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CHAPTER SEVENThe Roots of Charisma In June 1943 Juan Domingo Pern suddenly burst onto the Argentine political scene as the new strongman behind the military junta that took power Previously unknown save among a clique of army nationalists he was to become thereafter the pivot around which Argentinas power struggles would revolve for the next three decades He polarized the society as no man--neither Rosas Mitre nor Yrigoyen--had ever done Even today more than a decade after his death a powerful political party backed by the trade union movement bears his name His speeches and writings are still quoted as gospel by many thousands of Argentines who nevertheless cannot agree on whether he was a revolutionary of the Left a champion of the patriotic Right or a pragmatic reformer who instinctively avoided extremes By contrast those who hated Pern during his lifetime agree that he was a demagogue and a tyrant who ruined the countrys economy wasted its resources and stirred up class hatred Whatever view one takes of Pern there is no denying that for good or evil he left his imprint on Argentina The essential facts about his political career are fairly well known As head of a secret army lodge called the Group of United Officers GOU he helped to mastermind the June 1943 coup and occupied a prominent place in the resulting military government As under secretary of war he was in charge of military promotions and assignments and he used the post to consolidate his power As secretary of labor and social welfare he employed all the power of a dictatorial state to overcome opposition to long-overdue labor legislation and to build up powerful unions personally attached to him in every economic field These became the mass base for the Peronist movement In 1946 he was elected president of Argentina and was reelected in 1952 Those years constituted a watershed in the countrys history in terms of the expansion of
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