As the United States draws nearer to the possible election of its first female president, Panoramas decided to take a look at the female presidents Latin America has had in the past. Below are the profiles of each of these eleven women, whose successes and trials reflect the history of women in politics around the world.
Isabel “Isabelita” Perón, Argentina, 1974. Isabelita was the first female head of state of Argentina and of the entire Western hemisphere. Her husband, Juan Perón, had served as president off and on through the previous three turbulent decades, building the politically wide-ranging Peronist movement and reshaping Argentina’s socioeconomics with an authoritarian ruling style. Isabelita, Perón’s third wife, became Perón’s vice president for his third term and took office when he became ill and died in 1974. She had to follow the universally beloved Evita, Perón’s second wife who had tragically died of cancer in 1952. After Evita the Argentine public resented and distrusted Isabelita, who failed to wield any significant power and whose brief time in office ended when the military staged a coup to remove her in 1976. Isabelita’s deposition began Argentina’s “Dirty War,” the seven-year period of state terrorism that “disappeared” some 30,000 civilians.
Lidia Gueiler Tejada, Bolivia, 1979. Bolivia’s first female president served for a short eight months during a particularly unstable period in Bolivia’s history, but has been remembered as a hardworking and respected figure. Gueiler had been the president of Bolivia’s parliament before a violent military coup removed previous president Walter Guevara in 1979, and Gueiler found herself being sworn into office. Little more than half a year later, she was deposed by another military coup led by her own cousin. She spent the rest of her life afterwards as a diplomat and a warrior for human rights, especially those of women.
Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, Haiti, 1990. Pascal-Trouillot was not only Haiti’s first female president but had also been the country’s first female Supreme Court justice beforehand. In 1990, a coup ousted the dictator Prosper Avril and brought Pascal-Trouillot to provisional presidency, an position that she used to organize a truly free general election—an enormous feat in Haiti during this period. The winner of this election was Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and before he even took office, a preemptory coup of sorts was staged against him, resulting in the removal and arrest of Pascal-Trouillot. Within a few days the military crushed the coup and Pascal-Trouillot was released, ushering in the Aristide era.
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Nicaragua, 1990. Violeta Chamorro has the distinction of being the West’s first female president who was elected to the office rather than ending up there due to a coup or the line of succession. Her husband, Pedro Chamorro, was a famous journalist who was highly critical of the Somoza dictatorship during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. After a period of exile and several imprisonments, Pedro was assassinated in 1978, helping to spark the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somozas in 1979. At first Violeta Chamorro supported the Sandinistas and even served on the ruling junta for a year, but by the early 1980s she had returned to journalism, actively protesting the Marxist policies of the Sandinistas. When she was elected president in 1990, she controversially reversed many of these policies. She retired from office after her term was over in 1997.