Arturo Frondizi

views updated May 29 2018

Arturo Frondizi

Arturo Frondizi (1908-1995) was a leader of the Argentine Radical party and the first legally elected Argentine president after the fall of Peron. He sought to restore constitutional government and to promote national economic development.

Arturo Frondizi, one of 14 children of Italian immigrant parents, was born on October 28, 1908, in Paso de los Libres in the northeastern province of Corrientes. His father was a road and bridge contractor who had moved his family and business to Buenos Aires. Arturo graduated from the University of Buenos Aires with a degree in law.

While a student, Frondizi became interested in the writings of Marx, but stopped short of becoming a Communist or Socialist, joining instead the Radical Civic Union (UCR) or Radical party of President Hipólito Irigoyen shortly before his ouster in a military coup in September 1930. Refusing to receive a diploma of honor from the leader of the coup, General José Félix Uriburu, Frondizi was briefly jailed for his vociferous opposition to the overthrow of Irigoyen.

Following graduation Frondizi practiced law. He also taught law and economics and became known as a writer and journalist. Politically, Frondizi gained a degree of prominence in the intransigent, or left wing, of the UCR, which called for economic and social reforms and supported the traditional Radical policy of abstention from the polls.

During the Conservative rule of the 1930s, Frondizi was a strong advocate of the policy of electoral abstention, but reversed his position after the removal from power of the Conservatives in 1943 and the Intransigent's take over of the UCR a few years later.

Rise and Fall of Peron

In the election of 1946 which brought Juan Perón to power, Frondizi ran for political office for the first time, winning a seat in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, to which he was reelected in 1948. Frondizi was the unsuccessful candidate for the vice presidency on the Radical ticket headed by his colleague and rival Ricardo Balbín in 1951.

As a member of Congress Frondizi was a leader of the opposition to Perón, but he supported much of Perón's social and economic program. Strongly influenced by Marxism, Frondizi was known for his commitment to economic nationalism and was quite in accord with Perón's policy to reduce foreign influence in the Argentine economy. In 1955, however, Perón, confronted with increasing economic difficulties and in need of foreign investment capital, signed a contract with the Standard Oil Company of California to exploit Argentina's oil resources. Frondizi then became one of Perón's strongest critics.

Perón was overthrown in September 1955, and a caretaker government headed by General Eduardo Lonardi was established. Politically, the country was now divided between a strong anti-Peronist element that wanted to eliminate Peronism from the political scene altogether and the still loyal followers of Perón. Lonardi, who favored an accommodation with the Peronists, was replaced within two months as provisional president by the much less conciliatory General Pedro E. Aramburu, whose government adopted a harsh anti-Peronist policy, including the dissolution of the Peronist party, and pledged to hold elections as soon as possible.

By 1957, despite political and economic difficulties, the government of Aramburu carried out its promise to hold elections, and Frondizi, who had become a severe critic of the administration of Aramburu, won the nomination as the Radical party's candidate for the presidency in the forthcoming elections. But his candidacy caused a split in the UCR which led to the formation of two separate parties, the Intransigent Radical Party (UCRI) and the Peoples Radical Party (UCRP). Frondizi, who advocated the reintegration of the Peronists into the political life of Argentina, was the uncontested leader and presidential candidate of the UCRI, while Ricardo Balbín became the compromise leader and presidential candidate of the UCRP, which was composed of various factions and individuals sympathetic to Aramburu's anti-Peronist measures and opposed to Frondizi. Frondizi, with the support of the Peronists, whose votes he courted with a promise to restore their party to legality, won not only the presidency but also control of the national congress and all of the provincial governorships in contention.

The Frondizi Presidency

Upon assuming the Argentine presidency on May 1, 1958, Frondizi inherited a number of serious economic problems, including an unfavorable balance of trade and severe inflation. These problems prevented him from carrying out the program outlined in his earlier writings and speeches. Disregarding his previous anti-imperialist pronouncements, in July of 1958, in an action reminiscent of Peron, he granted concessions to United States and European companies for the exploration of Argentina's petroleum resources. This was an effort to make Argentina self-sufficient in petroleum production and stem the out-flow of $300 million annually for petroleum imports. He was also forced to abandon his ideas on agrarian reform and independent industrial development and to seek outside aid to solve the country's economic difficulties. In December of 1958 he agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to put into effect a controversial stabilization and development program which imposed a regime of financial austerity on the country as a condition for receiving foreign investments and foreign loans. He hoped that this would stimulate the economy and develop Argentine industry.

Forced to Call Upon Military

Frondizi's economic program met with strong resistance on the part of the urban workers, and he was confronted with an outbreak of labor unrest. Compelled to call upon the military to maintain order, Frondizi found himself increasingly dependent on the military for support of his government.

Frondizi's term in office was plagued with political unrest and repeated coup attempts. Throughout his term, Frondizi's relations with the leaders of the military were strained, largely due to their distaste for his policy towards the Peronists. They repeatedly compelled him to dismiss from governmental posts officials suspected of having Peronist sympathies.

In March 1962, in fulfillment of his promise to restore the legality of the Peronist party, Frondizi allowed the Peronists to run their own candidates for the first time since 1955 in the congressional and local elections. The Peronists won a majority of the provincial governorships, including the most important one of Buenos Aires, and more than half of the available seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The leaders of the armed forces quickly responded, demanding federal intervention to annul the electoral victory of the Peronists, arrest their leaders, and form a coalition cabinet named by the military. Frondizi yielded to military pressure to the extent of intervening in five of the provinces won by the Peronists, but failed to gain the support he needed from the other political parties to form a coalition government. The military thereupon removed Frondizi from office in March of 1962 and set up a new provisional government under the president of the Senate, José María Guido.

Supported Peronist Candidate

After leaving the Argentine presidency, Frondizi continued to play an active role in the UCRI until 1964 when he and the minority faction broke away to form the Movement for Integration and Development (MID). The new party's goals were based upon his previous program for political integration and economic development; all reference to Radicalism was dropped. Frondizi and his followers maintained an alliance with Perón, and in the elections of 1973, which opened the door for Perón's brief return to power, Frondizi supported the Peronist candidate for the presidency, Héctor Cámpora.

Frondizi's personal charisma and his policies of economic development had won him a following among the professional and managerial element of Argentina's middle sector, and he remained an important figure in Argentine politics. Frondizi was also respected as an intellectual, reputed to be widely read and an articulate speaker. He wrote several books on Argentine politics and economics. At one time it was thought he was in line to be named economic minister of the Radical party should it be returned to power. Despite speaking out on pubic issues, Frondizi never returned to anything more than marginal prominence.

Frondizi died in Buenos Aires April 18, 1995, of a heart ailment. He was 86. His wife and only daughter died earlier, and Frondizi left no immediate survivors.

Further Reading

Frondizi's role in the Radical Party and the period of his presidency is dealt with in Peter G. Snow's, Argentine Radicalism: The History and Doctrine of the Radical Civic Union (1965). Robert A. Potash, The Army and Politics in Argentina, 1945-1962 (1980) provides a thorough account of Frondizi's relations with the military and his removal from office in 1962. □