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Eva Peron alive and well in Argentine politics

/ 03:52 PM October 15, 2015

BUENOS AIRES — Eva Peron died more than 60 years ago but her spirit remains alive and well in Argentina, especially with presidential elections just around the corner.

Outgoing President Cristina Kirchner speaks often of Peron’s work for the poor. The likely future first lady is drawing comparisons to her. And Peron’s grandniece may be part of the next government.

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As Argentina on Saturday celebrates the 70th anniversary of Peronism, the populist movement founded by Eva and President Juan Domingo Peron, the country is in full campaign fever ahead of presidential elections on October 25.

The face of Evita, as Argentines call her affectionately, appears on two facades of the labor ministry in Buenos Aires, bearing testimony to the influence she wields over Argentine politics.

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Kirchner, like Peron, was wife to a president before being elected head of state herself and serving from 2007 until now, and she alludes often to her example.

“She continues to fascinate us,” Kirchner has said. “Her ideas, her gestures, her actions, her convictions, the rights she gave to her people, are more present than ever.”

Presidential frontrunner Daniel Scioli’s wife, former model Karina Rabolini, has been compared to Peron, as she likes to meet with poor people in far flung, forgotten provinces.

But the one who evokes Peron most is her great niece Cristina Alvarez Rodriguez, who looks to have a bright political future.

‘Evita, an example’

This 47-year-old divorced mother of a 12-year-old daughter wears her blonde hair in an Evita-style bun and does bear a resemblance to her.

An architect by training, Alvarez Rodriguez got into politics after the economic crisis that erupted here in 2001.

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If Scioli wins the presidency, it is understood that Peron’s descendant will play a crucial role in the next government.

It is rumored that she might be named minister without portfolio, or speaker of the Chamber of Deputies to build bridges between supporters of Kirchner and Scioli.

Alvarez Rodriguez says she is proud to be a natural heir to a woman who has “left her mark on the country forever.”

But she is discreet about her links to Peron, and prefers to talk about the platform of the leftist Front For Victory, the coalition that has been in power since 2003 and hopes to retain it.

“I feel that it is a huge honor to share her blood, to have her in my family. But she is a figure who surpasses me, who surpasses all of us,” said Alvarez Rodriguez, granddaughter of Blanca Duarte, one of Evita’s older sisters.

“The blood of Eva flows in all of those millions of people who love her so much in Argentina and who remember her as if she were alive,” she said.

At what used to be a home for single mothers that was founded by Peron in 1948, Alvarez Rodriguez has created a museum honoring the late first lady. It is visited more often by foreign tourists than by local Argentines, however.

She wears a bracelet that was owned by Peron. And she remembers clearly the first time she learned about “the illuminated one,” as Eva’s mother called her.

“Without a doubt, for any woman involved in politics in Argentina and in Latin America, it is inevitable to refer to Eva Peron. For me it is very powerful, although for years I turned my back on it. At my house we said you cannot rest on Evita’s laurels,” said Alvarez Rodriguez.

Peron’s critics “say she introduced the evils of populism, that she distributed social benefits without asking people to make an effort in exchange for them,” said political scientist Carlos Fara.

“I think that there is a very strong social prejudice among the well-to-do classes.”

Rabolini added that “regardless of whatever political party you support, Eva Peron has been a great example for everyone.”

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