THE LEGEND OF A SARDINIAN WHO MAY HAVE BECOME JUAN PERÓN
WHO WAS PERON? ¿DONDE NACIÓ?
A Sardinian Puzzle that is Part of the History of Argentina
This is one of the most fascinating and mysterious cases in modern history. General Juan Perón, the mythic three-time president of Argentina, may very well have been an Italian, and, to be more precise, a Sardinian.
The claim may seem beyond belief at first, but many facts point to the conclusion that Perón was Sardinian. There was some faint talk to that effect already during the ‘40s and early ‘50s, but only in the small town of Mamoiada (located in the province of Nuoro), the town that was the seat of the opening stages of this incredible story. The claim really burst onto the scene, however, in 1951 with the publication of two articles written by the journalist and lawyer Nino Tola, and published in the newspaper “L’Unione Sarda” and (in excerpts) in “Il Giornale d’Italia”. At that time, even Tola himself was astounded by his findings, and his pieces aroused the curiosity of everyone who read them. Needless to say, in Sardinian cultural circles the reports stimulated a good deal of commentary, ranging from shock to dismay. The matter was taken up again more than twenty years later by a very young resident of Mamoiada, Peppino Canneddu, and his findings appeared in 1984 in a book entitled “Juan Peron-Giovanni Piras: Two Names, a Single Person”, published by Antonio Lalli/Poggibonsi.Early investigations suggested that Giovanni Piras, a humble peasant from Mamoiada who immigrated at a very young age to South America at the turn of the century, became none other than Juan Perón. For a long time the question fascinated a third researcher, Raffaele Ballore, who began his own investigations in 1993 and who started gathering materials that might be used for a film dealing with the subject (the end result was a screenplay registered with SIAE in Rome in 1998). But the research needed to be broadened and more systematic in order to discover the kind of documentation, both pro and con, that would address previously unresolved questions as to the like identify of the two persons involved-for only that way would it be possible to provide a solid foundation for establishing the truth or falsehood of this seemingly far-fetched hypothesis.
So what has changed since 1984 down to the present day? Have there been any new developments in the investigation? Has it become possible to substantiate this unlikely claim with rigorous research and reliable documentation? Many new elements have surfaced which have both increased our knowledge and complicated the matter. And although Ballore’s inquiry still moves in the same direction, the new documentary evidence has led him to shift his initial orientation. Doubts regarding the Piras-Perón connection were addressed, and the whole question was greatly clarified thanks to the meticulous research he published in his book, “El Presidente: The Piras- Perón Connection”, with the subtitle, “The Legend of a Sardinian Who May Have Become Juan Perón”.
In addition to disproving the Piras- Perón connection, the investigation also shed light on the many contradictions in Peron’s personal history and the gaps still unaccounted for by Argentine historians. The study made full use of documents and photographs, and was guided throughout solely by the objective of seeking the unvarnished truth in the matter.
Quite often what was said on the subject by local villagers, the “voice of the people” so to speak, turned out to have a substantial basis in fact. But it is also true that at times that “voice” amplified certain elements beyond their due and even distorted matters. Each proposition had to be checked against the facts, because it would have been only too easy to allow oneself to be carried away emotionally with the many clues which favored the notion that Perón was a son of Mamoiada. Indeed, at times it appeared as though a whole series of converging facts (some of them overstated, however) left no room for considering an alternative hypothesis.
An in-depth study was carried out to follow the path of Piras, who emigrated from Mamoiada in 1910, and Piras’ story was compared with particular phases of the life of Perón and the latter’s personal documents. After analyzing important documents of the General’s first wife and Piras’ military records showing his physical characteristics, Ballore was able to show decisively that Perón was not a native son of Mamoiada (at least not via Piras). Although the connection may persist as a folk legend, the study leaves no doubt as to the lack of scientific evidence to support the claim.
The author’s book includes some of these “voices of the people” and the evidence they gave in Sardinia. Many of them are quite startling in the coincidences they reveal, tending to sustain the notion of a Perón-Mamoiada connection. And though it is not possible to maintain a Piras-Perón connection in particular, they do point us in the direction of confirming the truth of another proposition: Perón was Sardinian. Furthermore, the book makes clear and unequivocal that the three-time president of Argentina had something to hide. The basic points supporting this contention are as follows: on the one hand, the oft-proclaimed Sardinian heritage of the General, but, on the other, the complete lack of any records to establish the ancestors’ presence on the island; the discovery of official documents related to the life of the Argentine leader which are clearly false; photographs of Perón as a young man and a military officer which do not correspond at all to his photos as a child and adolescent; the threats received by the journalist/lawyer Tola and the important unpublished evidence gathered by Franco Siddi (current President of the Italian National Press Federation). There is also a whole series of anomalies and incongruities in the official documentation of Perón as a military officer and his family.
Raffaele Ballore continues to pursue and believe in a Sardinian connection, even though he has not been able to pinpoint the locality of Perón’s origin-and, in fact, he refers to “Piras-Perón” throughout his book, though this double surname is used simply to make the case for a Sardinian Perón in general.
At this point many people have caught a case of “Peronitis”, because the story fascinates one and all. Some researchers have come up with written documents, others with oral statements, and others simply hint at clues to follow up. In this case, the more the merrier, because the historical truth will eventually emerge thanks to the contributions of countless investigators.
To arrive at the final word on the question of the Perón’s Sardinian origins, what is needed is genetic evidence, which, according the findings contained in the book “El Presidente”, could be obtained through a DNA analysis of the remains of Juan Perón and his mother, Juana Sosa. The reasons are set forth in the book, drawing on documents, photographs, and oral statements.
Tomás Eloy Martínez, a great writer and independent biographer of Perón, has written:
“… Joseph Page and I have both discovered that writing the history of Perón is an unending project and that no one will ever write the final book on the subject.”
In South America it’s not easy to do historical research on this question: too many obstacles, too many closed doors, too much time lost in pursuing dead ends, and (why not admit it) too many interests of the Argentine State opposed to it.
Some writers, when trying to investigate Perón’s origins, have pointed out certain irregularities in the birth records of the General. Some explain this away by pointing to the possibility that Perón might have been embarrassed over his out-of-wedlock birth, while others can find no reason or explanation for it. Few, however, have attempted a systematic study of the matter. But a thorough and unbiased study of Perón’s life leaves no doubt that it’s a life filled with unexplained mysteries and surprises which raise serious questions. And this is all the more worthy of our attention because there now exists considerable additional material for historians to examine.
It should be pointed out that this matter fully deserves the kind of tough scrutiny and thorough investigation it has received. To look into the life of Perón in order to establish his true identity is in no way a slight to the people of Argentina, nor is it part of an effort to belittle their ex-President as an historical figure.
The author makes no attempt to assess Perón as a political leader, since that would require a knowledge and analysis of Perón’s actions and ideas that go beyond the scope of the book—though it does offer a background sketch of such matters. The author would merely point out that, if Perón won the Presidency three times in democratically held elections, for the people of Argentina he very likely had some positive qualities and accomplishments to his credit. And, in point of fact, even today both he and Evita (Perón’s second wife, who was both venerated and vilified) remain two great mythic figures within the Latin-American panorama. But the objective is neither to confirm nor to demolish any “myth”—rather it’s to advance the discussion as to the truth of a matter of particular historical interest. This book is not about judging the historical merits of Juan Perón, but rather about determining whether that figure who had such an impact on the historical stage of the 20th century is a son of Sardinia.
In one of the books of Enrique Pavón Pereyra, the personal biographer of Perón, there’s a striking remark made by Perón to his biographer while living in exile in his Madrid home. It shows how zealously Perón sought to conceal the origins of his birth, and it reads:
“…My fortures were tied to a magical bet I made, and so far I’ve been able to keep my origins a deep secret.”
Above and beyond the incredible tale told in Raffaele Ballore’s “El Presidente”, there is another interesing fact that links the histories of Sardinia, Argentina, and their two capitals: the city of Buenos Aires takes its name from the Virgin of the Buona Aria, the patron saint of Cagliari and of the entire island of Sardinia.
Transl. by Larry Garner