Peron DNA Taken to Settle Paternity Test

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 12, 2006; 7:29 PM

SAN VICENTE, Argentina -- A court-ordered DNA sample to be taken from the corpse of Juan Peron on Friday is only the latest indignity endured by the South American strongman and his adored wife Evita in their remarkably strange afterlife. The test, ordered to resolve a paternity claim that Peronists have long considered an insult, clears the last obstacle to his reburial.

The ceremony Tuesday will bring out a huge display of official affection for the caudillo who radically reshaped Argentina's economic and political life, and provide an opportunity for Peronist party members to present their claims to his legacy. President Nestor Kirchner, on the Peronist left, faces a potential challenge next year from former President Carlos Menem on the right.

The move means Peron's remains will be disturbed for the third time since his 1974 death, offending some Argentines who think he should be left in peace. But this destination is designed to properly honor him as a national hero: a gleaming $1.1 million mausoleum just completed on the leafy grounds of his weekend retreat outside Argentina's capital.

"He is going to have a special place because he's no ordinary man," said Raul Lorenzo, watching police guard Peron's humble tomb in the Chacarita municipal cemetery Thursday. "It's important to render homage to a great man for all those generations who didn't have the luck of knowing him in life."

The new mausoleum also has room for Evita Peron, whose embalmed body now rests in her family's crypt in the opulent Recoleta cemetery, a major downtown tourist attraction. Peron's family hopes to reunite the bodies, a possibility her family has steadfastly rejected.

Some die-hard supporters contend Peron always wished to be buried at his former estate amid the cattle farms surrounding San Vicente. Others say it is too far a trip for the people he and Evita helped lift out of poverty following World War II by forcibly redirecting much of the nation's then-considerable wealth.

Still others consider the move to be yet another morbid manipulation by Argentines who have never allowed their nation's ultimate power couple to rest in peace.

Evita died young from uterine cancer in 1952, and the military leaders who overthrew Peron in 1955 were so worried about a death cult that they secretly moved her body to an unmarked grave in Italy, where it would remain until they delivered it to his home in exile in Spain in 1971.

Peron returned to power with his third wife Isabel. After his death in office in 1974, she brought Evita's body to rest by his side in the presidential residence in Buenos Aires. But after she too was ousted in a coup two years later, the military quietly dispatched both bodies to their families' crypts.

Evita's corpse suffered a broken nose during its travels, but at least it was properly embalmed. Peron's was prevented by court order from being treated in any way that might damage DNA evidence sought by Martha Holgado.

Now 72 and bearing a striking resemblance to the Argentine leader, Holgado has long insisted she is the product of a brief affair with Maria Demarchi. She says Peron always treated her like a daughter, even though he never formally recognized her.

Many Peron followers scoff at the claim, noting none of Peron's three marriages produced children.

"The people are my only descendants," Peron famously said, a phrase that is even etched on his new mausoleum.

Historian Miguel Angel Taroncher, who toured the mausoleum Thursday, joined many Argentines in opposition to moving the body from the cemetery where many ordinary people who supported him are buried.

"I believe personally that his remains should remain in Chacarita," he said. "It's a very public place, a people's cemetery and a place where he can be with the people."

As police guarded Peron's Chacarita crypt Thursday, a small cluster of supporters and detractors debated the planned DNA sampling and the pending move.

"I come here every day to the cemetery. Why won't I be able to see him now?" complained Jose Serber, 80, one of the thousands of protesters who helped bring Peron to power on Oct. 17, 1946.

Maria Luis Sisti, 70, who rushed to the tomb after vandals stole Peron's hands in July 1987, is still indignant the culprits have not been found. She says his remains should remain undisturbed.

"There's no way I want Peron's remains removed from here. He has been resting in Chacarita for years, and it's just morbid and irresponsible to move the body so long after his death," she said. "What we want is for him to just rest in peace."

© 2006 The Associated Press