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To Be Evita © - Part II

The Day Which Split History: October 17, 1945

In 1943 the separation between the real country and the government dominated by the oligarchy was a flagrant one. The climate became more tense as the time for elections drew near. With the increased tension came the foreboding that the regimen would put its fraudulent seal on these elections just as it had on previous ones. On June 4, 1943, a military coup ousted President Ramón Castillo.

When General Pedro P. Ramirez assumed the Presidency, Colonel Juan Perón, unknown to the citizenry but prestigious among his military colleagues, took over the National Department of Labor. One month later the Department was transformed into the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare. Here Perón laid the political groundwork which would affect the next decade of Argentine history.

A real national tragedy would now join two people who up to this moment had been ignorant of each other's existence.

On January 15, 1944, an earthquake destroyed 90% of the Andean city of San Juan. Seven thousand people died and 12,000 were left injured. From the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare, Perón organized a national relief effort and invited the most popular stars of the day to participate. Eva Duarte was among them and helped take up collections for the needy.

On January 22, a great festival was held at Luna Park Stadium with all benefits destined for the victims of the earthquake. Eva Duarte and Colonel Perón began a relationship which would be socially confirmed at a gala held at the Colón Opera House on July 9 to celebrate Argentina's Independence Day.

Two days before, General Farrell (who assumed the Presidency on March 11 when Ramirez resigned) had designated Perón as Vice President. Perón retained his first position in charge of the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare as well as a second position which he had recently assumed as Minister of War.

Eva, for her part, had three programs on Radio Belgrano: at 10:30 A.M. she starred in "Towards a Better Future" which exalted the goals of the 1943 Revolution; at 6:00 P.M. she was in charge of the cast of the drama, "Tempest," and at 10:30 P.M. she starred in "Queen of Kings.

On May 6, 1944, she was chosen President of the Agrupación Radial Argentina, a union entity which she had founded in 1943.

Perón had become the key figure in the new military government-and the most irritating as far as the opposition was concerned. Eva's presence and the place Perón accorded her presented another target; this time his own colleagues would take aim at it. If Perón was atypical, the woman at his side was even more so: she had decided to stand at the side of her man, not behind him. And Perón had accepted that which was unacceptable at the time.

On October 13, 1945, one sector of the government was successful in obtaining Perón's resignation from all his positions. He was detained and sent to Martin Garcia, an island off the coast of Buenos Aires. By this time the workers had realized that Perón's disappearance would mean the disappearance of his labor policy and all the conquests they had made. At dawn on October 17 they began to abandon their workplaces and head towards Plaza de Mayo: they demanded the appearance of their Colonel. Perón's withdrawal had produced a vacuum of power which only he could fill.

That night Perón appeared on the balcony of the Casa Rosada and announced that elections would be held soon. The Plaza became a witness to a new political force in Argentina. For the cheering occupants of the overflowing Plaza de Mayo, Perón was now not only their leader but also their candidate.

As far as Eva's role in the crisis of October 17, at this stage of our investigative research, we have only the testimony of witnesses. Some have her fighting elbow to elbow with the workers (Alberto Mello), weaving together the threads of the movement, bringing the people to the Plaza and on the 17th placing herself at the vanguard of the movement (Perón), playing no part at all in the mobilization of the workers (Cipriano Reyes), or totally absent from all the events (Luis Monzalvo).

In the light of what we know about Eva's personality at the time and from what she showed herself to be in later years, it is difficult to validate the opinion of those who sustain that she did not participate at all in the events. At the same time, the position she occupied at Perón's side, with the knowledge of what mechanisms it was necessary to activate but not yet with the power and influence to activate them makes it difficult to sustain that she was the pivot of these foundational events of the Peronista Movement. Perhaps Eva was situated between the two extremes: she could seek a habeas corpus, open contact with those she knew she could count on and who would be able to mobilize people, and participate in the events to the extent her resources would permit.

Eva never claimed for herself the role of leader on that 17th of October: Perón was won back by the people.

"That week of October, 1945, is a week of many shadows and of many lights. It would be better if we did not come too close.., we should look at it again from farther away. However, this does not impede me from saying, with absolute frankness and in anticipation of what I will someday write in more detail, that the light came only from the people" (Eva Perón, op.cit., p.39).

October 17th confirmed for Eva that the events of the past few days did not portend an end (as some had wished) but a new beginning in Argentine history. This new beginning would have as its foundation the relationship between a man, Perón, and the bases of his support, the workers - the descamisados (the shirtless ones). This relationship withstood all attempts to destroy it and lasted until Perón's death in 1974. It brought him to the Presidency of Argentina in 1946, in 1952, and in 1973, after eighteen years in exile.

Perón wrote two letters to Eva from his prison on the island of Martin Garcia. In one of them he said, "Today I have written to Farrell, asking him to accelerate my retirement: as soon as I get out of here we'll get married and we'll go someplace where we can live in peace.

Their civil marriage took place on October 22 and the religious ceremony on December 10, the time when they could go somewhere and live in peace never came.

The Labor Party chose Perón as its presidential candidate and Quijano as vice president. The opposition, united under the name of Democratic Union, chose Tamborini and Mosca as its candidates. Elections would be held in February of 1946.

The campaign was giddy, violent, aggressive-as are so many in Argentina-in word and in deed (it was marred by sabotage).

"Dairy farm [tambo], urine, and flies ["mosca" means fly in Spanish]... the formula for manure," said one side.

"Greasy blacks without any conscience, dirty feet," countered the other.

By the end of December the political campaigns were ready to hit the interior of the country. "El Descamisado," the Labor Party's campaign train, came and went along the tracks. For the first time in history, a candidate's wife accompanied him. At each campaign stop, she handed out buttons and greeted the people personally.

We begin to see the profile of another woman: Eva has definitely entered into the political arena. On February 8 she took another step forward: a convocation of working women met at Luna Park to show their adhesion to the Labor Party ticket. The presidential candidate was ill and could not go. Eva went in his place. It was her debut as a speaker- but they wouldn't let her speak. Every time she tried, the women shouted, "We want Perón!"

A few months later she would be acclaimed. She would have become another person. She would be EVITA.

1945-1952

Once again Evita redefined herselfWhen Perón assumed the Presidency, Evita, unlike other Presidents' wives, asked herself what role she would assume from then on. Once again she questioned herself about herself, she redefined herself. This time her role would be defined by her relationship to Perón as President and Leader.

"This is a foundational circumstance and is related directly to my decision to be a President's wife who does not follow the old model. I could have followed those models. I want to make this clear because sometimes people have tried to explain my "incomprehensible sacrifice" by arguing that the salons of the oligarchy would have been closed to me in any case. Nothing is further from the truth nor from common sense. I could have been a President's wife in the same way that others were. It is a simple and agreeable role: appear on holidays, receive honors, "dress up" and follow protocol which is almost what I did before, and I believe more or less well, in the theater and the cinema. As far as the hostility of the oligarchs goes, I can't help but smile. And I ask: why would the oligarchs reject me? Because of my humble origins? Because of my career as an actress? But has that class of persons ever taken those reasons into account, here or in any part of the world, when it is the case of the wife of the President? The oligarchy was never hostile to anyone who could be useful. Power and money are never bad advantages for a genuine oligarch... . But I was not just the spouse of the President of the Republic, I was also the wife of the leader of the Argentine people.

"Peron had a double personality and I would need to have one also: I am Eva Peron, the wife of the President, whose work is simple and agreeable ... and I am also Evita, the wife of the leader of a people who have deposited in him all their faith, hope and love.

 

Eva Peron, wife of the President
Gesture of affection


"A few days of the year I represent Eva Perón ... "

"Most of the time, however, I am Evita ... "

We do not need to speak of Eva Perón. What she does appears profusely in newspapers and magazines everywhere.

"On the other hand, I would like very much to talk about Evita... ." (Perón, Eva: op cit. pgs. 69-71).

Strangely enough, when the historical figure of Evita is discussed, people seem to be most interested in delving into other instances of her life: her childhood, her family, the life of her parents, the circumstances surrounding her decision to leave home, her personal life in Buenos Aires, her success as an actress, the beginning years of her relationship with Perón, the reasons for her actions. However, if she had not made the decision to "be Evita," we Argentines would not even be aware of her name, as we are unaware of the names of so many other first ladies.

Therefore, it is very interesting to talk about Evita, interesting to talk about her work with the disadvantaged, the working class, with women, all woven together into the fabric of her unceasing activity.

After Perón became President, Evita went to work on the fourth floor of the Central Post and Telecommunications office where she began to attend to delegations of workers who asked her to intervene in solving labor disputes or helping them obtain better wages. This relationship with the unions continued to intensify until 1952. It provided her with a solid political power base and created a foundation for her social work. She also began to receive the needy and to take care of their emergencies. She supported the government's policies, and she paid special attention to a sector which had not been taken into consideration before. On July 25th she spoke to the women of Argentina, and announced new measures designed to curb speculation. Beginning in October, her visits to factories increased and her trips to poor neighborhoods put her in contact with the people and their needs.

She found much to do. "And we began," she said in The Reason for My Life. "Little by little. I couldn't tell you on what exact day. I can tell you that at first I took care of everything myself. Then I had to ask for help. Finally I had to organize the work which in just a few weeks had become extraordinary." (Perón, Eva: op. cit. pg. 134).

On September 24th Evita began working from Perón's office in the Secretariat of Labor and Welfare. "I went to the Secretaría de Trabajo and Previsión because there I could meet my people easily and without problems; because the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare is a worker and he and Evita understand each other without any bureaucratic runarounds; and because the Secretaría offered me the tools I needed to begin my work... The functionaries of the Ministry collaborate with me in finding a solution to the problems brought by the unions, gathering background information, examining the solution on its own merits as well as studying the possible social and economic repercussions." (ibid, pgs. 83-84)

The Secretaría was a symbolic place. On July 30, in one of the meat packing plants at Parque de los Patricios, Evita said, "My mission is to transmit to the Colonel the concerns of the Argentine people." Evita saw herself as "the bridge" which brought Perón nearer to his people. She would become more than that; as the years went by, her activity became more intense and her working days interminable.

She began her mornings by receiving the people with the most urgent needs at the Residence, then going to the Secretaría to meet with the unions and the poor. If she had to interrupt her interviews because of an official reception, homage, visit or any other activity involving protocol, the people left waiting at the Secretaría would stay until she returned. And she always would return and would not leave until everyone had been taken care of. Her days were divided into two parts-- mornings and afternoons one could say, with a light lunch at 2:00, 3:00 or even 6:00 P.M.

On Wednesdays the unions visited Perón, and Evita would usher the members in to see him. However, she rarely participated in these meetings. She continued to work at her own affairs in a nearby office.

Evita had the habit of dropping by unexpectedly to visit the Foundation's works under construction and on Thursdays she would visit its establishments around greater Buenos Aires.

In 1947 she was leaving the Secretaría around 10:00 P.M. and as the years went by her working day grew longer. The daily paper Democracia described one day, Friday, May 19, 1950:

"She starts her morning very early in her office at Trabajo y Previsión and the first part of her day lasts until 4:00 P.M. At 5:00 P.M. she's back and continues to work until dawn with only a few short breaks. One break is around 8:30 when she and General Perón attend the signing of a contract which benefits the alimentation (food) workers. Another is around 11:00 P.M. when she attends the homage the railroad workers pay to one of their leaders who has been named a board member of the National Railways. From there she goes to a banquet at Retiro Park where she is fervently cheered by the workers of the bottled water industry. Once back at Trabajo y Previsión, she presides over an act organized by the workers of the cooking oil industry."

Even during her last illness, when she was advised to decrease her workload, she would inevitably respond, "I don't have time; I have too much to do."

The same rhythm and the same demands were placed on her collaborators. Implacably.

During the early months of 1947, Evita was busy creating her first weapons in defense of the poor: she set in motion a children's tourism plan and the first contingent of workers' children left for the hills of Córdoba on January 6, 1947; she negotiated and gave out subsidies to assist in the construction of polyclinics designed for workers in the textile and glass industries; she distributed subsidies granted by the state through her mediation to more than 500 destitute families; she distributed clothes, food and household goods to needy families. On January 20, 1947, she received a delegation from Villa Soldati (a slum) which informed her of their unhealthy living conditions. On the same day she visited their neighborhood, situated close to the Flores marshlands. She personally took charge of implementing a plan to provide residents with health care and social services as well as suitable housing. On January 25, some families began to move into newly-constructed modern chalets in Avellaneda while the rest of the families waited their turn in emergency housing. On February 12th these families also moved into housing provided for them by the municipal government on the 400 block of Belgrano Avenue. (Democracia, January 18, 1947).

From the beginning, Evita had aimed for "direct social help": a job, medicine, housing. She would continue throughout her few remaining years of life to create immediate solutions.

Simultaneously, Evita began to travel to the interior. On October 26, 1946, she left for Córdoba where two policlínicos were inaugurated. These hospitals for railway workers had been constructed under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor. On November 30 she traveled to Tucumán, a province in the north of Argentina. Her reception was so enthusiastic that it exceeded the ability of the authorities to control the crowds and some people were injured.

On August 21, the Senate approved the project which would give women the vote. Evita went to the Chamber of Deputies to meet with the leaders of the Peronista bloc. Their objective: women's right to vote. She would return to the Chamber in the following days to talk to the legislators of the Peronista Party. The campaign had begun.

Evita in SpainIn June of 1947, officially invited by the government of Spain, Evita began a tour which would take her to Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Monaco, Brazil and Uruguay.

Acclaimed in Spain, she received the country's highest decoration: the Great Cross of Isabel the Catholic.

In Italy she was received by Pope Pius XII. The gold rosary he gave her would be placed in her hands at the hour of her death. In Italy she did not always receive a warm welcome: the Communist Party demonstrated its repudiation of her visit by shouting, "Down with Fascism!" There were other protests along the way as the tour continued, but the Communists' were the strongest.

In France she met the future Pope John XXIII and gave a large donation to the victims injured in the violent explosion which destroyed the Port of Brest. She also took time from her schedule to relax.

Wherever she went, the official itinerary of visits and receptions was interspersed with trips to workers' neighborhoods and to their institutions. At the same time that she left donations she sought to learn the lesson: what could Europe teach her about social action?

Three years after her trip was over she wrote, "With a few exceptions, on those apprenticeship visits, I learned everything that institutions of social welfare should not be in our country. The peoples and governments I visited will forgive me my frankness which is direct and yet so honorable. On the other hand, they-peoples and governments-are not to blame. The century which preceded Perón in Argentina is the same century which preceded them." (Perón, Eva. op.cit.179).

After she returned from Europe, Evita plunged back into her activities. Before she left she had begun to fight for women's suffrage. The battle for women's right to vote started many years ago and was fought within the framework of the worldwide battle for women's emancipation. Argentina was not a pioneer. New Zealand had given women the right to vote in 1893 and many nations had already followed in her footsteps before Argentina's law 13010, passed in 1947, gave Argentine women the right to equal suffrage.

Before leaving Madrid, on June 15, 1947, Evita addressed the women of Spain: "This century will not go down in history as the "Century of World Wars" nor even as the "Century of Atomic Disintegration" but rather as the "Century of Victorious Feminism." The prediction has not come true; much remains to be done but obtaining for women the right to vote remains a significant milestone.

In Argentina the struggle for women's rights began with the turn of the century. The names Cecilia Grierson, Alicia Moreau de Justo, Elvira Dellepiane, Julieta Lantiri, Carmela Horne and Victoria Ocampo will be forever linked to this cause.

The feminist organizations of the time were mostly made up of women from the middle and higher classes, university graduates who had already begun in their own homes the struggle to not to be limited by thetraditional roles assigned them by society: to become wives and mothers.

The suffragettes presented bills in Congress. Some were wide, some more restrictive and some had the support of political figures like Alfredo Palacios: all were systematically buried. The last one, dated 1938, was signed by Victoria Ocampo and Susana Larguía.

The methodology used by the feminists was limited to the presentation of the bill, the pretense of a vote, the distribution of consciousness-raising brochures. Compared to the English suffragettes, for example, Argentine feminists' activity was extremely moderate.

What was lacking was a projection of their organizations beyond their own limits, a broad appeal addressed to all Argentine women whose profile was very different from that of the women who were petitioning in their name.

From the Secretaría, the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare, Colonel Perón took up the political cause of Argentine women and created a Women's Work and Assistance Division. The right of women to vote was again brought to light. On July 26,1945, in a session of Congress, Perón specifically underlined his support for the initiative. The Commission Pro Women's Suffrage was formed and the government was petitioned to show its support for the Acts of Chapultepec (in which those countries which had signed the Acts but had not yet given women the vote agreed to do so).

The subject of women's right to vote had been taken up by the government itself. A sea change was underway. With the exception of the Argentine Suffragette Association, presided over by Carmela Horne, the women's suffrage organizations opposed the government's support of their projects. On September 3, 1945, the National Assembly of Women, presided over by Victoria Ocampo, decided to reject the vote given to them by a de facto government and to demand that the Supreme Court assume the job of governing the country. The theme of the Assembly was "Women's Vote Only If Sanctioned by a Congress Chosen in an Honest Election."

Women's suffrage was once again put on the back burner during the momentous events of October, 1945.

The electoral campaign of 1946 made it clear that, whether they supported the Labor Party or the Democratic Union Party and even without any political rights, women had become part of Argentine politics. All they needed was to become a legitimate part.

As President, Perón returned to the topic of women's suffrage in his First Message to Congress, on July 26, 1946, and in the Five Year Plan. Within this framework, Evita began her campaign. She worked from different vantage points: with legislators, with the delegations who visited her, with the women congregated in the civic centers, by means of radio and the press. For example, on September 17, 1946, she and women from different Peronista feminist organizations drew up a common action plan. On January 17, 1947, she spoke to a delegation of women educators from Rosario: "I'm fighting for women's right to vote and I won't cease in my struggle until that right becomes a reality."

Beginning on January 27, every Wednesday at 9:00 P.M. she broadcast a message from the Residence to all women, urging them to join her the struggle for their rights.
When she returned from Europe-where she had alluded to the struggle on several occasions-she found that the bill was still on the back burner.

Democracia published a "Letter from Eva Perón to Argentine Women" in which she exhorted them to fight twice as hard to quickly obtain the passage of the women's suffrage law.

Evita's addressThere were two turning points in the history of this process: the entrance of women into politics and the gaining of official support. A third can be added: Evita addressed her message to a wide spectrum of women who made the cause their own and began to assume an active role: they organized meetings and published pamphlets. Working women took to the streets to put up posters demanding the passage of the law. Feminist centers and institutions declared their support. On September 3, when the law should have been debated in the Chamber of Deputies, a great concentration of women was convoked. The debate was postponed. A concentration assembled again on the ninth. Evita, who could not be present on the third, was inside the Chamber on the ninth. Outside, a multitude acclaimed her. Another turning point: women began to see Eva Perón as their spokeswoman.

On September 23, amidst a gigantic civic convocation in Plaza de Mayo, the law was passed.

The pioneers among the women feminists rose up against the passage of the law, seeing it as a political maneuver and not as a defense of the cause of all women.
Their slogan became "Now we don't want to vote."

But in 1951 they all voted, the Peronista women and the "antis."

The sanction of Law 13010 set in motion a series of events which would make it more effective. On May 23 the voter registration process began as outlined in article four of Law 13010. In 1951, with Presidential elections on the horizon, Evita, as President of the Peronista Women's Party, sent a message to the Chamber of Deputies, asking for amnesty "for that new sector of voters who have not yet registered."

The road which led to women's suffrage was arduous. The road towards civic capacitation and the preparation of women so they could take part in the political struggle would be even more arduous.

On September 14, 1947, the Peronista Party reorganized so as to permit the formation of another Peronista Party, exclusively for women (Partido Peronista Feminino-PPF).

The PPF would become a reality on July 26, 1949. The first National Assembly of the Peronista Feminist Movement met in the Cervantes Theater. There the Peronista Women's Party was born. Its underlying principle would be its adhesion to the doctrine and person of Perón. Evita was elected President with full organizational powers. The internal structure of the PPF was monolithic: the President of the party made the decisions and determined the direction of the work to be undertaken.

"The organization of the Partido Peronista Feminino has been for me," Evita wrote in The Reason for My Life, "one of the most difficult enterprises which I have undertaken. With no precedent in the country-something which I believe has been to my good fortune-and without any other resource but a heart placed at the service of a great cause, I called together one day a small group of women. There were only about thirty. All were very young. I had known them as infatigable collaborators in my work of social help, as fervent Peronistas, fanatics in the cause of Perón. I had to ask great sacrifices of them: to leave their homes and their jobs, to set aside one lifestyle and take up a more difficult and intense one. I needed women like them: untiring, fervent, fanatical. It was necessary to conduct a census of the women of the whole country to find those who believed in our cause. This undertaking would require intrepid women who were willing to work day and night." (Perón, Eva: op.cit., pg. 228)

They were the census delegates who also had the job of opening the "unidades básicas" (neighborhood meeting centers). In January of 1950 the first unidad básica was inaugurated in Buenos Aires, in the President Perón Neighborhood in Saavedra.

The unidades básicas of the Peronista Women's Party, besides being centers of political activity (they were campaign headquarters during the 1951 Presidential elections), were centers of social work. "The descamisados," she would say in her autobiography, "do not distinguish between the political organization over which I preside, and my Foundation. The unidades básicas are something which belongs to Evita. And they go to them looking for what they hope Evita can give them. They themselves, my descamisados, have created a new function for the unidades básicas: inform the Foundation about the needs of the humble people of the entire country. The Foundation attends to these requests by sending help directly to those in need.I have been severely criticized for this.My eternal super critics consider that in this way I use my Foundation for political purposes. And maybe they are right! The end result of my work does have political repercussions; people see in my work the hand of Perón which reaches to the most remote corner of my country... and his enemies cannot be happy with that consequence of my work." (Perón, Eva:op. cit., 230-231).

The political action taken in favor of women harvested its fruits in the elections held on November 11, 1951. For the first time ever 3,816,654 women voted, 63.9% for the Peronista Party,and 30.8% for the Radical Civic Union Party.The Peronista Party was the only one to include women as candidates for election. In 1952, 23 women deputies and 6 senators took their seats in Congress.

If being a candidate on the ballot is a right which has been acquired, being elected involves a continuing struggle. Law 24012, passed in 1991, which establishes a 30% quota for women in representative political positions, and provides clear evidence of the discrimination which still pervades our society.

"Everything, absolutely everything in our contemporary world," wrote Eva Perón in the middle of the 20th century, "has been tailored to the measure of men."

"We are absent from governments."

"We are absent from Parliaments."

"From international organizations."

"We are neither in the Vatican nor the Kremlin."

"We are not part of the upper echelons of the imperialist countries."

"We are not in the atomic energy commissions."

"Nor in the great multinational corporations."

"Nor in freemasonry nor in any secret societies."

"We are not in any of the great power centers of the world." (Perón, Eva:op.cit., 223-224)

Since then the world has undergone profound and vertiginous changes but it is still made to the same measure.

Evita, whose concept of feminism saw women as protagonists while continuing to be feminine, thought that the feminist movement should, for love, be united to the cause and doctrine of a man worthy of trust. She understood that among the many differences between a man and a woman, one difference involved the concept of "action": "A man of action is one who triumphs over the rest. A woman of action is one who triumphs for the rest."

The "action for the rest" had a name: Eva Perón Foundation.To this Foundation,
Evita dedicated her best efforts.

Hogares de Transito
Mothers and children found a refuge in the Hogares de Tránsito, temporary homes where they stayed until work and a permanent home could be found for them.
 

The social work which Evita began in 1946 began to acquire far-reaching influence and importance. The Social Help Crusade worked specifically to create neighborhoods of affordable housing, Temporary Homes (Hogares de Tránsito), school food programs, and to provide jobs to unemployed workers, instruments for hospitals, mediation for the provision of water and sanitary facilities for low income neighborhoods, donation of household items to needy families, and distribution of toys to poor children, especially during Christmas and Epiphany.

The funds and the articles were donated, especially by the workers' unions.

Also, the Social Work Crusade received funds from the Ministry of Social Welfare which were destined for the purchase of clothes, shoes, food, and medicine.

Evita's special position in the power structure (power from the outside) permitted access to the place where the decisions were made involving projects or increasing workers' rights. Her position permitted her to take action outside the bureaucratic structure.

By the end of 1947 it was clear that her social action required an organic structure.


To Be Evita ©
Biography
Evita Peron Historical Research Foundation
Translation by Dolane Larson
Hecho el depósito que marca la ley 11.723
May not be reproduced in total or partial form
without authorization of the FIHEP
April, 1997


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