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Category: Presidents

172. liga patriótica argentina

In the aftermath of the 1909 assassination of Ramón Falcón & Juan Alberto Lartigau, the upper class in Argentina began to pay attention. Wary of what they considered disruptive elements to society, immigration laws were modified to exile anyone committing a crime in the name of anarchism, Marxism or any other -ism convenient. Universal male suffrage in 1912 further shifted politics away from the upper class when Radical candidate Hipólito Yrigoyen was elected in 1916. The 1917 Communist Revolution & growing strength of labor unions only intensified what the upper class saw as a challenge to their power.

When a metalworkers strike spiraled out of control at the end of 1918, violence broke out between police, strikers & scabs hired to keep production going. Certain groups thought the violence originated from the Jewish community & a pogrom was carried out. The army had to intervene to restore order with a final death toll of about 1,000 people & another 4,000 injured. The 1919 Semana Trágica would go down in history as one of the most violent working class conflicts in the nation’s history.

Citizens who took part in repressing union activity during the Semana Trágica later formed an extra-governmental organization to maintain order: the Liga Patriótica Argentina. With a collective identity of “Argentine-ness,” they proposed to do what the government or police could not: prohibit erosion of the current order & stop all those foreign ideas from entering the country. Good luck with that. How can you argue with the following logic?

Cien años de virtudes fundaron la civilización argentina y la historia de nuestro siglo XIX, la exaltación más bella de la conciencia de un pueblo dispuesto a ser grande. Todo ese pasado de honor no puede alterarse por la perfidia de gente recién llegada trayendo en el alma la derrota de sus vilezas.

Argentine civilization & our 19th-century history was founded on one hundred years of virtue, the most beautiful exaltation of the consciousness of a people with a desire to be great. All that honorable past cannot be altered by the treachery of recently arrived people bringing in their soul the path to vileness.

Why would any of this be important in Recoleta Cemetery? Because many people buried inside were also members of the LPA. Just look for the plaques. Chemist & sanitation engineer Pedro Arata belonged to the group. So did author Ángel de Estrada. Others were examples for the LPA to follow such President Manuel Quintana who survived an attempt on his life by an anarchist:

Pedro Arata, Liga Patriótica Argentina plaque, Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

Manuel Quintana, LPA plaque, Recoleta Cemetery

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157. manuel quintana ◊

Manuel Quintana, Recoleta Cemetery

A life-long statesman, Quintana held a number of important positions during his political career, mainly in Congress. He eventually rose to be among the political elite & won the presidency in 1904. The following year, an uprising by the UCR got his term off to a shaky start. Already in his 70s, Quintana’s health was weakened by having to deal with the uprising. A few months later an anarchist from Spain tried to assassinate Quintana. The revolver failed to go off, but Quintana was so distraught from the incident that he eventually stepped down from office & his Vice President took over. Quintana died a few months later in 1906.

What’s most striking about this tomb is its grandeur & elegance. It’s so large that you really have to step back in order to appreciate the decoration. Also, the effigy of Quintana literally resting in peace is not common in Recoleta Cemetery. Sculptures usually take the form of the living person (as in the boxer Luis Ángel Firpo) or heavenly figures such as angels & cherubs. It’s certainly an elegant exception to the norm:

Manuel Quintana, Recoleta Cemetery

Manuel Quintana, Recoleta Cemetery

The interior of the vault is oddly divided. The left side door leads downstairs to dark underground storage. On the right side, another door opens to a small staircase leading up to the main altar. An Omega shines through a beautiful piece of Art Nouveau stained glass, while the Alpha is above the door & can only be viewed from the interior:

Manuel Quintana, Recoleta Cemetery

Manuel Quintana, Recoleta Cemetery

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137. bartolomé mitre ◊

Bartolomé Mitre, Recoleta Cemetery

Born in Buenos Aires, Mitre grew up during the strict times of Juan Manuel de Rosas & even worked on one of the ranches owned by the former autocrat. Internal conflict kept Mitre on the move in his early years, living in Uruguay, Perú & Chile before joining the forces that defeated Rosas.

When Mitre was appointed to a high government position in Buenos Aires in 1852, he abruptly switched allegiances. Friends that had been instrumental in ousting Rosas were now his enemies. In favor of Buenos Aires becoming the national capital, Mitre’s attitude was best described by one provinicial strongman who openly challenged the national government:

Ser porteño es ser ciudadano exclusivista y ser provinciano es ser mendigo sin patria, sin libertad, sin derechos.

Being from Buenos Aires is like being an exclusive citizen while someone from the provinces is a worthless bum without homeland, without liberty & without rights.

Mitre’s political prowess continued to grow & was eventually elected President. During his one term in office, he committed Argentina to a horrible war against Paraguay. Hardly a popular campaign, Mitre’s successor would be the one left to negotiate peace & pick up the pieces.

During a later break from politics, Mitre wrote historical biographies, mainly of key figures during the wars for independence. Those books earned him a literary following among the upper class who financially supported Mitre’s longest-lasting contribution to Argentina… founding the newspaper La Nación. He attempted to win a second bid for the presidency but failed.

AGN, Bartolomé Mitre, Recoleta Cemetery

Mitre died in 1906, so the current Art Deco mausoleum does not fit with the date of his death. The original Beaux Arts vault (pictured above) was modified several times with the last change in 1938—the end of the Art Deco era in Buenos Aires. Simple yet majestic, figures from left to right represent the ideals of Duty, Argentina & Justice. For the 100th anniversary of Mitre’s death, much-needed restoration brought back the shine… just look at it before:

Bartolomé Mitre, Recoleta Cemetery

Mitre is respected enough to figure on the former 2 peso bill (retired from circulation in 2018), & the reverse depicts his house in downtown Buenos Aires just two blocks behind the cathedral. That residence, now home to the Museo Mitre, contains one of the largest collections of South American maps in the world… over 12,000:

Bartolomé Mitre, 2 peso bill

Bartolomé Mitre, 2 peso bill


101. victorino de la plaza, update

After a little research at the Instituto Histórico, I was able to discover that Victorino de la Plaza was indeed buried in Recoleta Cemetery. The vault undergoing restoration in the previous post belonged to the former President of Argentina, but evidently his family decided he would be more comfortable elsewhere. All traces of De la Plaza have been removed.

I find it odd—and a little sad—that such an important historical figure would be moved from the most pretigious cemetery in the nation. I’m sure the family has their reasons.

Anyway, the new occupants have already moved in… the family of José María Vila Penalta:

José María Vila Penalta, Recoleta Cemetery

Update (10 Dec 2012): Victorino de la Plaza had no children, but Rocco Reynal pointed me to an interview on YouTube with Dinorah de la Plaza, a great-grandniece. She states that it was difficult to maintain the family vault in Recoleta, so in 2004 they transferred Victorino’s remains along with those of his mother & first wife to the Cementerio Parque Memorial in Pilar. They considered a burial inside the Salta cathedral, but since most of the family has lived in Pilar since the 1970s they decided to keep him close. Mystery solved!

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050. josé maría guido

José María Guido, Recoleta Cemetery

The short Presidential term of José María Guido—only 1.5 years—began with one of the strangest coup d’états in Argentine history.

In 1962, President Arturo Frondizi reinstated the Peronistas as a political party after Perón was forced to flee Argentina in 1955. Perón himself was banned from participating in elections, but loyal followers voted for Peronista candidates in 10 of 14 provinces. Seven years of Peronist prohibition did not weaken the party as the military had hoped, so they took matters in their own hands.

While the military held an obstinate Frondizi captive on Isla Martín García (he stated, “I will not commit suicide, I will not resign & I will not leave the country”), Guido decided to take charge. Frondizi’s Vice-President had previously resigned, leaving the Head of the Senate as the next-in-command… & that was Guido’s position. Supported by members of the Supreme Court, Guido was quickly sworn in as President much to the surprise of the armed forces.

José María Guido, Recoleta Cemetery

When they found out what had happened, the military agreed to let Guido keep his new post on one condition—that he annul recent elections. Guido convened a special session of Congress, they annulled the Peronist victory, & Congress went into permanent recess. Elections were held in 1963 & the UCR candidate, Arturo Illia, won. Democracy was briefly restored until the next military coup in 1966.

José María Guido, Recoleta Cemetery

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