After 'Evita', Peron to face dirt-diggers

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The Independent Online
Madonna's latest starring role means that the international spotlight is once more focused on Evita Peron. Now Evita's husband, Argentina's populist leader General Juan Peron, is also being disinterred.

His remains are to be exhumed, probably this week, to test the claim of Martha Holgado, a 62-year-old Argentinian with a remarkable resemblance to the late general who insists he was her father. Though many Argentinians believe his third wife's claim that he was impotent, a court in Buenos Aires has ruled that Ms Holgado might have a point and that a DNA test is in order.

"This is war. They're trying to keep me from my birthright," Ms Holgado said at a court hearing after the general's last wife, Isabel Peron, tried in vain to block the exhumation. "But the DNA tests will show whether I am telling the truth."

She says her mother and Peron were lovers in 1932, more than a decade before he became enamoured with Eva Duarte, alias Evita. Why did it take her so long to come forward? Because her mother, who died only recently, pledged her to secrecy, of course. Nothing to do with the Madonna film.

If Ms Holgado is proved right, her lawyer says only that she will claim her "birthright". For that, read hundreds of millions of Swiss francs said to be lying unclaimed in Zurich bank vaults, including expressions of gratitude from Nazis whom Peron allowed into Argentina after the war.

It is not the first time that Peron bodies have been disturbed. After General Peron's death in 1974, the military regime removed his coffin from the presidential burial site and reburied it in another Buenos Aires cemetery.

In 1987, a gang of "body-nappers" cut through the bullet-proof glass of his crypt and used an electric chainsaw to remove his hands. Some said it was politics, others said it was an attempt to use his fingerprints to gain access to that secret numbered Swiss account.

A gang calling itself "Hermes and the Thirteen" asked for $8m (pounds 5m) to return the hands. According to police records, no money changed hands. And no hands ever showed up.

Even Evita's body has been a movable object. After Juan Peron had her embalmed in 1952, soldiers smuggled her beautified corpse to Europe. There, somebody cut off her ear as a keepsake. Somebody else took a finger.

It is claimed that admirers made copies of the embalmed body, apparently by using dead lookalikes. Eventually, Juan Peron brought her back to Buenos Aires, where she lies to this day in the Recoleta cemetery. Or at least some blonde with a pearl necklace and missing an ear and a finger does.