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Category: Presidents

430. julio argentino roca ◊

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Julio Argentino Roca

Few figures in Argentine history have been as influential or as controversial. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Julio Argentino Roca.

Born in 1843 in Tucumán, his military career began at an early age. Roca enlisted when only 15 years old & fought in several decisive battles during the years of national organization. Under the presidency of Bartolomé Mitre, Roca fought in the War of the Triple Alliance & later proved his loyalty to the nation during an attempted coup. Thanks to this action, President Avellaneda promoted Roca to General in his early 30s. He also appointed Roca as his Minister of War after the death of Adolfo Alsina. What a quick rise to power.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Julio Argentino Roca

Roca fought one final battle before retiring his sword. Alsina had made scant progress in controlling the indigenous population, & the issue demanded attention. Roca’s solution was to kill as many as possible while the rest were taken captive. Roca effectively conquered the desert. It was a move that made later generations dislike Roca as well as launched him into national politics. He became the next President, having expanded national territory & resolving a “problem” which had plagued Argentina for decades. Roca’s monument in downtown Buenos Aires is often covered with unflattering graffiti & red paint to symbolize the blood spilled:

Buenos Aires, Monserrat, Diagonal Sur, Monumento a Roca

Once in office, Roca settled another important issue: Buenos Aires became the official capital of Argentina. And not to leave controversy behind, Roca promoted adoption of a series of laws to take several functions out of the hands of the Catholic church. With Sarmiento as Director of the National Board of Education, primary school became free & public, no longer dependent on the church. Acceptance of marriage by civil service also caused some conflict with Rome. In economics, Roca promoted the export of raw materials & large amounts of foreign investment.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Julio Argentino Roca

After Roca’s term ended in 1886, he had no desire to retire. Serving several terms as Senator, Roca became one of the key figures behind the scenes during the 1890 Revolution. Always maintaining important connections & positions of power, Roca attained the presidency for a second term in 1898. During this time, Minister of War Pablo Riccheri instituted obligatory military service & Navy Minister Comodoro Rivadavia helped Roca negotiate peace with Chile over border disputes in 1902. That same year, Luis María Drago published his influential doctrine while serving as Minister of Foreign Relations.

Roca’s later years are complex & raise quite a few questions. Serving as ambassador to Brazil for President Sáenz Peña, Roca spent much time away from Argentina. He was oddly absent from centennial celebrations in 1910. In 1914 while on one of his estates in Córdoba province, Roca passed away suddenly after a coughing fit at the age of 71.

The tomb was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946. There is no doubt that Roca made some of the most important decisions in Argentina’s history, although by what some consider questionable methods. But his legacy can’t be escaped—Roca’s Conquest of the Desert decorates the reverse side of the old 100 peso bill!

100 peso note, Roca

Interior photo courtesy of Mike De Ghetto. Thanks!

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427. aramburu ◊

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Aramburu

Designed by architect Alejandro Bustillo, the crypt of Pedro Aramburu occupies a very important spot: the end of the cemetery’s main axis & at the feet of President Carlos Pelligrini. Intended to inspire, one of the quotes on the side of the tomb reads:

El progreso, fundamento del bienestar general, es obra de los pueblos y resultado de la riqueza justamente distribuida.

Progress, the foundation of general well-being, is the work of the people & the result of equal distribution of wealth.

Furthermore, an entire series of values is represented around the entire crypt. Included are depictions of Justice, Austerity, Liberty & Equality:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Aramburu

Pedro Aramburu became the de facto President after the Revolución Libertadora & the brief, 50-day term of Eduardo Lonardi. He governed from 1955 to 1958. Democracy returned after Aramburu left office, but the political & economic situation in Argentina was a disaster in the 1960’s. Periods of military rule alternated with democratically elected leaders like a revolving door. Aramburu even ran unsuccessfully for President in 1963… fate had something else planned for him.

An organization known as the Montoneros formed in the late 1960’s as a Catholic, pro-Perón paramilitary group. Perón backed their terrorist actions… at least while he remained in Spain. In their very first public act—the Montonero debut on the political scene—they kidnapped Aramburu from his Barrio Norte apartment (Montevideo 1053, original building now demolished, a supermarket built in its place).

Disguised as fellow military personnel & claiming the need to take him to a safe haven, in reality they questioned him about the location of Eva’s remains & held him responsible for anti-Perón actions while in office. Aramburu revealed nothing about Eva & paid a heavy price. He was shot & left dead in a field in 1970, to be buried later in Recoleta Cemetery.

General Pedro Aramburu, Recoleta Cemetery

Aramburu’s corpse was stolen from Recoleta Cemetery in 1974 by the same group who murdered him & later recovered by authorities near Parque Las Heras. For the rest of the story, read “The Return of Aramburu“… truth is definitely stranger than fiction.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Aramburu

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424. josé figueroa alcorta

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José Figueroa Alcorta

Born in Córdoba in 1860, José Figueroa Alcorta got an introduction to national politics by representing his native province in Congress. Popular among the oligarchy, Figueroa Alcorta become Vice-President under Manuel Quintana in 1904. After Quintana’s death two years later, he inherited the presidency & remained in office for one of the most important celebrations in Argentine history: the 1910 centennial. His photo is one of the most recognized during the festivities (below, left center), welcoming La Infanta Isabel from Spain (center):

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José Figueroa Alcorta, centenario

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José Figueroa Alcorta

After his presidential term ended, Figueroa Alcorta served as Ambassador to Spain then was elected to the Supreme Court in 1915. From 1929 until his death in 1931, he served as Chief Justice.

Trivia buffs will love the fact that Figueroa Alcorta was the only person in national history to serve in all three top government positions: Senator / head of Congress as Vice-President, President, & Chief Justice. Located in the northernmost corner of the cemetery, most visitors rarely visit this tomb or recognize his contribution to the nation.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José Figueroa Alcorta

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416. carlos pellegrini ◊

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Carlos Pellegrini

As son of highly educated Swiss immigrants, there is little surprise that Carlos Pellegrini grew up with an advantage. Schooled by family members, his talent for language & expression would serve him well in the future.

After attending law school for two years, Pellegrini put his studies on hold to fight in the War of the Triple Alliance in Paraguay, returned to finish his degree & began a life in politics. Pellegrini served in both houses of Congress before becoming Vice-President under Miguel Juárez Celman in 1886.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Carlos Pellegrini

Argentina faced troubled times during Pellegrini’s lifetime. Buenos Aires began receiving millions of European immigrants. As the population soared, so did national debt. Arrival of a large workforce helped the economy expand at first, but infrastructure demands led to an economic & social crisis. While Pelligrini was in office, foreign debt doubled, salaries dropped, unemployment grew & strikes were commonplace. The fact that President Juárez Celman continued the upper class tradition of electoral fraud made matters even worse.

The violent 1890 Revolution removed Juárez Celman from power, & Pellegrini became President. Although in office for only two years, conditions improved so much that Argentines attributed him with navigating the country through the storm.

Carlos Pellegrini, Recoleta Cemetery

Further contributions by Pelligrini include founding the Jockey Club, an elite social organization for horseracing fans which became a symbol of the oligarchy’s hold on the country. As its first President, references can be found everywhere on the vault. A bronze relief at eye level depicts the Jockey Club façade on Florida Street before it was burned to the ground in 1953 by Perón supporters. No doubt this hatred prevented Pellegrini’s tomb from being declared a National Historic Monument in 1946… that would have to wait until 1964:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Carlos Pellegrini, Jockey Club

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Carlos Pellegrini, Jockey Club

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Carlos Pellegrini, Jockey Club

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Carlos Pellegrini, Jockey Club

Pellegrini also established the Banco de la Nación, helping strengthen Argentina’s fiscal policy & consolidate national debt. The main branch on Plaza de Mayo would later be constructed by Alejandro Bustillo:

Banco de la Nación, Plaza de Mayo, Alejandro Bustillo

Although without doubt a defender of the upper class, Pellegrini began to understand the need for incorporating other groups in the political process. In part, it was this realization that drove him away from former ally President Roca… also the fact that Pellegrini fought hard in Congress to get Roca’s foreign debt consolidation loan approved which Roca later withdrew without consulting Pellegrini. Passing away in 1906 at the age of 59, today he is remembered mainly for encouraging industrial progress & electoral reform.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Carlos Pellegrini

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365. domingo faustino sarmiento ◊

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

As the only occupant of Recoleta Cemetery marked with signposts, Sarmiento is widely recognized as one of the most important figures in Argentine history:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Born in 1811 while Argentina struggled for independence, Domingo Sarmiento spent his early years voraciously reading & studying. It would set the tone for his life. By the age of 15, he founded a school in his native province of San Juan… all students were naturally older than he was at the time.

Due to civil war & local caudillo Facundo Quiroga, Sarmiento fled in exile to Chile in 1831 where he continued his educational activities. That period was spent between marriage, founding the Universidad de Chile, running a newspaper, & being sent on behalf of the Chilean government to the United States to study its primary education system.

AGN, Presidente Sarmiento

Sarmiento returned to Argentina 20 years later as an authority in education. Anti-Rosas to the core, he later aligned with Bartolomé Mitre while serving as Senator. Accompanying General Wenceslao Paunero to the Cuyo region, Sarmiento governed his native province of San Juan then returned to the U.S. as Argentina’s ambassador. Unfortunately his adopted son was killed in the War of the Triple Alliance while he was away. Back home in 1868 & under no political party, Sarmiento was elected President with Adolfo Alsina as his running mate. After one term in the Casa Rosada, he continued to serve Argentina in number of governmental & educational posts.

Late in life, Sarmiento moved to Asunción for health reasons. He passed away on Sept 11, 1888, & that day is now commemorated as Teacher’s Day. The most accessible portrait of Sarmiento can be found on an older version of the 50 peso bill, but he was also the subject of one of the most publicized death portraits in Argentine history. Those portraits were commonly used to mark important events & released to the press. Sarmiento “posed” for this photo a few hours after his death surrounded by objects of daily use… including his chamber pot:

AGN, death portrait, Sarmiento

Sarmiento was then brought by boat to Buenos Aires & buried in Recoleta Cemetery. In a crypt designed by Italian sculptor Victor de Pol, the base of the obelisk contains two reliefs: one of Mercury (Roman god of communications) & Sarmiento with children holding books. The French phrase “on ne tue point les idées” was inscribed by Sarmiento on a stone in the Andes Mountains when he fled to Chile: “One never kills ideas”:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Plaques once covered the obelisk itself (as seen below) but were later placed on the side wall when they outnumbered available space. The bust has also been removed. Hidden behind a potted plant is a reminder that Sarmiento once participated in the Grand Lodge of Argentina:

AGN, Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

A condor, native to the Andes Mountains & symbolic of Sarmiento’s contributions to Chile & Argentina, crowns the obelisk. At the bird’s feet is a bit of barely legible, cursive text. It reads Civilización y Barbarie, the title of Sarmiento’s definitive work against Quiroga:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Of course Sarmiento was no saint & displayed some negative traits of his time: racism & a bit of an addiction to power. But historians have naturally chosen to focus on the positive. This tomb was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946.

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355. alfonsín, finally home ◊

Raúl Alfonsín, Recoleta Cemetery

After the death of ex-President Raúl Alfonsín on March 31st of this year, he was temporarily laid to rest in a pantheon dedicated to victims of the 1890 Revolution. That conflict gave birth to the Unión Cívica Radical, Alfonsín’s political party.

In the meantime, a site previously belonging to French nuns had been purchased for Alfonsín. The old was demolished & the ceremony for the new  took place October 30th, the same day Alfonsín was elected in 1983. A bust of the former President by sculptor Luciano Garbati was officially revealed by family members & leading politicians of the UCR. Vice-President Julio Cobos spoke about political reform as did UCR leader, Gerardo Morales.

Raúl Alfonsín, Recoleta Cemetery

Raúl Alfonsín, Recoleta Cemetery

Many people claim that the bust does not resemble Alfonsín, but supposedly the sculptor used an older photograph —therefore a younger image of Alfonsín— as his model. In fact, it is the same image found on a commemorative stamp issued in May.

Raúl Alfonsín, Recoleta Cemetery

Correo Argentino, Alfonsín

Update: In January 2016 Alfonsín’s wife, First Lady María Lorenza Barreneche Iriarte, passed away. She was cremated in Chacarita Cemetery & her ashes brought here to rest in peace.

Press photos above from momento24 & La Nación.

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