In brief: The Ruins of the New Argentina

The Ruins of the New Argentina: Peronism and the Remaking of
San Juan after the 1944 Earthquake
Mark A Healey
2011, Duke University Press
395 pages

THE CATASTROPHIC earthquake of January 1944 which reduced the prosperous wine city of San Juan in Argentina’s interior to rubble with the loss of perhaps 10,000 lives provided an unlikely launchpad for the career of Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, the recently installed secretary of labour. But the nationalistic opportunities generated by disasters should never be underestimated, and as the man overseeing the relief collection for the earthquake’s victims, which proved a success both of fundraising but of the mobilisation of national sentiment, Perón became a public figure, revered and hated in equal measure. The colonel would, of course, go on to become the architect of a political system, a populist icon and the most important point of reference in the country’s subsequent political history – but it is the San Juan earthquake, as Mark Healey pertinently points out, that is the most fitting point of departure for scholarship about his career and long-term impact. It was at a benefit after the earthquake, after all, that he met the future Evita Perón, Argentina’s very own Lady Di. The Ruins of the New Argentina examines the earth-changing legacy built upon San Juan’s ruins and, by examining how one city was destroyed then rebuilt, by extension sets the scene for Perón’s landmark moment. “The destroyed province,” the author argues, “was a crucial site in forging and testing – and ultimately limiting – the Peronist project for transforming the nation.” – GO’T

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