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Carlos Menem

[men-uhm]

Carlos Saúl Menem Akil (born July 2, 1930) was President of Argentina from July 8, 1989 to December 10, 1999 for the Justicialist Party (Peronist). He is noted for resolving territorial disputes with Chile, and for re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. He is also infamous and criticized for corruption (to date, however, he has been exhonerated in every lawsuit brought against him), his pardons to former dictators Videla, Massera, and other convicted criminals of the Dirty War, the failure of his economic policies which (albeit effective in fighting inflation) led to unemployment rates of over 20 percent and one of the worst recesions Argentina ever had, and his alleged dubious handling of the investigations of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

Background

Menem was born into the Muslim family of Saúl Menem and Mohibe Akil, Syrian immigrants, in the small town of Anillaco, in the Argentine province of La Rioja. He was trained as a lawyer at Córdoba National University and became a supporter of Juan Perón. Menem campaigned for political prisoners and was arrested in 1957 for supporting violent action against the dictatorship of Pedro Eugenio Aramburu.

Notwithstanding Menem's conversion to Catholicism — until 1994 the Constitution of Argentina required the President to be a Roman Catholic — his ties with his parents' homeland remained strong. In 1964, he travelled to Syria, where he met Zulema Fátima Yoma, another Syrian-Argentinian, whom he married in 1966 (she remained a Muslim). He was also a president of the Syrian-Lebanese Association of La Rioja. Menem and Yoma had a daughter and a son.

The couple divorced in 1991. Their daughter Zulema María Eva Menem (Zulemita) fulfilled the role of First Lady at formal occasions for the remainder of her father's presidency. The son, Carlos Saúl Facundo Menem, died in a helicopter crash in 1995. Even though it was declared an accident, conspiracy theories calling it an assassination abound. In May 2001, Menem married Chilean television host and model Cecilia Bolocco (Miss Universe, 1987), who is 35 years younger. The couple had a son, Máximo Menem. The couple divorced in 2007. Menem was the worst president of the Argentine's history.

Governor of la Rioja

1st Term (1973-1976)

Carlos Menem was elected governor of La Rioja in 1973, a prominent post that left him exposed after the overthrow of President Isabel Martínez de Perón in March 1976. Having been close to La Rioja Bishop Enrique Angelelli (a Third World Priest opposed by much of Argentina's conservative Roman Catholic Church), he was imprisoned by the junta in Formosa Province until 1981, reportedly tortured in the process.

2nd and 3rd Terms (1983-1989)

In October 1983, with the collapse of military rule, Menem was elected once again as governor of La Rioja, reelected in 1987. During this second turn at the governor's desk, Menem implemented generous corporate tax exemptions, attracting the first sizable presence of light manufacturing his province had ever seen. The pragmatic Governor Menem, nevertheless, kept provincial payrolls well-padded.

President

The 1989 Election

Campaigning as a maverick within his own party, he won the primary elections and was elected president in 1989, succeeding Raúl Alfonsín. His campaign was centered on vague promises of "productive revolution" and "salariazo" (jargon for big salary increases), aimed at the working class, the traditional constituents of the Peronist Party. Jacques de Mahieu, a French ideologue of the Peronist movement (and former Vichy Collaborationist), was seen on photo campaigning for Menem .

Economy

Menem assumed duties in the midst of a major economic crisis which included hyperinflation and recession. After a series of failed attempts by predecessors, newly-appointed finance minister Domingo Cavallo introduced a series of reforms and pegged the value of the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar. Privatization of utilities (including the oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), the post office, telephone, gas, electricity and water utilities) and a massive influx of foreign direct investment funds helped tame inflation (from 5,000% a year in 1989 to single digits by 1993) and to improve long-stagnant productivity, though at the cost of considerable unemployment. In 1991 he helped to launch the Mercosur customs union. Menem's successful turnaround of the economy made the country one of the top performers of the developing countries in the world. Argentina's GDP (below 1973 levels when Menem took office) increased 35% from 1990 to 1994 and physical investment, by 150%. On November 14, 1991 he addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, being one of only three Argentine presidents who had that distinction (together with Raúl Alfonsín and Arturo Frondizi). Menem was reelected to the presidency by a large majority in the 1995 elections.

The early success of the dollar peg (when the dollar was falling) was followed by increasing economic difficulties when the dollar began to rise from 1995 onwards in international markets. High external debt also caused increasing problems as financial crises affecting other countries (the Tequila Crisis in Mexico, the East Asian financial crisis, the Russian financial crisis in 1998) led to higher interest rates for Argentina as well. At the end of his term, Argentina's country risk premium was a low 6.10 percentage points above yield on comparable U.S. Treasuries.

Some years after the end of Menem's term, the combination of fixed-rate convertibility and high fiscal deficits proved unsustainable, despite massive loan support from the International Monetary Fund, and had to be abandoned in 2002, with disastrous effects on the Argentine economy.

Politics

Menem's rule became tainted with accusations of corruption. His handling of the investigations of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center was often criticised as being dishonest and superficial. He is suspected of diverting the investigation from the "Iranian clue", which would lead to the responsibility of that country in the attack. It should be noted that none of these allegations led to or warranted any criminal charges. The accusations were more public denunciations from members of the media and other groups.

Menem's government re-established relations with the United Kingdom, broken during the Falklands War (Guerra de las Malvinas/Guerra del Atlántico Sur). Also during his administration, over 20 border issues with Chile, including the arbitration of the especially serious Laguna del Desierto conflict, were peacefully solved.

In 1994, after a political agreement (the Olivos Pact) with the Radical Civic Union party leader, former president Alfonsín, Menem succeeded in having the Constitution modified to allow presidential re-election, so that he could run for office once again in 1995. The new Constitution, however, introduced decisive checks and balances to presidential power. It made the Mayor of Buenos Aires an elective position (previously the office belonged to a presidential appointee and was in control of a huge budget), to be lost to the opposition in 1996; the president of the Central Bank and the Director of the AFIP (Agencia Federal de Ingreso Público meaning Federal Tax & Customs Central Agency) could only be removed with the Congress's approval. It also created the ombudsman position, as well as a board to propose new judicial candidates.

One of the most criticized measures of his administration was the pardon he granted on December 29, 1990 to Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Massera, Leopoldo Galtieri and other leaders of the National Reorganization Process (the 1976–1983 dictatorship), and some terrorist leaders as well, on the grounds of "national reconciliation". This action sparked a protest of nearly 50,000 people in Buenos Aires. Former president Raúl Alfonsín called it "the saddest day in Argentine history". His neoliberal policies were also criticized by the left side of Argentine political spectrum and by some in the Catholic Church, and gave rise to the Piquetero movement of unemployed workers.

With regards to the military, Menem ordered the forceful repression of a politically-motivated uprising on December 3, 1990, and thus ended the military's involvement in the country's political life. Menem also effected drastic cuts to the military budget, and appointed Lt. Gen. Martín Balza as the Army's General Chief of Staff (head of the military hierarchy); Balza, a man of strong democratic convictions and a vocal critic of the Falklands War, had stood up for the legitimate government in every attempted coup d'état throughout his senior career, and gave the first institutional self-criticism about the Armed Forces' involvement in the 1976 coup and the ensuing reign of terror. Menem also abolished conscription in 1994, decisively eroding the military's caste spirit and its self-perceived role as an institution that "made men out of boys".

Cabinet

Office Holder
President Carlos Menem
Vicepresident Eduardo Duhalde(1989-91)
None(1991-95)
Carlos Ruckauf(1995-1999)
Chief of Cabinet of Ministry Eduardo Bauza(1995-96)
Jorge Alberto Rodríguez(1996-99)
Ministry of the Interior Eduardo Bauza(1989-90)
Julio Mera Figueroa(1990-91)
José Luis Manzano(1991-92)
Gustavo Béliz(1992-93)
Carlos Ruckauf(1993-95)
Carlos Vladimiro Corach(1995-99)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Domingo Cavallo(1989-91)
Guido di Tella(1991-99)
Ministry of Defense Ítalo Argentino Lúder(1989)
Humberto Romero(1989-90)
Guido di Tella(1990-91)
Antonio Erman González(1991-93)
Oscar Camilión(1993-96)
Jorge Domínguez(1996-99)
Ministry of Economics Miguel Ángel Roig(1989)
Néstor Rapanelli(1989)
Antonio Erman González(1989-91)
Domingo Felipe Cavallo(1991-96)
Roque Fernández(1996-99)
Ministry of Social Security León Carlos Arslanian(1989-90)
Jorge Maiorano(1990-93)
Rodolfo Carlos Barra(1993-94)
Elías Jassán(1994-98)
Raúl Granillo Ocampo(1998-99)
Ministry of Work Jorge Alberto Triaca(1989-92)
Rodolfo Díaz(1992-93)
Enrique Rodríguez(1993-97)
José Armando Caro Figueroa(1997-99)
Ministry of Social Assistance and Public Health Julio Corzo(1989-93)
Antonio Erman González(1993)
Eduardo Bauza(1993-95)
Alberto Kohan(1995-96)
Avelino José Porto(1996-98)
Julio César Aráoz(1998)
Alberto José Mazza(1998-99)
Ministry of Education and Culture Antonio Francisco Salonia(1989-94)
Jorge Alberto Rodríguez(1994-98)
Susana Beatriz Decibe(1998-99)
Ministry of Public Services Roberto José Dromi

Continuing political career

Menem's attempt to run for a third term in 1999 was unsuccessful, as it was ruled to be unconstitutional. Opposition candidate Fernando de la Rúa defeated Eduardo Duhalde, the nominee of Menem's party, and succeeded Menem as President.

Menem tried again four years later, winning the greatest number of votes, 24%, in the first round of the April 27, 2003 presidential election. This was far from the 45% required for election (or 40% if the margin of victory is 10 or more percentage points), and so a second-round run-off vote between Menem and second-place finisher Néstor Kirchner, who had gotten 22%, was scheduled for May 18. Certain that he was about to face a resounding electoral defeat, Menem withdrew his candidacy on May 14, thus automatically making Kirchner the new president-elect.

In June 2004 Menem announced that he had founded a new faction within the Justicialist Party, called People's Peronism, and stated his ambition to run in the 2007 election.

In 2005, the press reported that he was trying to make an alliance with his former Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo to fight in the parliamentary elections. The alliance was apparently frustrated; Menem said that there had been only preliminary conversations. In the 23 October elections, Menem won the minority seat in the Senate representing his province of birth. This was viewed as a catastrophic defeat, signaling the end of his political dominance in La Rioja, since the two senators for the majority were won by President Kirchner's faction, locally led by former Menemist governor Ángel Maza. It was the first time in 30 years that Menem lost an election.

Menem ran for Governor of La Rioja in August 2007, but was defeated, receiving third place with about 22% of the vote. Following this defeat in his home province, he withdrew his candidacy for president.

Corruption charges

On June 7, 2001, Menem was arrested over an arms export scandal relating to exports to Ecuador and Croatia in 1991 and 1996, and remained under house arrest until November. He appeared before a judge in late August 2002 and denied all charges. It was hinted that Menem held more than USD $10 million in Swiss bank accounts. However, the Swiss banks and authorities denied these allegations.

Menem and his second wife Cecilia Bolocco, who had had a child since their marriage in 2001, moved to Chile. Argentine judicial authorities repeatedly requested Menem's extradition to face embezzlement charges, but this was rejected by the Chilean Supreme Court, as under Chilean law people cannot be extradited for questioning.

On December 22, 2004, he returned to Argentina after his arrest warrants were cancelled. He still faces charges of embezzlement and failing to declare illegal funds outside of Argentina.

In August 2008, it was announced Menem was under investigation for his role in the 1995 Río Tercero explosion, which is alleged to have been part of the arms scandal involving Croatia and Ecuador.

References

External links

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