José López Rega

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José López Rega in the mid-1970s. Isabel Martínez de Perón can be seen at his left with a fur coat.

José López Rega (17 October 1916 – 9 June 1989) was Argentina's Minister of Social Welfare during the Peronist government started in 1973 by Juan Perón and continued after Perón's death in 1974 by his third wife and vice-president, Isabel Martínez de Perón (1974–76), until the coup d'etat of 1976 that initiated the so-called National Reorganization Process (1976–83) under Jorge Videla's direction. Earlier a Federal Police corporal, he was made Comisario General of police, the highest rank, under Isabel Perón's rule. He was known as El Brujo ("the Sorcerer") and the Argentine Evola, in reference to fascist esotericist Julius Evola.

Before Juan Perón's return[edit]

López Rega's mother died giving birth to him in Buenos Aires. According to his biography by Marcelo Larraquy (2002), he was a respectful, introverted boy, who had a library covering an entire wall and a special interest in spiritual topics (which would later turn into a passion for esoterism and occultism). He married at the age of 27. In 1944 he joined the Federal Police; with the help of police chief Filomeno Velazco he joined the guard which protected the Casa Rosada, seat of the executive, with the rank of corporal.

In 1951, he met Victoria Montero who introduced him in the subject of esoterism. López Rega was a frequent visitor in Montero's home, where he met members of the freemasons organization. A common interest for esoterism linked him to Isabel, Perón's third wife, in 1965. Sent to Argentina by Perón, exiled in Spain since the 1955 "Revolución Libertadora" coup, she organized a meeting in the house of major Bernardo Alberte, Perón's delegate and sponsor of various left-wing Peronist movement, among which the CGT de los Argentinos, a labor union federation which, between 1968 and 1972, gathered opponents to a pact with Juan Carlos Onganía's dictatorship, and which had an important role in the 1969 Cordobazo insurrection. After winning Isabel's trust, López Rega traveled to Spain, where he worked first for Perón's security before becoming the couple's personal secretary.

Perón's return and the September elections[edit]

When Héctor José Cámpora was elected president on March 11, 1973, for the first general elections since 1963, as Perón's stand-in since the latter was forbidden from running himself, José López Rega, sent by Perón, became Minister of Social Welfare. From there, he opposed himself to Esteban Righi and others representatives of the Peronist left-wing. Perón returned to Argentina on June 20, 1973, acclaimed by the masses. The Ezeiza massacre, organized by López Rega on the day of Perón's return from a 20-year exile, led to a definitive split between left and right-wing Peronism, with Cámpora as representative of the left-wing and López Rega as representative of the right-wing. López Rega had positioned snipers under Perón's stage, who opened up fire upon the masses and the left-wing Peronist organizations, such as the Montoneros, etc. On the following days, Mario Roberto Santucho, leader of the Guevarist Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP), held a press conference during which he accused López Rega and Colonel José Manuel Osinde of the massacre. Perón and López Rega, who, while in Spain, had supported left-wing Peronists, strongly criticized them this time around. López Rega openly criticized president Cámpora's position during the cabinet's meeting. After finding out about Perón's meeting with José Ignacio Rucci and other right-wing CGT leaders and also with the Army, Cámpora and his vice-president Vicente Solano Lima resigned. All of Cámpora's followers were sacked from all government positions, and López Rega's son-in-law, Raúl Alberto Lastiri, also a member of P2, became interim president and organized the elections. On September 23, 1973, Perón won them with almost 62% of the votes, naming his third wife Isabel Perón as vice-president.

Beside Raúl Lastiri's interim presidency, López Rega's success in the expulsion of the left-wing Peronists from power was confirmed on August 4, 1973, during the National Congress of Perón's Justicialist Party, with the nomination of his protector Isabel as candidate for vice-presidency. On September 23, the Perón-Perón ticket won comfortably, with 61.85% of the votes. Troubled by the right-wing shift of Peronism and of the government, the Montoneros, a left-wing Peronist group, assassinated CGT's leader José Ignacio Rucci on September 25, 1973. The latter had also been involved in the creation of the Triple A (Alianza Argentina Anticomunista— Argentine Anticommunist Alliance). This assassination gave a pretext to López Rega to decree the prohibition of all armed groups and the closure of El Mundo, a left-wing newspaper. A month later, radical senator Hipólito Solari Yrigoyen was seriously injured in the first terrorist attack claimed by the Triple A. Federal Police Chief Rodolfo Almirón had been suspected of organizing this attack.

Juan Perón's death and Isabel Perón's presidency[edit]

Among Juan Perón's first actions after taking office were tougher sentences against "sedition" and "subversion". Started after the Ezeiza massacre, the split with the Peronist left-wing became even more visible with the resignation of eight deputies belonging to the Juventud Peronista (Peronist Youth). When Perón died on July 1, 1974, Isabel assumed power and López Rega almost became her Prime minister, assuming the direction of all ministers in the Presidency's orbit. He decided almost by himself on the composition of the new cabinet, keeping for himself the title of Minister of Social Welfare. He was promoted to Comisario General, the highest rank in the Federal Police; he had reached the rank of corporal when a member of the police force.

As Isabel Perón's Minister of Social Welfare, López Rega conducted an unpopular policy of fiscal conservatism. In 1975 his protégé Celestino Rodrigo, Minister of Economy, devalued the Argentine peso by 50%, causing a massive economic havoc, inflation, loss of savings, and general hardship on the middle and lower classes (in particular, public employees and retirees). López Rega came under attack from the leftist factions of the Peronist Party, accused of being a counter-revolutionary and a fascist.

In July 1975 he was formally accused by the main party organ of instigating the action of the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (Triple A). A terrorist group organized with his other protégé Rodolfo Almirón and funded by the Ministry of Social Welfare, this death squad was responsible for the death of 1,500 persons and the exile of hundreds more. Starting with the June 20, 1973 Ezeiza massacre, it initiated the "Dirty War" in Argentina which was later taken up by Jorge Videla's junta (1976–83) during which 30,000 persons were "disappeared."

Attacked because of Celestino Rodrigo's economic policies, López Rega had to resign on July 11, 1975; he was hurriedly appointed ambassador to Spain by Isabel Perón and fled to Franco's Spain with Rodolfo Almirón; Almirón later became the chief of security of Manuel Fraga, leader of the People's Alliance post-Franco conservative party, but was arrested in Spain in December 2006.

López Rega's fall[edit]

On 24 March 1976, President Isabel Perón was deposed by the military Junta, which in turn organized the so-called "National Reorganization Process" and generalized the "Dirty War". López Rega spent the following ten years fleeing prosecution abroad, leaving Spain for Switzerland, where he lived near Geneva until 1982. Discovered by a photographer, he then fled to the Bahamas. He lived between Miami and the Bahamas until 1986. In 1986, three years after the return to democracy, he was arrested in the United States while trying to renew his passport, and extradited to Argentina, where he was wanted for corruption, conspiracy, and multiple homicide. He died of diabetes on 9 June 1989 in Buenos Aires, while awaiting trial in prison.

In film[edit]

In the 2013 film Puerta de Hierro, el exilio de Perón, Fito Yanelli plays López Rega during Perón's exile in Madrid. López Rega is dismissed by Perón but allowed back because of his wife's intercession.

Sources[edit]

  • Biography of José López Rega (in Spanish)
  • López Rega. La biografía. Marcelo Larraquy. Editorial Sudamericana. 473 pages. ISBN 950-07-2441-3.
  • Bra, Gerardo, "La 'P-2- en la Argentina", in Félix Luna (ed) et al., Todo es historia, No. 214, Feb 1985, pp. 12–15