Argentina is in mourning: former President Carlos Menem dies

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem dies President Alberto Fernández sent his condolences Menem was 90 years old Carlos Menem dies. T...

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FOTO The Associated Press
  • Former Argentine President Carlos Menem dies
  • President Alberto Fernández sent his condolences
  • Menem was 90 years old

Carlos Menem dies. The ex-president Argentinian Carlos Menem, a charismatic and power-loving Peronist who was plagued by several scandals in both his public and private life, died on Sunday, it was officially reported. He was 90 years old.

President Alberto Fernández said in his account Twitter that “with deep regret” he learned of the death of Menem, a close ally of the United States who ruled the South American nation between 1989-1999.

“Always elected in a democracy, he was Governor of La Rioja, President of the Nation and National Senator. During the dictatorship he was persecuted and imprisoned ”, highlighted Fernández.

Carlos Menem dies

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The government decreed from that date three days of national mourning in Argentina for the death of the former Peronist ruler.

The causes of death were not immediately specified, although the former president had been hospitalized since mid-December for a urinary infection at the Los Arcos sanatorium in Buenos Aires, where he died.

During his ten years in office, Menem implemented an economic plan based on Washington’s neoliberal recipes. But during his two terms, several corruption scandals also broke out.

The former president had proposed to insert Argentina into the first world, although according to analysts he failed in his objective since when he left power he had already started a strong economic and social decline that two years later ended up causing the resignation of his successor, Fernando de la Rúa , at the end of 2001.

Menem was born on July 2, 1930 in the town of Anillaco, in the northern province of La Rioja, into a family of Syrian Muslim immigrants, but in his youth he converted to Catholicism.

He received his law degree from the University of Córdoba and shortly afterwards joined Peronism, then banned by the military who had overthrown the president and founder of that force, Juan Domingo Perón, in 1955.

More than a party, Peronism is a political movement that emerged in the mid-1940s with social justice as one of its principles and unionism as its backbone.

Throughout history, leaders with conservative and center-left ideologies have coexisted within it.

Menem himself ranged skillfully from populist and nationalist positions to neoliberal positions as soon as he came to power in 1989.

Carlos Menem dies

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Menem was elected governor of his province for the first time in 1973.

The 1976 military coup led to his arrest in several places, the last one in Las Lomitas, in the northern province of Formosa, where he was under house arrest.

In 1981 he was released and after the arrival of democracy in 1983 he was elected governor of La Rioja again.

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In 1988 and through a populist speech he obtained the presidential candidacy of the Popular Justicialist Front, a coalition of the Justicialist Party (Peronist) with other political forces. In the May 1989 elections, he was elected president with 47 percent of the votes.

After assuming the mandate in July of that year, after the anticipated departure from power of his predecessor Raúl Alfonsín due to the economic crisis, he aligned himself with the United States, a policy that his foreign minister Guido Di Tella later defined as “carnal relations”.

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Menem opened a stage of neoliberal reforms that included the deregulation of the economy and the privatization of companies, especially public services, which led to reports of irregularities and corruption.

After a period of economic stagnation and hyperinflation, he appointed Domingo Cavallo as Minister of the Economy, who in 1991 launched a monetary policy based on the parity between the peso and the dollar known as “convertibility” that stopped the rise in prices. stabilized the economy and attracted investment.

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The other side was deindustrialization and the growth of foreign debt.

“I don’t know if I’m going to get the country out of the economic problem, but I’m sure I’m going to make a country more fun,” Menem said on one occasion.

The ex-president, who liked to rub shoulders with celebrities, received the Rolling Stones and Madonna in the government house.

He also liked luxury and the good life. During his Presidency, he received from a businessman a red Ferrari that he showed exultant as he assured the cameras “it is mine, mine and mine … Why am I going to donate it?”

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He increased the number of members of the Supreme Court from five to nine, in which according to the former president’s detractors there was an “automatic majority” related to the government, and restored diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, frozen since the war for sovereignty of the Falkland Islands that Argentina lost in 1982.

In what was considered a betrayal by human rights organizations, Menem ordered in 1989 and 1990 the pardon of the former leaders of the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985.

The same measure was taken with members of guerrilla organizations who were at large, detained or convicted.

The pardons were rejected by broad political sectors, including Peronism, and by a large percentage of Argentines. His decision, he explained then, sought to achieve national reconciliation.

During his tenure, Argentina was the victim of two bloody terrorist attacks against Jewish targets: the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994. Both caused more than a hundred deaths and so far neither has been clarified.

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Menem promoted in 1994 a controversial reform of the constitution that enabled him to seek re-election a year later.

Economic and monetary stability, despite the fact that unemployment had risen to more than 18 percent, assured him the victory.

Four years after leaving power, Menem again sought the Presidency. In the general elections of 2003 he was the most voted with 24 percent in the first round, but he decided not to appear for the ballot against Nestor Kirchner, a left-wing Peronist, since the polls predicted a resounding defeat.

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Menem faced several processes in justice.

In 2001, he was detained for several months as the alleged leader of an illicit association for the illegal sale of Argentine arms to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s, when international embargoes were imposed on those countries due to a conflict between the Andean country and Peru and the war of the Balkans.

Although he was released, in 2013 he became the first former president in recent democratic history to be convicted by justice, after a court sentenced him to seven years in prison as a co-perpetrator of aggravated smuggling.

Elected senator in 2005, Menem enjoyed privileges that protected him from going to jail until the day of his death.

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In 2018, the highest criminal court in the country acquitted Menem on the grounds that the “principle of reasonable time” had not been met to reach a final conviction.

Menem was also tried for the alleged cover-up of those responsible for the AMIA attack, but was found not guilty in a trial in 2019.

The former president had to give explanations about the explosion of a military factory in the province of Córdoba in 1995, which caused seven deaths and which, according to the complainants, sought to hide the lack of weapons that had been sent to Ecuador and Croatia.

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In February 2014, an appeals court reversed the prosecution for lack of evidence.

In 2015 he was convicted of embezzlement and in 2019 for the irregular sale of a public property to the Rural Society. Both sentences were appealed.

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The former ruler’s family life was as hectic as his political career.

In 1966 he married the Argentine Zulema Yoma and they had two children: Carlos Facundo, who died at 26 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed, and Zulema María Eva.

The marriage dissolved amid a scandal that included the eviction in 1990 of the then-first lady from the presidential residence.

At first, Menem did not follow up on his ex-wife’s early complaints that the death of his son in 1995 had been an attack.

Carlos Menem dies

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In 2014, however, she testified before a judge that her son had been murdered. The investigation of the case is ongoing.

Menem’s singleness, considered a “Don Juan” by his compatriots, lasted until 2001, when at age 70 he married Chilean television presenter and former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco, who was 36. The couple had a son, Máximo . Both lived together for a few years and in 2011 they divorced.

Menem also had an extramarital son with the teacher and later Peronist deputy Martha Meza, whom he met when he was confined in Formosa during the dictatorship.

Carlos Nair Meza was recognized by Menem only when the young man was 25 years old.

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