Fabián Bosoer on Teisaire and other infamous Argentine vice-presidentsSunday, January 19, 2014
‘The threat of betrayal is always present’
Date of Birth: December 18, 1962
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from USAL and a Master’s degree in International Relations from FLACSO.
Current job: Journalist. He has been working in daily Clarín for more than 20 years.
Newspapers: Print editions of Clarín, La Nación and Página/12 — “but I try to read all of them online.”Alberto Teisaire was born into a wealthy family in the Mendoza province in 1891. After a successful career in the navy, he was elected Senator on Juan Domingo Perón’s Labor Party ticket. By the time the infamous “Revolución Libertadora” forced Perón into exile, Teisaire blamed his former leader for all the major problems facing the country. Why did he change sides? And why did such an important figure remained forgotten for so long? To answer these and other questions, journalist Fabián Bosoer researched his life and wrote Detrás de Perón. Bosoer talked to the Herald at the headquarters of Capital Intelectual publisher last week.
What made you investigate Alberto Teisaire?
Teisaire was certainly the right character at the right time. Through his figure we can discover or unravel certain things that were going on in the backstage of the history of Peronism that had been ignored until now. With his figure, canonical definitions of heroes and villains is put to the test — Peronists and anti-Peronists, people versus oligarchy, nationalism or liberalism... Teisaire does not fit into those records and this might explain why references to him had been forgotten or buried.
A key year is 1935, when he ends up meeting many of the big leaders of his era, from Roosevelt to Hitler. How did he end up there?
The son of a journalist — the Mendoza correspondent of newspaper La Nación — Teisaire arrives to Buenos Aires to pursue a career in the military, then in the Navy. By that time, Argentina’s place in the world meant the building of a huge navy, and also “going out to the world.” Teisaire had fought in World War I and was appointed captain of the historic Sarmiento frigate. This makes it possible for him to arrive in Washington on May 25, 1935, where he is welcomed with honours by Franklin Roosevelt. It’s during this trip that he attends the screening of Tango Bar, where he discovers (Carlos) Gardel, just months before his death. Then he crosses the Atlantic, and met the Prince of Wales and (Adolf) Hitler in Hamburg. His travels end with him bringing the remains of John Thomond O’Brien, an Irish general who fought alongside (national hero José de) San Martín, back to Argentina. So this navy officer with a growing reputation finally returns as a man with a bright political future.
A lot has been written about Perón’s alleged sympathies with fascism — did they exist in the case of Teisaire?
The Army had plenty of Prussian, German influence — but the Navy’s model was more influenced by the British. Teisaire was a man with a “liberal-conservative” vision. He was not keen on fascist dictatorships at all, but at the same time he was an anti-communist who regarded winds of social revolution with suspicion. He is the first high officer in the navy to look upon Perón favourably. They then end up joining forces and present themselves as an alternative to pro-allied and pseudo-fascists tendencies in the GOU (United Officers’ Group, a secret society who staged a coup d’état in 1943 to overthrow President Ramón Castillo).
Regarding his switch to politics and his role in the Senate, you say he was “relentless and manipulative.” Can we say he was what we would now call a political operator?
Certainly. He was a silent yet effective political operator. In those early years he acted as a bumper between Perón and a number of grassroots leaders, helping him to “organize” their support while at the same time decreasing their expectations. He would become head of the Senate and therefore third in the succession line to the presidency — in fact, when (Vice-President Juan Hortensio) Quijano falls ill, Teisaire would become the acting president. In 1954, following Quijano’s death, he would win the only vice presidential election in Argentine history.
Tell me about his secret mission to buy the Malvinas Islands.
Perón ordered Teisaire to head to Britain in an undercover mission — to negotiate the buying of the Malvinas Islands before the Foreign Office.
Obviously, the mission failed.
But it was rejected not because it was crazy, but because it was deemed inconvenient by the British government. That gives us an idea of Argentina’s importance at that time.
One of the book’s main themes is betrayal...
It’s then when Teisaire plays his most important part in the country’s history. The month Perón is overthrown — September, 1955 — he disappears from the scene and is nowhere to be found. Two weeks later, he appears at Government House before (coup leaders Eduardo) Lonardi and (Isaac) Rojas and issues a document blaming Perón for all of the country’s ills and accuses him of betrayal for having left the country — a type of public regret that is unique in Argentine history. After all this he is arrested and sent to the Martín García island, where he would stay for two years. Afterwards he is pardoned by (Arturo) Frondizi and his destiny ends up being a mystery. The question is — why did he turn his back on Perón?
Do you think his twisted argument of “being trapped by Peronism” — even though he was the vice president — was plausible?
There are different interpretations. One claimed he was trapped by this power structure. Another line would be to talk about the political strategy or psychological crisis of a high government official whose leader had suddenly disappeared. “Loyalty to Perón” had become a question mark, as Perón went to exile in Paraguay and was welcomed by (Paraguayan dictator Alfredo) Stroessner. He was far from being the revolutionary leader that many would have wanted to defend. Perhaps Teisaire saw himself as a potential successor. These hypotheses are all plausible.
By the end of the book you compare Teisaire’s history with those of other iconic vice presidents like Carlos “Chacho” Álvarez or Julio Cobos. Do you think his betrayal was worse than these recent examples?
The relationship between presidents and vice presidents has been fraught with conflict since the nineteenth century. I couldn’t say if his betrayal was “worse” than others — what I see is a pattern in which loyalty replaces trust. In the case of Peronism, “loyalty” comes from the military and means obedience — any act of disobedience is considered treason and its penalty is expulsion and punishment. This has expanded to the rest of Argentine politics. Political actors, by definition, do not trust each other. Alliances are therefore built trough loyalties — but the threat of betrayal is always present.