Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography

John William Cooke (1920-1968)
(Archivo General de la Nación)

Cooke, John William [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") being banned. 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 death.

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.

The 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.

John William 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).

John William Cooke died of cancer on 19 September 1968 at the Hospital de Clínicas of Buenos Aires.

Edmundo Murray


- Adelchanow, Melina Natalia, John William Cooke y su visión del pasado argentino. Reflexiones entre la historia y la política, graduate dissertation, Universidad de Belgrano (Buenos Aires, 2005). Available online <> (cited 17 October 2005). I am grateful to Melina Adelchanow for her reading of this entry and the additional information.

- Caro Figueroa, Gregorio, John William Cooke: ignorado, condenado y luego mitificado in: "Todo es historia" (Buenos Aires), N° 288 (June 1991), pp. 8-9.

- Chávez, Fermín, John William Cooke, el diputado y el político (Buenos Aires: Círculo de Legisladores de la Nación, 1998).

- Galasso, Norberto, Cooke: de Perón al Che. Una biografía política (Rosario: Homo Sapiens, 1997).

- Gillespie, Richard, J.W. Cooke: el peronismo alternativo (Buenos Aires: Cántaro Editores, 1989).

- Goldar, Ernesto, John William Cooke: De Perón al Che Guevara in: "Todo es historia" (Buenos Aires), N° 288 (June 1991), pp. 10-40.
- Lindner, Franco. Cooke, el heredero maldito de Perón (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2006). [website] [Added 20 November 2006]

- Mazzeo, Miguel, Cooke, de vuelta. El gran descartado de la historia argentina (Buenos Aires: La rosa blindada, 1999).

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies

Online published: 1 November 2005
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, '
Cooke, John William (1920-1968)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" November-December 2005 (


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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