Accountable Government in Argentina

Juan Perón, circa 1950. Archivo Clarín

FUTURE historians are likely to note with respect that the second half of the 1950s was a period in which some of the most powerful dictators in Latin America were pulled down. The list includes, among others, the strongmen who once ruled such important countries as Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba; today only two or three of the old-style régimes of force still stand. In the many countries from which dictators have recently departed, responsible citizens are struggling to establish constitutional government in societies still marked by the wounds and scars left by years of authoritarian rule and then by revolution. Whether they will succeed in establishing stable régimes of proven democratic commitment remains a question.

Argentina's struggle for democratic recovery--now in its fourth year--has been longer than that of the other countries. In other respects Argentina is also unique among the former dictatorships. For example, it possessed a much more advanced economy before the Perón era than did other countries before their ordeal under one-man rule. Argentina's experience may therefore have only a limited applicability to other situations, but it does illustrate the extreme difficulty of replacing dictatorship with constitutional government.

The Argentine people have been through a lot since Perón fell in September 1955. His régime was succeeded by a Provisional Government of revolutionary origins, directed by the armed forces but not excluding civilian participation. Six weeks later the Provisional Government underwent an internal crisis which resulted in the Presidency passing from General Lonardi to General Aramburu. Aramburu's government sought to restore traditional civilian rule, with the announced intention of quitting office as soon as practicable. It reëstablished the pre-Perón Constitution and called a popularly elected convention for constitutional revision. The work of the convention did not amount to much, but the government went ahead with plans for general elections for the Presidency and the Congress. Meanwhile it faced subversive threats from the still loyal and numerous body of Perón's followers.


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