Juan Peron and his glamorous wife, Eva, were inseparable in life, but uniting them in death is proving difficult.
Fifty years after their rule in Argentina, construction of a mausoleum for the two is being delayed by fundraising problems and resistance from at least one of Eva Peron's elderly sisters. The bodies of both Perons, who died decades apart, were unearthed during a period of military rule and their corpses subjected to treatment reminiscent of a horror movie.
Americans associate "Evita" with the Broadway musical smash of the same name, which tells her rags-to-riches story. Argentines remember the Perons for ushering in an era of rapid modernization and creating a welfare state and system of political patronage that remain to this day.
The long-ruling Peronist Party takes its name from them, but despite the couple's prominence, they are remembered in rival museums and buried in family crypts on opposite sides of Buenos Aires.
Local officials in San Vicente, outside the capital, hope to construct a mausoleum on the grounds of the couple's old weekend retreat. The province of Buenos Aires donated the land in 2000, and a well-done but obscure Peron museum opened there in 2002. But that's as far as the project has come.
"This might get done with little money, or it might never get built," conceded Antonio Daniel Di Sabatino, a public accountant who is working on the panel trying to create a mausoleum for the Perons. "I think Peron is a classic and should be understood as such. The classics should always be read," he said. "There isn't a poor person in Argentina who doesn't remember Peron."
Many average Argentines favor honoring the Perons, but not digging them up again.
"From my point of view, they should never be touched again because of the things that happened to them," said Claudio Vucetich, who leads tourists to Evita Peron's family crypt in the Recoleta cemetery.
At the Chacaritas cemetery, 45 minutes by car across town, Maria Luisa Sisti Monteros gets angry at the thought of moving Juan Peron's corpse. For more than two decades, the retired nurse has swept around the family crypt of the man whose oratorical skills became a truism in accounts of the Latin American strongman.
"This is shameful. It is not possible. You cannot touch Peron," Monteros insisted, pausing to place plastic flowers on the tomb's door. "We don't want them moved again!"
Monteros described how in 1987 soldiers beat her then broke into the crypt and sawed the hands from Peron's corpse to seek a ransom. It was never paid, and the hands have never been recovered.
The story pales compared with the surreal journey of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron's corpse after her death from cervical cancer on July 26, 1952, at age 33. Juan Peron had one of the world's top embalmers preserve her body and keep it in lifelike condition while he tried to build a monument.
"She looked almost as if she were alive," said Pablo Vasquez, who heads the library and archives at the Evita Museum in Buenos Aires.
Generals overthrew Juan Peron in 1955, setting Evita Peron's corpse on a bizarre round-the-world journey that lasted decades. Soldiers seized her body from the embalmer, who historians believe had fallen in love with the corpse. He also made at least two perfect wax copies, leaving family and foes unsure whether they really possessed her body.
The military rulers who deposed Juan Peron spirited away his wife's real corpse, and historians now know that soldiers repeatedly defiled the preserved body for two years as it was shuttled around the greater Buenos Aires area. Finally, in 1957, they secretly sent the corpse to Europe.
Generals feared Evita Peron's saint-like status in Argentina and worried that she could exercise powers from beyond the grave. They also worried that her remains could inspire the poor to revolution and secretly buried her corpse in Milan under the name Maria Maggi de Magistris.
After another bout of unrest, military rulers dug up the body in 1971 as a peace offering to Juan Peron. They returned the body to him in Madrid, where he was living in exile. Peron became president of Argentina again on Oct. 12, 1973 but died eight months later, before he could bring the corpse back to Argentina.
His third wife and vice president, the cabaret dancer Isabel Martinez de Peron, brought Evita Peron's corpse back in 1974 and had Juan and Evita Peron rest in state together. Isabel Peron reportedly stretched herself across the casket in hopes of channeling Evita's spirit.
On March 24, 1976, another military coup deposed Isabel Peron, and Evita Peron's corpse disappeared again. Six months later, the family got it back under a deal concluded with the dictators that it be buried under layers of steel in a family crypt, never to be moved again. Today, the Duarte family plot, with plaques dedicated to Evita, draws flower-bearing tourists.
Mausoleum backers said Isabel Peron had authorized moving Juan Peron's corpse, but Evita Peron's elderly sister Erminda hasn't yet given her blessing to the union of the corpses. Directors of the Evita Museum said the family would not comment on the mausoleum.
Evita Peron grows in stature year by year, but Juan Peron's legacy has been tarnished by a book that proved that he gave refuge and new identities to some of the worst Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Mengele and Klaus Barbie.
"It is pretty much a subject that is a footnote to Argentine history. . . . Such criminals should be more than just a footnote," said Uki Goni, whose book "The Real Odessa" documents Peron's Nazi link. "It should be part of the history they teach in the schools!"
At the Peron museum in San Vicente, there is no mention of Juan Peron's Nazi ties or his admiration for the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
"There is this concept of him as a Nazi. But the Jews received support and asylum from Peron, too," said Dora Rodriguez, the museum's director. Argentina is home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America, more than 230,000, she noted.