12:01am

Tue February 8, 2011
Latin America

In Argentina, A Fight Over Peron's Personal Effects

The iconic Argentine leader Juan Peron has been dead for nearly 40 years, but many of his personal items — including shoes, papers, typewriters and a mirror that belonged to his mother — live on.

But not in a museum. Instead, they clutter a Buenos Aires apartment of a former Peron aide who now wants to auction them off online.

In the dark, hot apartment, Mario Rotundo opens doors and gingerly walks amid the knickknacks. The records and desks, the telex machine and typewriters all once belonged to Peron, the populist strongman still revered in his homeland.

With his captivating wife, Eva, at his side, Peron's government showered the working poor with benefits in the 1940s and '50s.

Now, 14,000 items are stored in the apartment and in banks across the city — not just Peron's possessions, but many that belonged to Eva Peron.

Rotundo says they now belong to him. And as the owner, he says he's entitled to sell them online, as he recently attempted until a court injunction stopped him.

The Memory Of Peron

Rotundo says he was just 20 when he met Peron in Madrid, Spain, in 1970. Peron promptly made Rotundo his trusted aide.

After Peron's death, it was his third wife, Isabel, who bequeathed all of the former president's belongings to Rotundo and the foundation he runs to fund social works.

Rotundo says he understands the items have historical value, but he says his foundation needs the money — and that Peron, a friend of the poor, would have agreed.

That doesn't sit well with Lorenzo Pepe, who runs the Juan Peron Institute, a government-funded agency.

The institute is housed in an old house that Peron and Eva once used. It includes a cafe, where a life-sized statue of Peron, rakish in bow tie and dinner jacket, sits permanently at one of the tables.

Pepe says his job is to safeguard Peron's memory — and also retrieve his personal belongings. At his request, Pepe says, a court froze the sale of Peron's possessions.

The institute, though, has been unable to get its hands on the items. Pepe says he can't afford the millions Rotundo wants for them.

Rotundo's Proposal

In his apartment, Rotundo unzips a vinyl garment bag to show a silk robe Peron wore until his final days.

Rotundo also has Peron's books — some centuries old — and letters he wrote, and such unusual items as the headstone for Peron's dog, Canela. The mirror that belonged to Peron's mother, Rotundo says, is well over a century old.

A few years ago, Rotundo auctioned off some of the more valuable belongings — among them Peron's library and the shroud that covered Eva's embalmed remains.

Rotundo says the whole quarrel could be solved if the government would simply buy what's left.

And with that, he calls it a day, closing the reinforced door to the apartment and locking its treasures shut. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.