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In 1949 the most familiar scene in Argentina was the one played out almostdailyat the Ministry of Labor in Buenos Aires There under the glare of cameralights a formerradio star and movie actress now the most powerful woman in South Americawouldenter her office past a crush of adoring impoverished women and childrenEvita Peronthe wife of President Juan Peron would sit at her desk and begin one ofthe great ritualsof Peronism the political movement she and her husband created It was apageant thatsustained them in power She would patiently listen to the stories of thepoor then reachinto her desk to pull out some money Or she would turn to a minister andask that ahouse be built She would caress filthy children She would kiss lepersjust as the saintshad done To many Argentines Evita Peron was a flesh-and-blood saint later40000 ofthem would write to the pope attesting to her miracles She was born on May 7 1919 in Los Toldos and baptizedMaria Eva buteveryone called her Evita Her father abandoned the family shortly afterher birth Fifteenyears of poverty followed and in early 1935 the young Evita fled her stiflingexistence togo to Buenos Aires Perhaps as some have said she fell in love with a tangosinger whowas passing through She wanted to be an actress and in the next few yearssupported herself with bitparts photo sessions for titillating magazines and stints as an attractivejudge of tangocompetitions She began frequenting the offices of a movie magazine talkingherself upfor mention in its pages When in 1939 she was hired as an actress in aradio companyshe discovered a talent for playing heroines in the fantasy world of radiosoap opera This was a period of political uncertainty in Argentinayet few people wereprepared for the military coup that took place in June 1943 Among the manymeasuresinstituted by the new government was the censorship of radio soap operasQuicklyadapting to the new environment Evita approached the officer in charge ofallocatingairtime Colonel Anibal Imbert She seduced
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