oa African Yearbook of Rhetoric - This is the suffering people that represent the pain of the motherland : Argentina - Argentine voices

Volume 6, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 2220-2188
  • E-ISSN: 2305-7785



Juan Domingo Peron began to gain prominence in Argentina's political scene after the military coup of 4 June 1943, which overthrew the conservative president Ramon Castillo, who had come to power through fraud. In 1945, General Edelmiro Farrell was ruling the country and Colonel Peron was Secretary of Labour, Vice President and Minister of War. Due to the pressure coming from both civilian and military opponents, on 9 October 1945, he was forced to resign from all his posts and on the 12 October he was imprisoned. On 17 October, after a huge mass mobilisation calling for his release, and which according to Alain Rouquie gave the military the understanding that it was best to stand by Peron than to be on the sidelines of his indisputable leadership, he was released. In order to placate the crowd that had gathered in the Plaza de Mayo, at 23:00 Farrell himself presented Peron on the balcony of the Government House (Casa Rosada) to speak publicly. Peron fulfilled this purpose especially because he avoided giving the crowd information about what had happened during his imprisonment, and by asking them to quietly return to their homes and to go on strike on 18 October, as decreed by the General Confederation of Workers, as a public holiday (not as a protest). But the speech of 17 October, which lasted about half an hour and was broadcast throughout the country by the Official Broadcasting Service, is famous for other reasons. In it, Peron constructed his audience with the identity of the Argentine people. In successive rhetorical moves, Peron brought the workers into existence through expressions such as "the authentic Argentine people" and performs it by saying "This is the people". In various expressions Peron implied that one social sector claimed to be the people but was actually an inauthentic Argentine people, a false people. According to Peron's speech, the true and authentic people were the Peronist workers, so left-wing workers were excluded from it, as well as those of the Communist Party - not co-opted by Peronism - the middle class who were against his policies, and the upper class. In his 17 October speech there is a "conversion" of the identity of Peron that allows for a "transubstantiation with the people" and the rhetorical construction of its political leadership. Peron explicitly expresses that he is putting the uniform aside and putting on the civilian's coat to blend in with the sweaty masses. But while he mingles with the masses, by means of other rhetorical moves, he climbs up to a higher place in hierarchical terms (he formulates requests, advice and recommendations, positioning himself as an "older brother") until he ends his speech above the crowd, observing it from the balcony of the Government House. The tension between the fusion/division of the constitutive dialectic is manifested in the relationship itself between Peron and the crowd: he merged with it, but at the same time he ends his speech positioned outside of it, physically and symbolically above it as their leader. In his 17 October speech, Peron used the slang word "vieja" (old lady) to refer to his mother, saying "you have had the same pains and the same thoughts as my poor old lady", thus distancing himself from the conservative and dry language of his political opponents. It also builds the spoken scene rhetorically between Peron and the crowd in a familiar setting and re-semanticises political relations as family relations. Therefore Peron portrays himself as an older brother who gives advice to the mass. This older brother, who is wiser and more powerful, presents himself as a leader who communicates with the people without mediation. Thus, Peron represents his meeting with the workers by means of the expression "this true celebration of democracy", a phrase that separates the notion of celebration of democracy into a true celebration and a false one, which implicitly refers to the celebration of liberal representative democracy, where raw mediated relations between the representatives and the represented come first. The 17 October speech is constitutive of an enunciation device that establishes a verbal link between the leader and his audience without mediation, and which situates this crowd in an ambiguous place with regard to their own right to speak. The people ask Peron several times to tell them where he had been, but he says: "With all this new insistence, I request that you do not ask me". In an act of authority, Peron defines himself as sole administrator of his rights and duties as political speaker, and in the same act he defines the rights and duties of his audience, the acts of legitimate and illegitimate enunciation. My thanks go to Maria Sofia Vasallo, of the National University Institute of Arts, for facilitating the transcription she produced of the original audio of the speech of 17 October, preserved in the General Archive of the Nation, for her (unpublished) thesis for her Masters in Speech Analysis at the University of Buenos Aires. Unlike the written version that mainly circulates and which is archived on the educ.ar website, this audio includes the voice of the speaker who presented Peron and the part of his speech where he refers to his upcoming trip to Chubut. On the other hand, it allows us to notice the interaction between Peron and his audience and how at the end of his speech the people broke into a chant that would be repeated by Peronists at political rallies or demonstrations for the remaining decades of the twentieth century and even until today.

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