Peron statue in Argentina's Buenos Aires still in limbo

Argentine President Juan Peron, and his wife Eva, wave from the balcony of Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires on 17 October 1950 as his supporters celebrated Loyalty Day Juan Peron and his wife Evita are iconic figures in Argentine history

Even though it has been 40 years since Juan Domingo Peron died, the three-times president of Argentina still divides opinion. His supporters praise his efforts to tackle poverty and continue to revere him and his wife Evita. But his critics dismiss him as a populist demagogue. And as BBC Mundo's Natalio Cosoy reports, even though the party he founded is in power, plans to erect a statue in his honour have been delayed time and time again.

"Peronism is based on emotions," Lorenzo Pepe says about the political movement named after the former leader.

Mr Pepe is the general secretary of the Juan Domingo Peron National Institute and one of a group of Peronists who as early as 1985 proposed the erection of a statue of the former Argentine leader.

"Peronism has to be seen, and if possible touched," he says as he explains the rationale behind the statue to Mr Peron, who served two terms from 1946 to 1955, and another from 1973 until his death the following year.

Union leader Hugo Moyano delivers a speech from the stage decorated with the images of former Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron and his wife Evita Peron to thousand of workers who attend to the celebration of the Labour Day in Buenos Aires on 30 April, 2009. The image of Juan Peron and his wife Evita is often used at Peronist rallies and gatherings

The plans are not new, to the contrary, the Argentine Congress passed a motion in 1986 which stipulated that a Peron monument be built by an Argentine sculptor, paid for by donations from the Argentine public, and erected in the capital, Buenos Aires.

Model of the Peron statue designed by Enrique Savio Enrique Savio's design was chosen for the statue

Since that promising start, it seems everything has gone downhill.

First, it took almost a decade to sort out the red tape involved in building the statue.

Then it took until 2005 for a location for the statue to be picked. It was to be erected outside the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, near the landing pad for the presidential helicopter.

Another two years passed while a contest was organised to choose the artist who would create the statue.

The winner, Enrique Savio, estimated the cost at 2.5m pesos ($775,000; £455,000) at the time.

The statue seemed to be back on track, but in October 2008, Argentina's aeronautical authorities queried its planned location. They said they feared it could impede the safe navigation of the presidential helicopter.

Steely determination

But Mr Pepe, a former Congressman and rail union leader, threw his weight behind the project and managed to get backing for the chosen location.

Lorenzo Pepe speaking at a rally Mr Pepe wants to see the statue built, and soon

His hope was to get the statue completed in time for 17 October of the following year, when Peronists mark the day in 1945 when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demand the release of Mr Peron, who had been arrested by the military government of the time.

But the date came and went, and nothing happened.

A new target date was set for 25 May 2010, the bicentennial of Argentina's independence from Spain, but again it was to pass without the statue being lifted onto its pedestal.

Financial hurdle

This time, the problem was money.

Despite Peronist presidents being in power since 2002 and the political movement having some 3.5 million members, no more than $10,000 have been collected so far.

But Mr Pepe's determination to see the statue built did not wane in the face of adversity. "I want to see it [completed] before I die and I will pull all my strength behind it," he says, undeterred by the myriad setbacks.

"Everyone wants to do see it done, but no-one actually does anything," sculptor Enrique Savio says, deeply frustrated about the years of uncertainty he has lived through, dedicating money, time and effort to the project.

View of statues in Enrique savio's studio Enrique Savio has spent years working on the project and is getting increasingly frustrated
A bust of Juan Peron can be seen in the studio of sculptor Enrique Savio Busts and models for the Peron statue are everywhere in Mr Savio's studio

To add insult to injury, a statue of Juan Peron may soon be erected near the Casa Rosada. But it will not be Mr Savio's.

Rival statue

The city of Buenos Aires legislature, controlled by an opposition party, recently voted in favour of erecting its own monument to the ex-leader using their own funds, very near the spot where Mr Savio's sculpture is meant to stand.

Matias Ranzini, who is in charge of the rival project, says the city legislature wanted "a tribute of the people of the City of Buenos Aires to Peron, since the national one could not be done".

The rival monument could be finished in less than eight months' time.

Mr Savio took part in the competition to build this rival statue, too, but was beaten by sculptor Carlos Benavidez.

Some observers of the long-running saga say the failure to erect the stature reflects the void left by Juan Peron and the rivalries stoked by his death.

Historian Marcos Novaro argues that "Peron's death on 1 July 1974… irrepressibly aggravated the power vacuum, the loss of control over the economy and the clash of opposing forces".

Critics say the feeble alliance between the left and right wing of the Peronist party collapsed when their leader died, leaving in its wake an inability to accomplish something as seemingly simple as a monument.

Juan Peron himself liked to say that "reality is the only truth".

And the reality is that 40 years after his death, neither of the two monuments planned for Buenos Aires has been erected.

More Latin America & Caribbean stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.