ARGENTINA: In Mourning

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Rarely has there been such a display of public feeling as the frenzied mourning of Evita Perón.

Last week, in near-freezing rain, some 700,000 Argentines made pilgrimage to her bier in Buenos Aires.* Most waited for more than 15 hours to get a 20-second peek at Eva's thin and wasted face—and often at Juan Perón, who kept long vigils at her glass-topped casket. Sixteen persons were killed, crushed and trampled by the throngs; 3,900 were in hospitals with injuries; thousands of others got first aid. In the 20-block, four-abreast queue were infants in arms and a 102-year-old woman who cried, "I've never known real pain before." To feed the multitude, the army set up 24 field kitchens, gave away sandwiches, oranges, coffee. The street outside Evita's resting place was packed with 8,340 funeral wreaths, costing $2,000,000.

Away from the bier, there were other extravagant tributes:

¶ The Union of Workers and Employees of the Food Industry cabled a request to Pope Pius XII to canonize Evita. ¶ Minister of Public Health Ramon Carrillo ordered a 220-lb. candle, the height of Evita (5 ft. 5 in.), to be installed in the ministry and lighted for an hour on the 26th day of every month (the day Evita died). Carrillo thought the candle would last 100 years or more. ¶ Schoolkids got prizes for poems and essays praising Evita. They were also told that she "got sick because she kissed the ill, the lepers, the consumptives." ¶ Carlos Aloé, super-Peronista governor of Buenos Aires province, fired an employee who refused to wear a black tie. A Buenos Aires youth was arrested for laughing on a streetcar. "Attitudes like this are antisocial," said Aloé. ¶ Eva's political cronies in high office, who stand to retain power if they can keep her memory alive, formed an "Association of Friends of Eva Perón" and asked, "What would Christ have been without his disciples?" (Eva's disciples, presumably, will be wanting to look after the more than $100 million which annually pours into her Social Aid Foundation, a "charity" which is Argentina's biggest business and keeps no accounting of funds.)

So clamorous was the public lamentation that Evita's funeral was postponed indefinitely. Instead, the government planned to move her body this weekend to Congress, there to lie briefly in state. Then her closed casket will go to the headquarters of the great labor federation she controlled, to stay until a downtown monument tomb can be completed.

* A celebrated U.S. outpouring of grief over a popular idol's death, the mourning in Manhattan over Rudolph Valentino in 1926, attracted a mere 50,000.