ARGENTINA: Debt to the Dictator

  • Share
  • Read Later

Even before the final returns were in last week, followers of ousted Dictator Juan Perón began talking loudly of their payoff for handing Argentina's presidency to Lawyer Arturo Frondizi (TIME. March 3). Just as quickly, the 49-year-old President-elect began hedging. There was no doubt that Frondizi owed his victory to the exiled strongman; whether it was a collectible debt remained to be seen.

Disciplined Disciples. The vote totals, compared with constituent assembly elections last July, told the story. Last week leftist Radical Frondizi pulled approximately 4,000,000 ballots with Perón's backing. His top opponent, moderate Radical Ricardo Balbin, got 2,500,000. Last July, when Perón's disciples cast more than 2,000,000 blank protest ballots, Balbin beat Frondizi. 2,100,000 to 1,800,000.

Perón handed Argentina to Frondizi through necessity rather than choice. If the dictator had let his blank-vote order stand, it would have opened the door to odious comparisons between the impressive total he chalked up in July and an almost certainly less impressive total last week. He could not back Balbin, who was likely to carry on the anti-Perón policies of Provisional President Pedro Aramburu. Frondizi, who openly wooed Peronista votes, was the only possible choice.

Good Old Days. The 1,500,000 who obeyed the back-Frondizi order were the remnants of the massive Peronista labor movement. Perón built the movement by pampering the workers with inflationary wage boosts, and was overthrown before they reaped the economic ruin he had sown. Now pinched by Aramburu's austere battle to rebuild the damaged economy, the workers fondly recall the good old days, never dream of blaming Perón for the mess he left behind.

Despite the fact that he would have preferred Balbin, Aramburu will doubtless be happy to turn the country over to Frondizi on inauguration day, May 1. Day after the election Aramburu invited Frondizi to share a radio and television address to the nation, publicly embraced him on camera. That evening he took the winner home to dinner, later turned a Commerce Ministry office over to the President-elect as temporary headquarters while he studied the country's problems.

Campaign Promises. The Peronistas did not give Frondizi long to enjoy the feeling of relief that washed through the country once the election had run its orderly course. They noisily demanded full legality for their party, restoration of its funds, and return of all exiles—including their leader.

Frondizi dodged nimbly, denied that he owed anything to Perón, said it was up to Congress to decide whether exiles will be allowed to come home. When he takes over, the new President will probably be forced to allow the Peronistas some sort of legal status, but he can draw the line at the return of Perón and his chief lieutenants on the ground that they have been charged with common crimes.