Buenos Aires in Tumult by Annamaria Alfieri
Blood Tango, my third South American historical mystery, takes place in Buenos Aires in 1945, during the most dramatic week in Argentine history. Argentines had been protesting in the streets of their capital for more than twenty months, and by October of that year the demonstrations were reaching new heights and threatening chaos. Think Turkey and Brazil during the past few weeks.
The country was being ruled by a military junta, and the populace both of the left and the right were demanding rule by constitutional law. Sound familiar?
On the 8th of October Colonel Juan Domingo Perón celebrated his fiftieth birthday. He was the most powerful man in the country--its vice president, minister of war, and secretary of labor, as well as the puppet master pulling the strings of the president--General Edelmiro Farrell. As the most visible symbol of army rule, Perón was also the most hated of Argentines.
On the day after his birthday, the generals deposed him in the hopes of quelling the mobs who are shouting for democracy in the plazas. But the demands for a return to the constitution continued apace.
When, the junta went a step further and put Perón in jail, his supporters—the lowest level workers in the land—joined in with manifestations of their own, ratcheting up the noise and the stakes. The sheer numbers of Perón’s supporters were a game changer. Eventually hundreds of thousands of them took to the avenidas to make their own demand. They had only one. They wanted Perón back in power.
Who were these men—individually powerless who combined to become an irresistible political force?
Until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the citizens of Buenos Aires had almost nothing in common with the people living in the rest of Argentina. The porteños (people of the port) were white—the original Spaniards, more recently joined by Europeans of all sorts who streamed into BA, much as they did into New York or Boston. They built a city very like the ones they had left behind across the ocean. They sold the beef raised out on the Pampas back to Europe, notable to England, and they shopped it on the hoof.
The invention of refrigeration changed all that. Meat could be shipped already packaged. Slaughter houses (owned by Brits and Americans) were built next to the stockyards south of Buenos Aires and staffed with South American Indian men who poured into the city from the plains in search of jobs.
The oligarchic upper classes of the “Paris of the South” bought their labor cheap and ignored their needs, thereby creating fertile ground for the ambitious Colonel Perón. As secretary of labor, he had taken up the workers’ cause and made sure of their allegiance by enforcing statutory wage raises, vacations, and health insurance.
The low level workers owed all their gains to Perón, and when their man was sent to jail, they decided that if the upper classes could demonstrate for their rights, so could they. A week after Perón said farewell to his powerful position, they showed up by their hundreds of thousands to demand his return. Blood Tango is set against this background, and the story of Perón’s fall and struggle to return to power constitutes a subplot that reads like a political thriller.
The fictitious murder plot involves the stabbing of an Evita lookalike. The people in power fear that Evita Duarte, a very popular soap opera actress who is Perón’s mistress, will stir up trouble among the poorest citizens of Buenos Aires. Many people might have wanted to kill Evita to keep her from filling such a role. Blood Tango takes up the question through the killing of a girl who could have been mistaken for Evita. Was the crime one of politics or passion?
The book launches this week. You can read more about it at www.annaamariaalfieri.com