said, from among the defenders. “Firearms, not here!”
Regardless, four young men approached Arnaudo when he went down the steps of the pulpit to tell him that they were carrying weapons. One of them had a .32 caliber revolver, two others a .22 caliber handgun each and the fourth had a compressed air pistol. It wasn't much, but at least it was something.
Meanwhile, outside, the Peronists were trying to break down the doors using a heavy object as a battering ram.
Arnaudo headed towards the Curia to supervise the situation and as he passed by the sacristy, he saw several women bandaging the wounded, some of whom were seriously injured. Some of the women cried softly, because they heard outside the screams of the angry mob and the sound of glass being broken by stones, but they continued with their tasks courageously.
As he was crossing the courtyard, Arnaudo ran into Monsignor Tato as he was running toward the temple. In the Curia, engineer Lafuente, wounded in the head, piled furniture against doors and windows, assisted by his cousins and the people under his command. Father Menéndez also arrived, and Arnaudo asked him if there were other entrances to cover. The priest pointed out the garages and this alarmed him very much because no one, apparently, had thought about them. In almost total darkness, Arnaudo went quickly to the place and when he arrived, he found with horror that the Peronists were trying to break down the gates.
“Lafuente!” – He shouted desperately- “Lafuente!!”
When Lafuente arrived, the glass in that sector fell shattered by the impact of several bricks.
“We need to shore up the gates urgently!”
“I'm a Navy officer, Sir!” – Said a young man, who approached him – “What do you want me to do?”
"Immediately take ten men and shore up that entrance," Lafuente ordered, pointing to the accesses to the garage.
While the sailor left to carry out the directive, Arnaudo, armed with an improvised club, returned to the courtyard of the Curia, where a young man stopped him and told him that ten thousand CGT workers were marching armed towards the place, ready for anything.
Then someone proposed to ring the bells, which those present approved unanimously, several of them going to the door of the bell tower to make the bells ring. They found it closed, so Captain Eduardo García Puló gave it a tremendous kick that opened it violently.
That was how the intense noise of the combat was joined by the ringing of the bronzes, a clear request for help given by the defenders.
The Peronists concentrated their attack on the Curia, believing that it would be easier for them to enter there. Observers stationed by Arnaudo on the rooftops, realized that the mob had seized a car and that using it as a battering ram, hit the gates again and again.
Then, they set it on fire so that the flames would spread to the building.
Nothing mattered to those self-defined patriots, not even the fact that the sacred precinct of the Cathedral housed the tomb of the Libertador de América, the Liberator of America, General José de San Martín.
Militants of the Alianza Libertadora Nacionalista and the CGT unholstered their weapons and began shooting towards the openings of the Curia when someone leaned out or passed through them.
In view of this, Arnaudo ordered all the lights to be turned off and not to look out, knowing that the outlaws were shooting to kill. It was at that precise moment that a telephone began to ring in one of the adjoining rooms. While the bell rang insistently, one of the lookouts who had momentarily abandoned his post approached Arnaudo to inform him that Catholic militants were gathering at the corner of San Martín and Diagonal Norte, shouting “Viva Cristo Rey!”, “Long live Christ the King!”
That lifted the spirits of defenders.
The phone kept ringing in the other room, so a boy who was nearby gave a violent push to the door and rushed to answer, thinking that it was something important. Great was his surprise when on the other side of the line, a very distinguished lady asked, extremely worried, if it was true that they were burning the Cathedral2. Those present looked at each other in amazement and almost immediately burst into laughter which, more than because of the absurdity of the situation, served to loosen tensions.
The relief did not last long, because the Peronists intensified their attack.
Back in the sacristy, Arnaudo found Dr. Tomás Casares, a well-known Catholic militant and thinker who, at the express request of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, continued to perform the functions of Minister of the Court of Justice. Out of his mind due to indignation, the distinguished jurist informed him that he had just spoken by telephone with the police authorities and with the head of the Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo (Cavalry Grenadier Regiment), to request their mediation.
“Listen to me, young man” –he said to Arnaudo- “You who are in charge. When any of the authorities arrive, be it from the police or the Army, you must notify me immediately, do you understand me? Immediately!”
“Yes doctor!” – was the answer.
At this stage of events, it was evident that the effort of those thousand assailants to take the Cathedral was useless. The defenders, courageously guided by Arnaudo, resisted as much as they could while the Plaza de Mayo filled with onlookers.
Around 9:30 p.m., firefighters and police officers arrived, the former to control the fire and the latter to disperse the Catholic demonstrators who had gathered in San Martín and Diagonal Norte to cheer Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church and freedom.
It was at that precise moment that, after three and a half hours of fighting, the attack ceased. The police approached the doors of the building to speak with Monsignor Tato and Dr. Casares while the defenders waited expectantly, both in the cathedral and in the Curia.
After the dialogue, Casares approached Arnaudo and informed him that everything had ended and that they would leave the place guarded by the security guards, after surrendering their weapons.
While Dr. Casares returned with Monsignor Tato and the Federal Police Chief of Investigations, the militants who had defended the great Buenos Aires cathedral handed over their "arsenal": the .32 revolver, the two .22 caliber handguns and the compressed air pistol. And while that was happening, Arnaudo ran to one of the telephones to call his father to notify him of what had happened and inform him that he would probably was going to be arrested.
“Dad, go to the library, grab the complete works of Chesterton, take out a piece of paper with addresses that is in it and burn it immediately” - he told him3.
He feared that during one of the raids that would take place that same day, the compromising list would be discovered and implicate those who figured in it.
Almost at the same moment that Arnaudo was hanging up to give the phone to a colleague, his friend and fellow student, Gastón Bordelois, who had recently been released from prison, approached him to tell him that there might be a chance of escaping through the roofs. Arnaudo thanked him for the information but replied that as head of the defense, it was not correct to abandon his position. However, he ordered him to leave as soon as possible, with his other friend Humberto Podetti, and to continue editing "Verdad", as they had been doing since Perón had unleashed his persecution against the Church.
However, neither Podetti nor Bordelois managed to escape because when they were about to do so, police officers appeared at the exit and blocked their way. Podetti returned to Arnaudo and Bordelois hid, unseen.
When the police arrived, Monsignor Novoa led some fifteen boys to a secret room, located behind a false panel on the second story of the library. He put them there, telling them to wait without moving, since some of them were doing their military service and some belong to the Military College and the Naval School and their situation was extremely compromised.
At about 11:00 pm Judge Carlos A. Gentile showed up carrying an arrest warrant for all the defenders, a measure that Dr. Casares (who would not go to jail) tried to prevent by interceding on their behalf. According to Dr. Casares, there were no reasons to justify the arrests, but he was unable to prevent them.
“Follow the order” – he said with a sorrowful voice addressing the defenders- “There is nothing else that can be done.”
Monsignor Tato then exhorted the defenders to relinquish their attitude with meekness, and not to create difficulties, explaining to them that they would only be imprisoned for a few hours, because the steps to secure their release would begin shortly.
When twelve o'clock struck, Monsignor Tato invited everyone to communion, not only to comfort spiritually those brave men, but also to prevent the Tabernacle with the consecrated hosts from remaining at the mercy of the profaners.
Men and women lined up and one by one they left the historic Cathedral, tomb of the Liberator of America, of the Unknown Soldier of Argentinian Independence and of great people from the Argentine past.
Inside the police trucks, exhausted but satisfied with their accomplished duty and comforted by Holy Communion, that handful of Spartans was taken to the National Penitentiary under strict surveillance.
It was 7:25 am, when Colonel Dalmiro Videla Balaguer, Principal of the Liceo Militar, called his superiors to warn them that in the regiment stationed nearby irregular events were occurring. Army Secretary, General Franklin Lucero, consequently, took urgent measures in an attempt to neutralize the uprising.
At the head of a convoy of three tanks, five semi-tracked vehicles and several trucks carrying troops, General Menéndez left Campo de Mayo and headed towards the El Palomar Air Force Base, which by then had been taken over by Brigadiers Guillermo Zinny and Samuel Guaycochea.
While this was going on, northeast of Gran Buenos Aires, fighter aircraft of the 5th Brigada Aérea took from Villa Reynolds, in the San Luis Province. Under the command of Vicecomodoro Jorge Rojas Silveyra the mission of the fighters was to fly to Buenos Aires and attack the rebel forces.
By then, the Punta Indio Naval Air Base was already under the control of the Capitán de navío Vicente Baroja. According to plans, he climbed aboard a North American AT-6 and, followed by Capitán de Corbeta Siro de Martini took off for the Aeroparque to prevent President Perón from fleeing the capital city.
|An Argentine Navy AT-6, similar to those with which the rebels tried to assassinate Juan Domingo Perón|
When the AT-6s reached their destination, a skirmish started when the rebel aviators saw a twin-engine De Havilland Dove that had started its roll on the main runway with the apparent intent of taking off.
Believing that the president was on board, Baroja headed resolutely for the Dove and dropped two kg 50 bombs, but he missed the target. Following Baroja, Sirio de Martini opened fire with his guns piercing the empennage of the Dove which, ably piloted by Comodoro Luis A. Lapuente, managed to take off anyway and, at a very low altitude, slipped away through the Barrio Norte tall buildings and headed to the southwest.
By then, all accesses to the Federal Capital were blocked with trucks, buses, and barricades, while the Army had also set up surveillance roadblocks in different parts of the city. But it was at that point that General Menéndez realized that the units that should have joined the uprising had remained quiet and that the coup was going to fail. Regardless, resolute as he was, Menéndez headed to Buenos Aires to finish off Perón once for all or die trying.
However, near San Isidro his column ran out of fuel and had to stop. At that point, Menéndez had no choice but to capitulate and surrender to the authorities, knowing that he could be shot.
The revolution had failed.
|By Daniel Santoro|
When the news spread, many conspirators fled to Uruguay aboard an Air Force transport aircraft that took off from El Palomar. Behind them, Baroja and De Martín (the pilots that had attacked the supposed presidential plane) did the same, piloting their respective aircraft, thus ending the first uprising against the Peronist regime, a failed prelude to what was to happen four years later.
The next day, president Perón himself, in an aggressive speech delivered before a roaring crowd gathered in front of the Casa de Gobierno (Government House) announced from the balcony the establishment of a state of domestic war throughout the nation and the decision to execute the rebel leaders. However, the executions eventually will never be carried out.
Benjamín Menéndez, a brave Cavalry general who had distinguished himself in the conquest of the Chaco, was sent to prison in the Tierra del Fuego where he was detained with some of his followers. According to some versions of the fact, Eva Perón insistently advised her husband to put the rebels to death, but he had eventually judged her requests unwise.
Sadly, the violence did not end there.
On April 15, 1953, Juan Domingo Perón pronounced one of his many fiery speeches in front a crowd that had gathered in the Plaza de Mayo. While he was speaking, three bombs exploded and killed six people and wounded another ninety-three.
Upset by the gravity of what had just happened, President Perón began to incite the crowd, shouting such violent phrases that the enraged mob headed in large numbers to different parts of the city to attack the headquarters of the opposition parties.
That day, the Casa del Pueblo, a stronghold of the Socialist Party on Rivadavia Avenue and the Casa Radical, which stood on Tucumán Street, were set on fire. The Peronists also set fire to the headquarters of the (Conservative) Partido Demócrata (Democratic Party) at Rodríguez Peña 525, and finally to the headquarters of the aristocratic Jockey Club, on Florida Street, which burned for two days.
Among the works of art that were lost on that sad day were the library of the Casa del Pueblo, which included collections donated by Juan B. Justo himself (1868-1928, founder of the Argentine Socialist party); objects of historical value of the Partido Demócrata and the treasures of the Jockey Club, among which the Diana Cazadora de Falgueriés stood out. It had been acquired especially for that institution by Aristóbulo del Valle (1845 – 1896. He was one of the founders of the Union Civica Radical).
Numerous paintings were also destroyed, among them that of its founder, Dr. Carlos Pellegrini (1846-1906. Vice-president and President of Argentina), and a work by Bonnet dating from 1908. Part of its great library, one of the most complete in the city of Buenos Aires, also went up in flames.
The firefighters did nothing to put out the fires, except protecting the neighboring buildings. The police did nothing either, so that the vandalic arsonists acted with total impunity, destroying everything in their path.
The next day, Dr. Manuel V. Ordóñez (1902-1988. Jurist and Christian-Democracy activist) who had expressly traveled to Rome to report what was happening in Argentina, was received by Pope Pius XII who, when Ordóñez enter his office, the first thing he said to him was:
“Do you know what happened?”
“No, Your Holiness, what happened?” Answered Ordóñez.
“They have burned down the library of the Jockey Club,” answered the dismayed Pontiff and then he added:
“I am deeply saddened. Priceless works have been lost there.”
What the Holy Father and much of public opinion did not know was that, fortunately for posterity, part of that collection and several volumes in the library had been rescued from the flames and secured.
From then on, Perón's phrases became increasingly violent and brutal:
“I ask you not to burn any more or do any more of those things, because when it will be time to burn again, I will be at your head!!
Then, if necessary, history will remember the greatest bonfire that humanity has lit to this day!” (May 7, 1953);
“They ask me to provide firewood… why don't you start providing it?!”; "We're going to have to go back to the days of walking around with bale wire in your pocket!" (The wire would be used, supposedly, to hang people) or
“For every one of ours that falls, five of them will fall!”
That was the atmosphere that prevailed in Buenos Aires when the events that we are going to relate unleashed. Such irresponsible expressions did nothing but precipitate events and lead Argentine society to chaos and civil confrontation. The regime was slowly weakening, and the tension began to take over the citizenry.
If you find Argentine politics and history interesting, you might want to read this post, about the relations between the Argentinian Iron Guard and Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio.