Published on May 20th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut

The Other Mrs. Peron: Argentina’s Despised Diva, Isabelita

No, it’s not Evita. 
Evita Perón’s tomb at Recoleta Cemetery and the Casa Rosada, where Evita rallied supporters from the balcony, are must-sees for every first-time visitor to Buenos Aires. But there is another Mrs. Perón who has inspired not a single Buenos Aires city tour: Isabelita.

Evita Perón’s unrealized dreams of political office are certainly a legendary part of Argentine history. But Juan Perón’s next wife, Isabelita, actually achieved what Evita had only dreamed about: becoming vice president and, ultimately, the first female president of Argentina.

Isabelita — who came into this world in 1931 with the name María Estela Martinez — shares some of her predecessor’s humble roots and show-business background. Born into a lower middle-class family, María Estela took on the stage name of Isabel and became a nightclub dancer in the 1950s, before meeting and marrying Juan Perón. She would go on to make history in political office.

Just don’t expect anyone in Argentina to refer lovingly to her term as president, which began upon her husband’s death in 1974 and ended when she was deposed in 1976. The more famous Evita, to be sure, may be a polarizing figure, inciting passion on both ends of the spectrum. But Isabelita seems roundly hated or, at best, ignored. (Even local drag queens, who may occasionally don an Evita-inspired suit and wig, wouldn’t be caught dead with Isabelita’s trademark 1970s-era bouffant and stylish garb.)

My most recent tour guide in Buenos Aires didn’t even mention Isabelita when she told us that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — the current head of state — is Argentina’s first female president.

When I asked her why she didn’t consider Isabelita the first, she replied, “Isabelita took over when her husband died, so she wasn’t elected. And people hate her.” She made a face. “I’m not sure why she’s hated so much. But her government was very weak and corrupt. Many people thought she was just trying to be like Evita. And when she was in office, it was the beginning of the military dictatorship. When she left, the military came in. So many people blame her for that.”

Isabelita is so far in the back of Argentine minds that several people I asked weren’t even sure if she was still alive. She is, by the way — in exile, in Spain (an extradition request from the Argentine government in 2006 was denied by Spanish officials, preventing her from being forced to return to testify about forced disappearances of people who opposed her government).

The Evolution of Isabelita

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About the Author

The founder and editor of LatinFlyer.com, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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