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May 26, 2017

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Evita looms larger than life with tribute

BUENOS AIRES -- Almost six decades since her death, the figure of Evita Peron is still very much alive in Argentine politics.

From Tuesday, a towering 10-story high portrait of the charismatic first lady will watch over the capital in a government-funded tribute inspired by the famous Che Guevara sculpture in Havana's Revolution Square.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who often invokes Evita's memory in speeches to supporters, unveiled the forged steel portrait that covers one side of the Health Ministry building three months ahead of a presidential election in which she is running for a second term.

Evita, an actress who married President Juan Peron, is adored by many Argentines for helping women get the vote, securing labor benefits for the working classes and founding hospitals and orphanages.

"Eva Peron is an authentic cultural and historical icon for all Argentines," Fernandez said at the Tuesday evening inauguration, during which she referred to the first lady in almost religious terms.

"She was the most hated but the most loved, the most offended, insulted and discounted but the most venerated — the most humiliated but today eternally victorious," the president said. "She taught us that to confront the powerful carries a high price."

The giant Evita image, which is 31 meters (100 feet) tall and 24 meters (79 feet) wide, looks down on the busy avenue that cuts across the center of downtown Buenos Aires, depicting a glamorous Evita with her trademark top-knot hairstyle.

"The aim of this work of art is to pay tribute to a woman who fought for social justice," said Alejandro Marmo, the artist who was commissioned to produce the portrait by Fernandez's center-left government last year.

"We're displaying a new icon just as Che was when he was displayed in Cuba," he said, referring to the cult image of the Argentine revolutionary in the Cuban capital.

Tuesday's inauguration marked the 59th anniversary of Evita's death from cancer at the age of 33 at the height of her popularity.

"This work will remind Argentines and visitors of this woman, who only lived until she was 33 but who won immortality," said Miguel Angel De Renzis, who leads the Evita Foundation, a charitable institute founded after she died.

The sculptural portrait adorns one side of the government building where she frequently addressed crowds and famously disappointed supporters by hinting she would not run as Peron's vice presidential candidate in 1951.

Another image, of a combative Evita addressing a huge crowd during that speech, will hang from the other side of the building and is due to be inaugurated in the coming months.

"The other one is more rebellious," said Laura Macek, a historian at the Buenos Aires-based Eva Peron Institute of Historic Investigations. "She's not just the good Evita, the fairy godmother who gave out toys to children, but a militant Evita committed to a cause."

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