Frondizi, Arturo

Frondizi, Arturo

Frondizi, Arturo, 1908-95, president of Argentina (1958-62). A lawyer and economist, he opposed Juan Perón and rose to prominence after the latter was overthrown in 1955. A realist, he accepted Peronist support in his successful bid for the presidency in 1958. As president he attempted to revitalize the economy by imposing strict austerity measures and arranging for aid from the International Monetary Fund. Reversing a previous stand, he permitted the exploitation of Argentine petroleum by foreign countries, a move that aroused much opposition. He allowed the Peronists to participate in the 1962 elections; after they scored impressive victories, outraged anti-Perón elements in the army arrested Frondizi and annulled the elections. José Guido assumed the presidency.

Arturo Umberto Illia (Pergamino, Buenos Aires, August 4, 1900 - Córdoba, January 18 1983) was President of Argentina from October 12, 1963, to June 28, 1966, as a member of the Unión Cívica Radical del Pueblo (UCRP). He was overthrown by a military coup carried on by Juan Carlos Onganía.


Arturo Illia was born August 4, 1900 in Pergamino, Buenos Aires province. His parents, Martín Illia and Emma Francesconi were Italian immigrants, from different parts of Lombardy (Italy).

In the year 1918, he started his medical studies in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires. That same year, the student movement known as the "Universitarian Reform" (Reforma Universitaria) erupted in the city of Córdoba, setting the basis for free, open and public university, and deeply changing the conception and administration of superior education in Argentina and in a good portion of Latin America.

As a part of his medical studies, Illia begun working in the San Juan de Dios hospital in La Plata city, obtaining his degree in 1927.

In 1928 he had an interview with the, at the time, President of the country, Dr. Hipólito Yrigoyen, to whom he offered his services as a doctor. Yrigoyen offered him the job of railroad medic in different parts of the country, and Arturo Illia decided to move to Cruz del Eje, in the Cordoba province. He worked there as a medic since 1929 and until 1963, except for three years (1940-1943) in which he was Vice-Governor of the Cordoba province.

On February 15, 1939, he married Silvia Elvira Martorell, and had three children: Emma Silvia, Martín Arturo and Leandro Hipólito.

In the year 1963 he was democratically-elected as President of Argentina, position he occupied until June 28 of 1966, when he was deposed by a military coup. After that, he moved to Martinez, Buenos Aires province, but he would still make frequent trips to Córdoba. He continued participating in politics with intensity, in the Radical Civic Union, until his death, on January 18, 1983.

Political activities

Arturo Illia became a member of the Radical Civic Union when he reached adulthood, in 1918, under the strong influence of the radical militancy of his father and of his brother, Italo. That same year, he began his university studies, with the events of the aforementioned Universitarian Reform taking place in the country.

From 1929 onwards, after moving to Cruz del Eje, he began intense political activity, which he alternated with his professional life. In 1935 he was elected Provincial Senator for the department of Cruz del Eje, in the elections that took place on November 17. In the Provincial Senate, he actively participated in the approval of the Law of Agrarian Reform, which was passed in the Córdoba Legislature but rejected in the National Congress.

He was also head of the Budget and Treasury Commission, and pressed for the construction of dams, namely Nuevo San Roque, La Viña, Cruz del Eje and Los Alazanes.

In the elections that took place on March 10, 1940, he was elected Vice-Governor of the Córdoba Province, with Santiago del Castillo, which became governor. He occupied this post until the province was intervented by the national government, in 1943.

From 1948 to 1952 he was a national deputy. He also took part in the Public Works, Hygiene and Medical Assistance Commissions.

Election as President of Argentina

After the fall of the Juan Perón government in 1955, a long period of political instability took over Argentina. During this period, the army would have a large influence over the politics of the country, and, even though elections would still take place, these would be marked by a considerable lack of legitimacy, since the Justicialist Party (which was supported by a great portion of the Argentine citizenry) would be banned during this period.

From 1955 to 1963 the country had five presidents of which only one was democratically elected: Arturo Frondizi, who governed the country from May 1, 1958, until March 29, 1962, when he was deposed by a military coup.

After the fall of Frondizi, the President of the Senate, José Maria Guido, became interim President of the country, starting a process of 'normalization', which would eventually lead to new elections, on July 7, 1963.

These elections, in which Arturo Illia would win, became a proof of the strong influence of the military in the country's political life, since the military imposed strong conditions that prevented the peronists (Justicialist Party) from presenting a candidate.

The results were: People's Radical Civic Union (Arturo Illia - Carlos Perette), 2.440.536 votes; Intransigent Radical Civic Union (Oscar Alende - Celestino Gelsi), 1.592.872 votes; People Forward Union (General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu - Horacio Thedy), 726.663 votes; Invalid votes, 1,694,718.

In the electoral college, the formula Illia-Perette obtained 270 votes out of 476 on July 31, 1963.


Arturo Illia became President on October 12, 1963. His first act consisted in eliminating all restrictions over the peronist political parties, causing the anger and surprise of the military.

Political demonstrations from the peronist party were forbidden since the 1955 coup, by the Presidential Decree 4161/56, however, five days after Illia's assumption, a commemorative act for the 17th of October took place in Plaza Miserere without any official restriction. In the same fashion, electoral restrictions were also lifted, allowing the participation of peronists in the 1965 legislative elections. The prohibition over the Communist Party was also lifted, and penalties were issued for discrimination and racial violence.

Minimum, Vital and Mobile Wage Law

On June 15, 1964, the Law 16.459 was passed, establishing a minimum wage for the country. "Avoiding the exploitation of workers in those sectors in which an excess of workforce may exist", "Securing an adequate minimum wage" and "Improving the income of the poorest workers" were listed among the objectives of the project.

With the same aims, the Law of Supplies was passed, destined to control prices of basic foodstuffs and setting minimum standards for pensions.

Petroleum policy

Arturo Frondizi had begun, during his presidency, a policy of oil exploration based on concessions of oil wells to foreign private corporations, leaving the state oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) the sole responsibility of exploration and buying oil from private extractors. Argumenting that such contracts were negative for the Argentine state and its people (YPF had to assume all the risks of investing in exploration of new wells, the price of oil had risen steadily since the contracts were negotiated, etc.), Illia denounced the Frondizi policy as negative for national Argentine interests, and promised to render the contracts of concession void, renegotiating them.

On November 15, 1963, Illia issued the decrees 744/63 and 745/63, which rendered said oil contracts null and void, for being considered "illegitimate and harmful to the rights and interests of the Nation.".

Education policy

During Illia's government, education acquired an important presence in the national budget. In 1963, it represented a 12% of the budget, rising to a 17% in 1964 and to a 23% in 1965.

On November 5, 1964, the National Literacy Plan was started, with the purpose of diminishing and eliminating illiteracy (At the time, nearly 10% of the adult population was still illiterate). By June, 1965, the program comprised 12,500 educational centers and was assisting more than 350,000 adults of all ages.

Medicaments law

Law 16.462, also known as 'Oñativia Law', paying homage to the Minister of Health Arturo Oñativia, was passed the 28th of August 1964. It established a policy of price and quality controls for pharmaceuticals, freezing prices for patented medicines at the end of 1963, establishing limits to advertising expenditures and to money sent outside the country for royalties and related payments. The reglamentation of this law by the Decree 3042/65, also forced pharmaceutic corporations to present, to a judge, an analysis of the costs of their drugs and to formalize all their existing contracts.

Both supporters, detractors and impartial observers of Illia agree that this policy had a decisive weight on the process that would end with his overthrow by a military coup.

Economic policy

In the economic sphere, Arturo Illia's presidency was characterised by a reglamentation of the public sector, a decrease of the public debt and a considerable push for industrialization. The Syndicate of State Businesses was created, to achieve a more efficient control of the public sector.

National GDP had contracted by -2,4% in 1963; it expanded by 10,3% in 1964 and 9,1% in 1965.

Industrial GDP had shrunk by -4,1% in 1963; it leapt by 18,9% in 1964 and 13,8% in 1965. The external debt was reduced from 3,400 million dollars to 2,600 million dollars.

The median real wage grew by 9,6% during calendar 1964, alone; it had expanded by almost 25%, by the time of the coup Unemployment declined from 8,8% in 1963, to 5,2% on 1966.

Ironically, the Argentine middle class (who were generally as anxious as anyone to see Pres. Illia leave office) benefitted even more. Auto sales leapt from 108,000 in 1963 to 192,000 in 1965 (a record at the time).


End of Presidency

In the year 1965, legislative elections took place, this time without any of the restrictions existing in 1963. Thanks to this, the peronists presented their own candidate lists, winning elections with 3,278,434 votes against the People's Radical Civic Union, which obtained 2,734,970 votes.

The triumph of the peronists shook the internal situation of the Argentine Armed Forces, both among internal military factions linked to the Peronist movement, and because a large section of the army was strongly anti-peronist.

In addition, a campaign against the government was also being carried out by important parts of the media, answering to economic groups. Illia was nicknamed "the turtle", and his rule was referred to as "slow", "dim-witted" and "lacking energy and decision", encouraging the military to take power and weakening the government even more.

Under the planning of the Commander of the First Division of the Army, General Julio Alsogaray, and with the support of the military, the US government, economic groups, a considerable part of the media, and even politicians like Oscar Alende or the former president Arturo Frondizi, the military coup took place on June 28 of 1966. General Alsogaray presented himself in Illia's office that day, at 5:00 hours, and 'invited' him to resign his post. Illia refused to do so at first, but at 7:20 hours, after seeing his office invaded by military officers and policemen with grenade launchers, he was forced step down. The next day, General Juan Carlos Onganía became the new Argentine president.


Further reading

  • Arturo Illia, su vida, principios y doctrina, by Ricardo Illia, Ediciones Corregidor
  • La caída de Illia, by Mario Antonio Verone, Editorial Coincidencia.
  • Historia del radicalismo, by Mario Monteverde, GAM Ediciones.
  • La presidencia de Illia, by Pedro Sánchez, CEAL.
  • Poder militar y sociedad política en Argentina (Tomo II, 1943-1973), by Alan Rouquié, Emecé Editores.
  • ¿Qué es el radicalismo?, by Raúl R. Alfonsín, Editorial Sudamericana.

Office Holder Term
President Arturo Illia 1963-1966
Vice President Carlos Perette 1963-1966
Ministry of the Interior Juan S. Palmero 1963-1966
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Zavala Ortíz 1963-1966
Ministry of Economics Alfredo Blanco 1963-1965
Juan Carlos Pugliese 1965-1966
Ministry of Education and Culture Carlos Alconada Aramburú 1963-1966
Ministry of Social Assistance and Public Health Arturo Oñativia 1963-1966
Ministry of Public Services Miguel Angel Ferrando 1963-1966
Ministry of Work and Social Security Fernando Sola 1963-1966
Ministry of Defense Leopoldo Suarez 1963-1963

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