Few would deny that the presidency is the most important political institution in Argentina and that the course of her history has been deeply affected by the ambitions, capacity, character, and even the personality of the men who have held the post. Realizing that for the average Argentine the words “government” and “president” often seem to be the same thing, Gustavo Gabriel Levene and four collaborators have sought to present within the confines of a single volume a biographical and political synthesis for each of Argentina’s twenty-nine presidents from Bernardino Rivadavia to Arturo Frondizi. The result is an impressive volume that can be read for pleasure as well as used for reference.
The book consists of a series of short essays, each devoted to a single presidential term. Alberto Palcos, who is the author of a multivolume biography of Rivadavia, contributes the pieces on Rivadavia, Urquiza, Derqui, Mitre, and Sarmiento; the next four beginning with Avellaneda and ending with Pellegrini, come from Boleslao Lewin’s pen, while Ricardo Rodríguez Molas is responsible for their successors through the second Irigoyen presidency. Félix Luna, who has published biographies of Alvear and Irigoyen, takes up the task with General Uriburu in 1930 and concludes with Frondizi. Supplementing the texts and helping to enliven the individual accounts are photographs and political cartoons. Two appendices, one presenting the constitutional provisions relating to the presidency, the other listing the members of every government or cabinet from 1810 to 1958, add substantially to the book’s value as a reference work.
Each unit of the volume provides information about the early career of its subject (including data on family and other ties so useful for understanding Argentine political relationships), examines circumstances that gave rise to his accession to the presidency, and discusses his actions while in that office. His activities after leaving the presidency are also treated. For Julio Roca and Hipólito Irigoyen, each of whom served a second presidential term after a lapse of time, an additional section is introduced at the appropriate chronological point. The result is that by reading the various pieces in succession one gets a sense of the sweep of Argentine history and of the key issues that have confronted the country since its organization as a nation.
Although writing at a time when political passions are high (have they ever been otherwise?), the authors have managed to escape the partisanship that colors much of recent Argentine output and have fashioned their pieces with a commendable degree of detachment. Naturally not everyone will agree with their interpretations, especially when they deal with such controversial figures as Irigoyen or more recently Juan Perón, but the fact that an attempt is made to assess the Perón presidency is noteworthy in itself. For the American reader concerned with contemporary Argentine history, this section as well as those that follow have particular interest. Dr. Levene and his associates are to be congratulated for making this volume available.