Former Argentine President Carlos Saúl Menem died on Sunday (14), a leader who paved the way for the greatest economic and social crisis Argentina has ever known. He had been hospitalized for months with respiratory and heart problems and died in a clinic in Buenos Aires, according to the Argentine press.
The Peronist, who remained in power for ten years, was riding popular support at a time when most Argentines were fascinated by the fixed exchange rate policy – US $ 1 equals 1 peso – adopted to end hyperinflation . In practice, however, the strategy generated an illusory stability interval.
The crisis had already exhausted the mandate of his predecessor, Raúl Alfonsín, who ended up resigning in July 1989, six months earlier than expected. That year, inflation fell from 460% in April to 764% in May.
The supposed miracle wrought by the fixed exchange rate gave Menem, already as president, enough strength to negotiate with Alfonsín, head of the Radical Civic Union, a traditional opponent of Peronism, a change that allowed him to attempt a re-election, hitherto opposed by the Constitution.
The second term provided the conditions for breaking the obligations of the fixed exchange rate, which on the one hand controlled inflation – the government could not issue a single weight more than it generated with its income – on the other hand, it destroyed the economic situation. fabric, especially industry. It was cheaper to import fur coats from Germany than to produce them locally, although the sector had a tradition in the country.
However, the population, wary of their own currency, did not even want to hear about the release of the exchange rate.
When Menem left Casa Rosada in 1999, the recession had already set in and would deepen in the following years. The path started by the Peronist would end with a political and social fire that would force the successor Fernando de la Rúa to flee by helicopter, giving up power.
The unpopularity of economic measures like that of the “corralito” – the removal of savings and bills from millions of Argentines – and the maximum devaluation of the peso has led to large street protests, in which
clashes between security forces and demonstrators left 39 dead.
Lebanese family lawyer, born in Anillaco, in the province of La Rioja, on July 10, 1930, Menem marked Argentine politics by tearing the beginnings of the heterogeneous Peronist, nationalist and statist movement, to adopt ultra-liberal policies. He was elected by promising a “salariazo”, that is to say giant salaries, and he governed by carrying out mass privatizations.
His tenure as President was marked by accusations of corruption – one of them, the scandal of arms exports to Ecuador and Croatia, between 1991 and 1996, which reportedly generated transfers of around 10 million dollars to accounts in Switzerland ended up taking him. o briefly under house arrest in 2001.
In 2013, due to the episode, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. The same happened two years later, when he was convicted again in another case, for bribing the authorities with public money. He was also found guilty of over-pricing the works and selling it at a much lower price than the traditional building of the Palermo rural society under his rule.
In total, the sentences total nine years in prison, but he could not do them, since the post of senator gave him parliamentary immunity. Alliances with the Peronist majority in Congress in recent years have enabled it not to lose its special forum.
His relations with the military were tortuous. Governor of La Rioja until the military coup of 1976, he had good relations with Bishop Enrique Angelelli, one of the few progressive religious leaders in Argentina and persecuted by the army. After the coup, Menem was arrested and spent five years in prison.
However, upon coming to government, he promoted forgiveness for all military leaders in the so-called process of national reorganization, the fanciful name given to the dictatorship of the period 1976-1983.
The movement served to end anarchy in the armed forces, which fostered successive rebellions against his predecessor, Raúl Alfonsín, sufficient to help destabilize him.
After the restoration of democracy, Menem resumed his political career from where he was in 1976: he was again elected governor of La Rioja, a post he used to challenge the leadership of Peronism, which he did done by defeating the most ideological sectors of the movement. .
Even after the chaos that followed the end of the fixed exchange rate policy in 2001, Menem attempted a third term in 2003. He was voted the most in the first round, although with only 24% of the vote, a clear sign of wear and tear suffered from the currency parity crisis.
He was nowhere near the 45% needed to skip the second round or even 40% with a 10 percentage point advantage over the runner-up, which would also give him the right to return to Casa Rosada without needing another vote. . Menem had to contest the return with Néstor Kirchner, also Peronist, but much more to the left, who had obtained 22% of the vote.
He gave up, however, based on polls, which showed around 70% rejection of him. It would be too humiliating for the man who managed to stay ten years in a row at Casa Rosada, a feat not to be despised in a country so politically unstable.
Personal life was also full of zigzags. A Muslim by family heritage, he became Catholic because the Argentine Constitution, until 1994, required a president.
However, he maintained a marriage with a Muslim woman, Fátima Zulema Yoma, with whom he had a daughter, Zulemita, and a son, Carlos Saúl Menem Facundo Yoma, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 1995.
Four years earlier, Menem and Zulema went their separate ways, which at times led Zulemita to take on the role of first lady, not least because her mother was in open conflict with her father.
Considered a conqueror, Menem married in 2001 an ex-Miss Universe, the Chilean Cecilia Bolocco, 35 years younger than him. The marriage lasted six years and the couple had their son Máximo Menem.
The abandonment of the 2003 elections ended up being the turning point in the career of the Peronist, ostracized in the party itself. Populist movements like the one to which they belonged greatly value the role of “jefe”, since occupied by Néstor Kirchner or his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Despite this, Menem was elected senator in 2005 and continued to be re-elected at the end of each term, still for La Rioja. But its role in Peronism at the national level was limited to that of voting, almost always in favor, of the proposals worked out by Kirchnerist Peronism, heir to the chaos that Menemist Peronism caused in Argentina.
In 2018, however, he differed from the Kirchnerist bench vote against the abortion law, working together to get Congress vetoed.