Eva Peron remains a controversial figure in Argentine history. Attractive, and highly vivacious, both her friends and her enemies agreed that she was a woman of great personal charm. Her supporters have elevated her to popular sainthood, and the sympathetic portrayal of her in the 1997 film ‘Evita’, starring singer Madonna, reintroduced Eva to the rest of the Western world. I must confess that this was my only knowledge of her before arriving in Argentina. I subsequently found that the oligarchy and a large part of the officer corps of the military, however, greatly detest her. There is still considerable difference of opinion regarding her ultimate place in Argentine history. Perhaps this explains why there are few memorials to her in the city.
In 1934, at the age of 15, she left home and went to Buenos Aires, where she pursued a career as a stage, radio, and film actress. Eva met Colonel Juan Peron in 1944 and the two were married the following year. In 1946, Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina. Over the course of the next six years, Eva Perón became powerful within the Pro-Peronist trade unions. She also ran the Ministries of Labor and Health, founded and ran the charitable Eva Peron Foundation, championed women’s suffrage in Argentina, and founded and ran the nation's first large-scale female political party.
In June 1951 it was announced that Eva would be the vice-presidential candidate on the re-election ticket with Peron in the upcoming national election but opposition within the military and her own failing health caused her to decline the nomination. Already suffering from cancer, Eva died in 1952, at the age of 32.
From 1955 until 1971, the military dictatorship of Argentina issued a ban on Peronism. It became illegal not only to possess pictures of Juan and Eva Perón even in one's home, but to even speak their names. After sixteen years, the military finally revealed the location of Evita's body. It had been buried in a crypt in Italy. In 1971, the body was exhumed and flown to Spain, where Juan Perón maintained the corpse in his home.
In 1973, Juan Perón came out of exile and returned to Argentina, where he became president for the third time. Perón died in office in 1974. His third wife Isabel Peron, who had been elected vice-president, succeeded him, thus becoming the first female president in the Western Hemisphere. It was Isabel who had Evita's body returned to Argentina and (briefly) displayed beside Juan Perón's. The body was later buried in the Duarte family tomb in the Recoleta Cemetery and this has become a pilgrimage site for many visitors to the city.
The only other memorials to her that I know of are the small statue by sculptor Ricardo Gianetti unveiled in 1999 in Plaza Evita below the Biblioteca Nacional (built on the site of the Peron’s home and the place where Evita died) and the Museo Evita at Lafinur 2988, near the Botanical Garden in Palermo.
Eva Perón has become the subject of numerous articles, books, stage plays, and musicals, ranging from the biography ‘The Woman with the Whip’ to a 1981 TV movie called "Evita Perón" with Faye Dunaway in the title role.