- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

BUENOS AIRES — The Cemetery of La Recoleta is the way to go with class and in style. To eternity. Eva Peron, eternally famous, is the best-known of those here entombed, but she was not welcomed to such august company by the wealthy and powerful families of Argentina whose loved ones are enshrined nearby.

Evita is deep in the ground in the crypt of her father, Juan Duarte. She may be the lone woman in La Recoleta who is recognized by her married name, contrary to the custom in which a married woman keeps her maiden name.

Her husband, Juan, also still revered in Argentina, is buried across town in La Chacarita Cemetery, as is legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel. Boxer Luis “Wild Bull of the Pampas” Firpo is in La Recoleta.

Flowers and notes are left at the crypt by Evita’s perpetual faithful. One recent note reads: “We never forget the dolls and toys we first received from your hand.” Evita organized a foundation to aid the poor, among her many other charities for her people.

A plaque from “Her Disciples” beside the iron gate of the tomb commemorates the 30th anniversary of her death:

Eva Peron

1952 — July 26 — 1982

Don’t cry for me, lost or gone, I am an essential part of your existence. Every love and pain had been foretold, like in a humble imitation of Christ who walked in my path of life.

Evita died in 1952 at age 33; she was and still is one of the most controversial figures in the political history of Argentina, but she did not join the exclusive realm of La Recoleta dead until 1976.

After her death of cancer, she was embalmbed in what Wayne Bernhardson, writing in the Moon Handbooks’ Buenos Aires guidebook, calls “a mummification treatment worthy of Lenin, in preparation for a monument to honor her legacy.” This occurred at the Confederacion General del Trabajo, the Peronist trade union, after she lay in state at the National Congress.

Three years later, Gen. Pedro Aramburu took power in Argentina, banned the Peronist party and ordered Evita taken to an anonymous grave in Milan, Italy.

In 1970, Mr. Bernhardson writes, the leftist Peronist Montoneros guerrillas kidnapped the general and executed him when he refused to say where Evita was buried. The guerrillas said they would hold the general’s body for a swap with that of their Evita.

Juan Peron, living in exile in Madrid, was not keen on the Montoneros, however, and police found Gen. Aramburu’s body before it could be exchanged for Evita’s. Someone talked, however, and in 1971, “Peron was stunned when a truck bearing Evita’s casket and corpse arrived at his Madrid residence,” according to Mr. Bernhardson. Evita was taken to the attic.

Peron was married to dancer Maria Estela “Isabelita” Martinez, who later would succeed him as president of Argentina after his death in 1974. (He returned to power in 1973.) Isabelita ordered Evita’s remains flown from Madrid to Argentina and taken to the presidential residence in Olivos in Buenos Aires province.

In 1976, another general led the overthrow of the Peronist government of Isabelita, and Evita and Juan Peron were removed from Olivos.

She was entombed in La Recoleta; he was placed in a crypt in Chacarita. Since then, there have been talks of building a memorial and reuniting the couple there, although some say the Duarte heirs are not in favor of moving their Evita again.

In 1987, vandals broke into Juan Peron’s tomb and sawed off his hands.

To find Evita’s tomb, follow the crowd or proceed straight ahead from the entrance to the first major intersection and turn left. A mausoleum later will be in the middle of the route, but go around it and turn right at the next wide street — wide for a cemetery street, a paved urban burial ground. After a few blocks — short cemetery blocks — look to the left for a crowd and flowers and notes at the gate under the name Duarte.

As for Gen. Aramburu, his tomb is a short walk from Evita’s.

Death may be an equalizer, but not necessarily in the social status of the occupants of the Cemetery of La Recoleta.

Many city tours of Buenos Aires include a visit to the cemetery. Other visitors arrive by taxi and bus to La Recoleta at Junin 1790; phone 4803-1594. Hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; an admission fee is charged.

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