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Menem, Carlos Saúl (1930–)

Menem, Carlos Saúl (1930–)

Carlos Saúl Menem (b. 2 July 1930), president of Argentina (1989–1999). Menem is the son of Syrian immigrants who settled in the northern province of La Rioja. Active in politics from university days, he was elected to the legislature of his native province on the Peronist ticket in 1955, and subsequently elected and re-elected its governor (1973, 1983, 1987). His career was interrupted by the military regime that deposed President Isabel Perón in March 1976, during which time he spent five years in prison. In 1989, defying all predictions, he defeated Antonio Cafiero for the presidential nomination of the Peronist Party, and won a relatively easy victory in the national elections.

Menem's presidency was a revolutionary one, for Argentina and for Peronism. He reversed a fifty-year-old trend toward statism-populism, opening up the economy by drastically reducing taxes and tariffs, and wiping out huge budgetary deficits by privatizing large state-owned industries. A "convertibility plan" established a stable exchange rate for the Argentine peso in relation to the dollar and permitted the peso's free exchange for foreign currencies. Formerly politically sensitive areas like oil and hydrocarbons have been opened to foreign investments.

At the same time, Menem reversed historic trends in Argentine foreign policy, openly aligning the country with the United States and offering cooperation with United Nations efforts at peacekeeping. Though frequently criticized for his rather haphazard style of administration, as well as for the corrupt practices of family members and immediate aides, such has been Menem's popularity that he was been able to convince the opposition Radical Party to support changes in the Argentine Constitution that allowed him to run for another term—for four, rather than six years—in 1995. He won reelection, but could not run for a third term in 1999.

While Menem successfully completed his second term, his currency policy helped produce a severe economic crisis in the early twenty-first century. When the dollar value continued to rise, the Argentine peso also became stronger, making exports too expensive in international markets. Finally, in early 2002 Argentina had to devalue its currency leading to a year of economic depression and political insecurity. Although Menem received considerable criticism for the economic downturn, he tried to run for the presidency in 2003 and made it to a run off with Néstor Kirchner, but withdrew knowing he would loose the election. In 2007, he ran for governor of La Rioja but lost. Also, in 2007, Menem was charged with corruption and embezzlement. Still, Menem has stated that he hopes to return to Argentine politics.

See alsoAlfonsín, Raúl Ricardo; Argentina, Political Parties: Justicialist Party; Argentina, Political Parties: Radical Party (UCR); Neoliberalism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alfonsín, Raúl. Memoria política transición a la democracia y derechos humanos. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica de Argentina, 2004.

Levitsky, Steven, and Maria Victoria Murillo, eds. Argentine Democracy: The Politics of Institutional Weakness. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.

                                          Mark Falcoff

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