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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And let's go next to Argentina and a battle over the personal belongings of the late Juan Peron, the populist strong man who's still revered there. Peron has been dead for almost 40 years, but many of his personal items clutter a Buenos Aires apartment of a former Peron aide who now wants to auction them off online.

NPR's Juan Forero has the story.

JUAN PERON: (Spanish spoken)

JUAN FORERO: The static in the old recordings of his speeches don't diminish the power of Juan Peron, not to a country still mesmerized by the iconic leader. With his captivating wife, Evita, at his side, Peron's government in the '40s and '50s showered the working poor with benefits. His style has been copied by Latin American populists ever since, right up to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. So you'd think Peron's worldly possessions would be in the hands of the people. But they are not.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS AND DOOR CREAKING)

FORERO: In a dark, hot apartment he rents in the heart of this capital, Mario Rotundo opens doors and gingerly walks amid the knick-knacks. There are shoes, and records and desks and a telex machine and typewriters - all once belonged to the great man - 14,000 items in all, stored in the apartment, and in banks across the city.

MARIO ROTUNDO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Now they belong to me, Rotundo says. Not just Peron's possessions, but many that belonged to Evita. And as the owner, he says he's entitled to sell them online, as he recently attempted until a court injunction stopped him. Rotundo says he was just 20 when he met Peron in Madrid in 1970. Peron promptly made Rotundo his trusted aide. After Peron's death, it was his third wife, Isabel, who bequeathed all of the former president's belongings to Rotundo and the foundation he runs to fund social works.

ROTUNDO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Reading her will, Rotundo notes that she signed all of it over, in the name of her late husband. Rotundo says he understands the items have historical value but he says his foundation needs the money - and that Peron, a friend of the poor, would have agreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOREIGN LANGUAGE BEING SPOKEN)

FORERO: Across town, that doesn't sit well with Lorenzo Pepe, as he gives a tour of an old house Peron and Evita once used. It's now the Juan Peron Institute, a government-funded agency that Pepe runs.

LORENZO PEPE: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Pepe says his job is to safeguard the memory of Peron. At his request, Pepe says, a court froze the sale of Peron's possessions. The institute, though, has been unable to get its hands on the items. Pepe says he can't afford the millions Rotundo wants for the objects.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAG BEING UNZIPPED)

FORERO: Back in his apartment, Rotundo unzips a vinyl garment bag to show a silk robe Peron wore until his final days.

ROTUNDO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Rotundo also has Peron's books, some centuries old and such unusual items as the headstone for Peron's dog, Canela.

A few years back Rotundo auctioned off some of the more valuable belongings - among them Peron's library and the shroud that covered Evita's embalmed remains.

ROTUNDO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Rotundo says the whole quarrel could be solved if the government would simply buy what's left.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOCKING OF DOOR) (SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

FORERO: And with that, Rotundo calls it a day - closing the reinforced door to the apartment and locking its treasures shut.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Buenos Aires.

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