Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashes in the Andes

On the afternoon of October 13, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 begins its descent toward Santiago, Chile, too early and crashes high in the Andes Mountains. After more than two unthinkably harrowing months, 16 of the 45 who boarded the plane will be rescued—and sometimes referred to as the Miracle in the Andes.

The plane had been chartered to fly the Old Christians Rugby Club of Montevideo, Uruguay to a match in Santiago. 19 of those aboard were members of the team, while most of the other passengers were friends and family of team members. Flying through the cloud-obscured mountains, the co-pilot began his descent prematurely. Survivors recalled feeling turbulence before a black ridge appeared directly in front of the plane. The pilot tried to fly straight up and over the ridge, but the plane nonetheless hit the mountain, breaking into several pieces and skidding until coming to rest on a glacier. 12 people died in the crash, including the pilot, and five more died shortly thereafter, including the co-pilot who had been operating the controls. Within an hour of the crash, the Chilean Air Search and Rescue Service had planes in the air looking for survivors, but it would be 72 days they were found.

WATCH: I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash on HISTORY Vault

On their eleventh day in the mountains, the survivors learned via a makeshift radio that the search had been called off. They quickly ran out of food. As survivor Roberto Canessa remembered, “After just a few days, we were feeling the sensation of our own bodies consuming themselves just to remain alive. … We knew the answer, but it was too terrible to contemplate.” Eventually, after prayer and heart-wrenching deliberation, all but one agreed that the solution was to eat the dead. It is a virtual certainty that all those remaining would have died had they not resorted to cannibalism. 

On the seventeenth day, an avalanche struck the fuselage of the plane, where the survivors were taking shelter, killing eight more and nearly burying the rest alive. On November 15, an expedition of four set out in an attempt to find help by heading into a nearby valley. Although they were forced to turn back, they did find the tail of the wrecked plane, which contained a small amount of food and medicine as well as comic books.

Understanding, based on the failure of the first expedition, that the only way to reach help would be to climb the mountain that lay to the West, the survivors knit insulation from the airplane into a sleeping bag that could protect Canessa, Nando Parrado and Antonio Vizintín, who were chosen for the second expedition. After a grueling three-day climb, Parrado and Canessa reached the summit, where they learned that they were deeper into the mountains than they had expected—their assumption that they were close to Curicó, Chile had been based on the same navigational error that had caused the crash in the first place. 

Certain that they were going to their deaths, Parrado and Canessa hiked onward for nine more days, eventually following a river down into a valley where they were able to find help. After being rescued by a local muleteer, they guided two Chilean Air Force helicopters to the crash site, where half the survivors were evacuated on December 22 and the rest were evacuated on the morning of the 23rd.

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Fidel Castro arrives in Havana after deposing Batista’s regime


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Year
1959
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 1959, a triumphant Fidel Castro enters Havana, having deposed the American-backed regime of General Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s arrival in the Cuban capital marked a definitive victory for his 26th of July Movement and the beginning of Castro’s decades-long rule over the island nation.

The revolution had gone through several stages, beginning with a failed assault on a barracks and Castro’s subsequent imprisonment in 1953. After his release and exile in Mexico, he and 81 other revolutionaries arrived back in Cuba on a small yacht, the Granma, in 1956. Over the course of the next two years, Castro’s forces and other rebels fought what was primarily a guerrilla campaign, frustrating the significantly larger forces of Batista. After a failed offensive by Batista’s army, Castro’s guerrillas descended from their hideouts in the southern mountains and began to make their way northwest, toward Havana. Outnumbered but supported by most of the civilians they encountered along the way, Generals Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos captured the city of Santa Clara on December 31, 1958, prompting Batista to flee the country. When he heard the news, Castro began what was essentially a victory parade, arriving in Havana a week later.

Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba the following month and played a leading role in the construction of a new state. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, he did not immediately institute a communist regime. Rather, he quickly set out on a goodwill tour of the United States, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to meet with him, and traveled the Americas gathering support for his proposal that the U.S. do for its own hemisphere what it had done for Europe with the Marshall Plan.

Despite these overtures, Castro’s government would inevitably become aligned with the other side of the Cold War divide. Castro’s reforms included the redistribution of wealth and land and other socialist priorities that were unfriendly to foreign businesses, leading to a feud with the United States and a close alliance with the Soviet Union. This rivalry—which nearly led to a nuclear war between the superpowers just three years later—has shaped the recent history of the region. Castro would rule until the early 2000s, when he was replaced by his brother. During that time, an American embargo of Cuba stymied Castro’s dreams of a socialist republic, and hundreds of thousands fled his increasingly despotic regime. The Cuba that he left behind was a far cry from the one he hoped to build as he entered Havana, but Castro remains one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century. He died in 2016. 

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Revolutionary leader José de San Martín routs Spanish forces in Chile


Year
1817
Month Day
February 12

In the early hours of February 12, 1817, Argentine revolutionary José de San Martín leads his troops down the slopes of the Andes Mountains towards the Spanish forces defending Chile. By nightfall, the Spanish would be routed, the fledgling nation of Chile would have taken a major step toward independence.

San Martín was already a celebrated figure across South America, having liberated Argentina from Spanish rule. As his armies moved through the southern part of the continent, Simón Bolívar waged a similar campaign of liberation in the north, and by 1817 much of the continent was either independent or in a state of revolt. Though uprisings and guerrilla attacks had occurred throughout the narrow region between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, Chile and its ports remained under Spanish control.

San Martín led his army, the Army of the Andes, on an arduous march into Chile. It is estimated that as much as one third of his 6,000 men died in the crossing, and over half his horses were lost. Nonetheless, the patriots outnumbered the Spanish in the region when they finally reached the other side. Knowing Spanish reinforcements were nearby, San Martín pressed the advantage, ordering an early-morning advance down the slopes on February 12th. 

Two halves of his force were to convene on the Spanish at once, but one of his officers, a Chilean (of partially Irish descent) named Bernardo O’Higgins, could not wait. O’Higgins’ contingent raced down the mountains, giving the Spanish a numerical advantage and forcing San Martín into a somewhat haphazard assault. Nonetheless, by afternoon the patriots had forced the Spanish back into defensive positions around a local ranch, the Rancho Chacabuco. As O’Higgins made another charge, General Miguel Estanislao Soler moved his men to the other side of the ranch, cutting off the Spanish retreat. The result was disaster for the Spanish, who suffered 500 casualties and lost even more prisoners of war. Meanwhile, only a dozen patriot soldiers were reported dead, although roughly 120 would eventually die from wounds suffered in the battle.

The quick and total victory cleared the path to Santiago, the capital of Chile. Though it would take over a year for final victory to be assured, Chacabuco was seen as the pivotal moment in Chilean independence—formal independence was declared on February 12th, 1818, the first anniversary of the battle. The Battle of Chacabuco marked a crucial moment not only in Chilean history but also in the history of the continent and in the lives of San Martín, who added the liberation of Chile to his long list of achievements, and of O’Higgins, who would soon become Supreme Dictator of his newly-independent nation. 

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Germanwings pilot intentionally crashes plane, killing 150 people


Year
2015
Month Day
March 24

On March 24, 2015, the co-pilot of a German airliner deliberately flies the plane into the French Alps, killing himself and the other 149 people onboard. When it crashed, Germanwings flight 9525 had been traveling from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany.

The plane took off from Barcelona around 10 a.m. local time and reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet at 10:27 a.m. Shortly afterward, the captain, 34-year-old Patrick Sondenheimer, requested that the co-pilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz, take over the controls while he left the cockpit, probably to use the bathroom. At 10:31 a.m. the plane began a rapid descent and 10 minutes later crashed in mountainous terrain near the town of Prads-Haute-Bleone in southern France. There were no survivors. Besides the two pilots, the doomed Airbus A320 was carrying four cabin crew members and 144 passengers from 18 different countries, including three Americans.

Following the crash, investigators determined once the captain had stepped out of the cockpit Lubitz locked the door and wouldn’t let him back in. Sondenheimer could be heard on the plane’s black box voice recorder frantically yelling at his co-pilot and trying to break down the cockpit door. (In the aftermath of 9/11, Lufthansa installed fortified cockpit doors; however, when the Germanwings flight crashed the airline wasn’t required to have two crew members in the cockpit at all times, as U.S. carriers do.) Additionally, the flight data recorder showed Lubitz seemed to have rehearsed his suicide mission during an earlier flight that same day, when he repeatedly set the plane’s altitude dial to just 100 feet while the captain was briefly out of the cockpit. (Because Lubitz quickly reset the controls, his actions went unnoticed during the flight.)

Crash investigators also learned Lubitz had a history of severe depression and in the days before the disaster had searched the Internet for ways to commit suicide as well as for information about cockpit-door security. In 2008, Lubitz, a German native who flew gliders as a teen, entered the pilot-training program for Lufthansa, which owns budget-airliner Germanwings. He took time off from the program in 2009 to undergo treatment for psychological problems but later was readmitted and obtained his commercial pilot’s license in 2012. He started working for Germanwings in 2013. Investigators turned up evidence that in the months leading up to the crash Lubitz had visited a series of doctors for an unknown condition. He reportedly had notes declaring him unfit to work but kept this information from Lufthansa.

Instances of pilots using planes to commit suicide are rare. According to The New York Times, a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration study found that out of 2,758 aviation accidents documented by the FAA from 2003 to 2012, only eight were ruled suicides.

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Chilean miners are rescued after 69 days underground

Year
2010
Month Day
October 13

On October 13, 2010, the last of 33 miners trapped nearly half a mile underground for more than two months at a caved-in mine in northern Chile, are rescued. The miners survived longer than anyone else trapped underground in recorded history.

The miners’ ordeal began on August 5, 2010, when the San Jose gold and copper mine where they were working, some 500 miles north of the Chilean capital city of Santiago, collapsed. The 33 men moved to an underground emergency shelter area, where they discovered just several days’ worth of food rations. As their situation grew more desperate over the next 17 days, the miners, uncertain if anyone would find them, considered suicide and cannibalism. Then, on August 22, a drill sent by rescuers broke through to the area where the miners were located, and the men sent back up a note saying, “We are fine in the refuge, the 33.” Food, water, letters, medicine and other supplies were soon delivered to the miners via a narrow bore hole. Video cameras were also sent down, making it possible for rescuers to see the men and the hot, humid space in which they were entombed. As engineering and mining experts from around the world collaborated on the long, complex process of devising a way to bring the 33 men up to the surface, the miners maintained a system of jobs and routines in order to keep up morale.

Rescuers eventually drilled and reinforced an escape shaft wide enough to extract the men, one by one. (Employees of a Pennsylvania-based drilling-tool company played a role in drilling the rescue shaft.) On October 12, the first of the miners was raised to the surface in a narrow, 13-foot-tall capsule painted white, blue and red, the colors of the Chilean flag. The approximately 2,000-foot ascent to the surface in the capsule took around 15 minutes for each man.

The miners were greeted by a cheering crowd that included Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera; media from around the world; and friends and relatives, many of whom had been camped at the base of the mine in the Atacama Desert for months. Millions of people around the globe watched the rescue on live TV. Less than 24 hours after the operation began, all 33 of the miners, who ranged in age from 19 to 63, had been safely rescued. Almost all the men were in good health, and each of them sported dark glasses to protect their eyes after being in a dimly lit space for so long.

The rescued miners were later honored with trips to a variety of destinations, including England, Israel and Florida’s Walt Disney World, where a parade was held in their honor.

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Fidel Castro born

Year
1926
Month Day
August 13

Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro is born in the Oriente province of eastern Cuba. The son of a Spanish immigrant who had made a fortune building rail systems to transport sugar cane, Fidel attended Roman Catholic boarding schools in Santiago de Cuba. He became involved in revolutionary politics while he was a student and in 1947 took part in an abortive attempt by Dominican exiles and Cubans to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. In the next year, he took part in urban riots in Bogota, Colombia. The most outstanding feature of his politics during the period was his anti-American beliefs; he was not yet an overt Marxist.

In 1951, he ran for a seat in the Cuban House of Representatives as a member of the reformist Ortodoxo Party, but General Fulgencio Batista seized power in a bloodless coup d’etat before the election could be held. Various groups formed to oppose Batista’s dictatorship, and on July 26, 1953, Castro led some 160 rebels in an attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second largest military base. Castro hoped to seize weapons and announce his revolution from the base radio station, but the barracks were heavily defended, and more than half his men were captured or killed in the attempt. Castro was himself arrested and put on trial for conspiring to overthrow the Cuban government. During his trial, he argued that he and his rebels were fighting to restore democracy to Cuba, but he was nonetheless found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Two years later, Batista felt confident enough in his power that he granted a general amnesty to all political prisoners, including Castro. Castro then went with his brother Raul to Mexico, and they organized the revolutionary 26th of July Movement, enlisting recruits and joining up with Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an idealist Marxist from Argentina.

On December 2, 1956, Castro and 81 armed men landed on the Cuban coast. All of them were killed or captured except for Castro, Raul, Che, and nine others, who retreated into the Sierra Maestra mountain range to wage a guerrilla war against the Batista government. They were joined by revolutionary volunteers from all over Cuba and won a series of victories over Batista’s demoralized army. Castro was supported by the peasantry, to whom he promised land reform, while Batista received aid from the United States, which bombed suspected revolutionary positions.

By mid-1958, a number of other Cuban groups were also opposing Batista, and the United States ended military aid to his regime. In December, the 26th of July forces under Che Guevara attacked the city of Santa Clara, and Batista’s forces crumbled. Batista fled for the Dominican Republic on January 1, 1959. Castro, who had fewer than 1,000 men left at the time, took control of the Cuban government’s 30,000-man army. The other rebel leaders lacked the popular support the young and charismatic Castro enjoyed, and on February 16 he was sworn in as prime minister of the country’s new provisional government.

The United States initially recognized the new Cuban dictator but withdrew its support after Castro launched a program of agrarian reform, nationalized U.S. assets on the island, and declared a Marxist government. Many of Cuba’s wealthiest citizens fled to the United States, where they joined the CIA in its efforts to overthrow Castro’s regime. In April 1961, with some training and support by the CIA, the Cuban exiles launched a disastrously unsuccessful invasion of Cuba known as the “Bay of Pigs.” The Soviet Union reacted to the attack by escalating its support to Castro’s communist government and in 1962 placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. The discovery of the missiles by U.S. intelligence led to the tense “Cuban Missile Crisis,” which ended after the Soviets agreed to remove the weapons in exchange for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba.

Castro’s Cuba was the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere, and he would retain control of it into the 21st century, outlasting nine U.S. presidents who opposed him with economic embargoes and political rhetoric. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Castro lost a valuable source of aid, but he made up for it by courting European and Canadian investment and tourism. In late July 2006, an unwell Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to his younger brother Raul. He officially stepped down in February 2008. Castro died on November 25, 2016, at 90.

READ MORE: How the Castro Family Dominated Cuba for Nearly 60 Years

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Falklands War ends

Year
1982
Month Day
June 14

After suffering through six weeks of military defeats against Britain’s armed forces, Argentina surrenders to Great Britain, ending the Falklands War.

The Falkland Islands, located about 300 miles off the southern tip of Argentina, had long been claimed by the British. British navigator John Davis may have sighted the islands in 1592, and in 1690 British Navy Captain John Strong made the first recorded landing on the islands. He named them after Viscount Falkland, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. In 1764, French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville founded the islands’ first human settlement, on East Falkland, which was taken over by the Spanish in 1767. In 1765, the British settled West Falkland but left in 1774 for economic reasons. Spain abandoned its settlement in 1811.

In 1816, Argentina declared its independence from Spain and in 1820 proclaimed its sovereignty over the Falklands. The Argentines built a fort on East Falkland, but in 1832 it was destroyed by the USS Lexington in retaliation for the seizure of U.S. seal ships in the area. In 1833, a British force expelled the remaining Argentine officials and began a military occupation. In 1841, a British lieutenant governor was appointed, and by the 1880s a British community of some 1,800 people on the islands was self-supporting. In 1892, the wind-blown Falkland Islands were collectively granted colonial status.

READ MORE: How the Falklands War Cemented Margaret Thatcher’s Reputation as the ‘Iron Lady’

For the next 90 years, life on the Falklands remained much unchanged, despite persistent diplomatic efforts by Argentina to regain control of the islands. In 1981, the 1,800 Falkland Islanders—mostly sheep farmers—voted in a referendum to remain British, and it seemed unlikely that the Falklands would ever revert to Argentine rule. Meanwhile, in Argentina, the military junta led by Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri was suffering criticism for its oppressive rule and economic management and planned the Falklands invasion as a means of promoting patriotic feeling and propping up its regime.

In March 1982, Argentine salvage workers occupied South Georgia Island, and a full-scale invasion of the Falklands began on April 2. Argentine amphibious forces rapidly overcame the small garrison of British marines at the town of Stanley on East Falkland and the next day seized the dependent territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich group. Under orders from their commanders, the Argentine troops inflicted no British casualties, despite suffering losses to their own units. Nevertheless, Britain was outraged, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assembled a naval task force of 30 warships to retake the islands. As Britain is 8,000 miles from the Falklands, it took several weeks for the British warships to arrive. On April 25, South Georgia Island was retaken, and after several intensive naval battles fought around the Falklands, British troops landed on East Falkland on May 21. After several weeks of fighting, the large Argentine garrison at Stanley surrendered on June 14, effectively ending the conflict.

Britain lost five ships and 256 lives in the fight to regain the Falklands, and Argentina lost its only cruiser and 750 lives. Humiliated in the Falklands War, the Argentine military was swept from power in 1983, and civilian rule was restored. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity soared after the conflict, and her Conservative Party won a landslide victory in 1983 parliamentary elections.

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Panama declares independence from Colombia

Year
1903
Month Day
November 03

With the support of the U.S. government, Panama issues a declaration of independence from Colombia. The revolution was engineered by a Panamanian faction backed by the Panama Canal Company, a French-U.S. corporation that hoped to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with a waterway across the Isthmus of Panama.

In 1903, the Hay-Herrán Treaty was signed with Colombia, granting the United States use of the Isthmus of Panama in exchange for financial compensation. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, but the Colombian Senate, fearing a loss of sovereignty, refused. In response, President Theodore Roosevelt gave tacit approval to a rebellion by Panamanian nationalists, which began on November 3, 1903. To aid the rebels, the U.S.-administered railroad in Panama removed its trains from the northern terminus of Colón, thus stranding Colombian troops sent to crush the insurrection. Other Colombian forces were discouraged from marching on Panama by the arrival of the U.S. warship Nashville.

On November 6, the United States recognized the Republic of Panama, and on November 18 the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed with Panama, granting the United States exclusive and permanent possession of the Panama Canal Zone. In exchange, Panama received $10 million and an annuity of $250,000 beginning nine years later. The treaty was negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay and the owner of the Panama Canal Company. Almost immediately, the treaty was condemned by many Panamanians as an infringement on their country’s new national sovereignty.

On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal was inaugurated with the passage of the U.S. vessel Ancon, a cargo and passenger ship. After decades of protest and negotiations, the Panama Canal passed to Panamanian control in December 1999.

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The U.S. invades Panama


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Year
1989
Month Day
December 20

The United States invades Panama in an attempt to overthrow military dictator Manuel Noriega, who had been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges and was accused of suppressing democracy in Panama and endangering U.S. nationals. Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) were promptly crushed, forcing the dictator to seek asylum with the Vatican anuncio in Panama City, where he surrendered on January 3, 1990.

In 1970, Noriega, a rising figure in the Panamanian military, was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assist in the U.S. struggle against the spread of communism in Central America. Noriega became involved in drug trafficking and in 1977 was removed from the CIA payroll. After the Marxist Sandinista government came to power in 1979, Noriega was brought back into the CIA fold. In 1983, he become military dictator of Panama.

Noriega supported U.S. initiatives in Central America and in turn was praised by the White House, even though a Senate committee concluded in 1983 that Panama was a major center for drug trafficking. In 1984, Noriega committed fraud in Panama’s presidential election in favor of Nicolás Ardito Barletta, who became a puppet president. Still, Noriega enjoyed the continued support of the Reagan administration, which valued his aid in its efforts to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

In 1986, just months before the outbreak of the Iran-Contra affair, allegations arose concerning Noriega’s history as a drug trafficker, money launderer, and CIA employee. Most shocking, however, were reports that Noriega had acted as a double agent for Cuba’s intelligence agency and the Sandinistas. The U.S. government disowned Noriega, and in 1988 he was indicted by federal grand juries in Tampa and Miami on drug-smuggling and money-laundering charges.

Tensions between Americans in the Panama Canal Zone and Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces grew, and in 1989 the dictator annulled a presidential election that would have made Guillermo Endara president. President George H. Bush ordered additional U.S. troops to the Panama Canal Zone, and on December 16 an off-duty U.S. Marine was shot to death at a PDF roadblock. The next day, President Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause”–the U.S. invasion of Panama to overthrow Noriega.

On December 20, 9,000 U.S. troops joined the 12,000 U.S. military personnel already in Panama and were met with scattered resistance from the PDF. By December 24, the PDF was crushed, and the United States held most of the country. Endara was made president by U.S. forces, and he ordered the PDF dissolved. On January 3, Noriega was arrested by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents.

The U.S. invasion of Panama cost the lives of only 23 U.S. soldiers and three U.S. civilians. Some 150 PDF soldiers were killed along with an estimated 500 Panamanian civilians. The Organization of American States and the European Parliament both formally protested the invasion, which they condemned as a flagrant violation of international law.

In 1992, Noriega was found guilty on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, marking the first time in history that a U.S. jury convicted a foreign leader of criminal charges. He was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison, but after extradition to and incarceration in Panama, died in a Panama City hospital on May 29, 2017.

READ MORE: 7 Fascinating Facts About the Panama Canal

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Juan Perón elected in Argentina


Year
1946
Month Day
February 24

Juan Domingo Perón, the controversial former vice president of Argentina, is elected president.

In 1943, as an army officer, he joined a military coup against Argentina’s ineffectual civilian government. Appointed secretary of labor, his influence grew and in 1944 he also became vice president and minister of war. In October 1945, Perón was ousted from his positions by a coup of constitutionally minded civilians and officers and imprisoned, but appeals from workers and his charismatic mistress, Eva Duarte, soon forced his release. The night of his release, October 17, he addressed a crowd of some 300,000 people from the balcony of the presidential palace, and promised to lead the people to victory in the coming presidential election. Four days later, Perón, a widower, married Eva Duarte, or “Evita,” as she became affectionately known.

As president, Perón constructed an impressive populist alliance, and his vision of self-sufficiency for Argentina won him wide support. However, he also became increasingly authoritarian, jailing political opponents and restricting freedom of the press. In 1952, his greatest political resource, Evita, died, and support for him dissolved. Three years later, he was ousted in a military coup. In 1973, after 18 years of exile, he returned to Argentina and won the presidency again. His third wife, Isabel de Martinez Perón, was elected as vice president and in 1974 succeeded him upon his death.

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