John William Cooke (1920-1968)
(Archivo General de la Nación)
[Juan Guillermo] (1920-1968), politician and
ideologist of the Peronist movement, was born on 14 November
1920 (although 1919 has also been suggested) at 50th street
between 4th and 5th in La Plata, capital city of the Buenos
Aires province. John William and David Cooke were sons of Juan
Isaac Cooke (1895-1957) and María Elvira Lenci. The son of
Panama-born dentist Genaro William Cooke, Juan Isaac Cooke was a distinguished member of the "Junta Renovadora"
faction within the Radical Civic Union party, which supported
Juan Domingo Perón's standing in the 1946 presidential
elections. Cooke's father Juan Isaac was minister of foreign
affairs, national MP, and ambassador to Brazil.
From his early
age John William Cooke was familiarised with political debate,
so it was natural for him to be a politically committed student
in the secondary school. He studied in the school of law at
University of La Plata, and graduated in 1943. During his
student years Cooke joined the Radical forces of the
Intransigent University Union, as well as FORJA (Fuerza de
Orientación Radical de la Joven Argentina), an important
nationalist and anti-imperialist political hub of its time. In
1946, at the early age of twenty-five, he was elected MP for
Junta Renovadora and would continue in parliament up to 1951.
Cooke was appointed secretary of the Peronist group of MPs and
member of the Executive Committee of Partido Único (a coalition
of the Labour Party, the Independent Party and "Junta Renovadora"
which would become the Peronist Party). The Antitrust Act was
one of the parliamentary projects submitted by John W. Cooke. In
opposition to his own political party, he voted against the
Chapultepec Act and the San Francisco
Convention of 1945, which he considered against national
sovereignty. Cooke co-authored with Ricardo Guardo one of the
constitutional amendment projects that was proposed for voting.
Additionally, he was professor of political economics and
constitutional law at the University of Buenos Aires.
In 1950 John
William Cooke joined the Juan Manuel de Rosas Historical
Society, the most important meeting point for
revisionist historians in the country, and in 1954 was appointed
its vice-president. He edited the weekly paper De Frente
and adopted a national stand opposing to the contracts with
Standard Oil Co. After a failed revolt against Perón in June
1955, Cooke was offered the post of secretary of technical
affairs, but refused and was therefore appointed to head the
Peronist Party in Buenos Aires. Owing to the unstable political
context he recommended the organisation of popular militias to
defend the democratic regime against a coup d'état.
The coup took
place on 16 September 1955, when the so-called Revolución
Libertadora, led by Eduardo Lonardi overthrew the Peronist rule.
Juan D. Perón exiled in Paraguay and later in Venezuela and
Spain, the Peronist Party (and even the word "Perón")
John William Cooke escaped and went into hiding for a time until was
seized and imprisoned in Buenos Aires and later in Patagonia. On
2 November 1956 Perón wrote the famous letter that entitled John
W. Cooke, "who is now jailed for his loyalty to our cause and
our movement, to represent myself in any circumstance or
political activity. His decision will be my decision, and his word
will be my word" (Perón to Cooke, 2 November 1956). Perón
appointed Cooke his political envoy, a responsibility held by
Cooke until 1959, and the Peronist movement's head in case of Perón's
After 1955 John
William Cooke became a key player of "Resistencia Peronista",
the organisation created to recover the democratic government
from the military rulers. From the prison, Cooke led different
efforts among students and workers, including strikes, sabotage
and operations using home-made bombs. In 1957 Cooke and other
Peronist activists escaped from the prison of Río Gallegos and
settled in Chile. That year John William Cooke married Alicia
Graciana Eguren (1924-1977), writer and professor of literature
who would be abducted on 26 January 1977 by an Argentine Navy death
squad and become one of desaparecidos.
correspondence with Juan D. Perón was initiated in 1957 and
ceased in 1966, when their relations began cooling off. John
W. Cooke was one of the negotiators of a secret pact between Perón and the leader of Unión Cívica Radical Intransigente's (UCRI)
Arturo Frondizi, who in the 1958 presidential elections obtained
the Peronist votes in exchange for several appointments and
other concessions to the Peronist movement. Once in power -
acting between military and labour union pressures - Frondizi was
reluctant to fulfil his commitment and a series of strikes were
organised. In January 1959 Cooke was an active leader in the
actions against the privatisation of Lisandro de la Torre
meat-packing plant. After this he was banished to Uruguay.
Cooke had an influential part in the creation of the first
Argentine rural guerrilla, Uturunco group, in the province of Tucumán.
The group was responsible for the attack and capture of a police
station in Christmas 1959. In 1960 John William Cooke settled in
Havana and established a lifetime relation with Ernesto Che
Guevara. On 17 April 1961 Cooke participated of the battle at
Playa Girón (or Bay of Pigs, as it is referred to in the United
States). Cooke wanted to make Peronism known in Cuba, and to
bring the Cuban revolution to Peronism. A project arranged by
Cooke in 1962 included Fidel Castro's proposal to Juan D. Perón
so as he could permanently reside in Cuba. However Perón failed
to answer Castro's invitation.
One of Cooke's
revolutionary undertakings was Acción Revolucionaria Peronista.
In 1962 he and Che Guevara backed the People's Guerrilla Army of
Jorge Ricardo Massetti, which engaged in attacks in Salta until
1964. In 1967-1968 Cooke organised guerrilla groups at Taco Ralo.
When Che Guevara went to Bolivia, Cooke was fighting in the
Argentine side of the border presumably to unite with Guevara's forces. In his last years, John William Cooke had a radical
perspective which included direct action. He was an important
theorist within the left wing of the Peronist movement. Cooke's
ideology was popular and inspiring among Argentine and other
Latin American activists, in particular those who recognised
labour movements like Peronism as the most efficient channels
for class struggle and the fastest approach to attain the
dictatorship of proletariat. Many of his books were published or
reprinted posthumously, among them La lucha por la liberación
nacional. El retorno de Perón. La revolución y el peronismo
(Buenos Aires: Granica, 1971), Correspondencia Perón-Cooke
(Buenos Aires: Papiro, 1972), Apuntes para la militancia
(Buenos Aires: Schapire, 1973), and Peronismo y revolución.
El peronismo y el golpe de Estado. Informe a las bases
(Buenos Aires: Granica, 1973).