Peronist and neoliberal, Carlos Menem dies, the Argentine president who marked a decade

Former Argentine president Carlos Menem (1989-1999) died this Sunday at the age of 90, as confirmed by the Los Arcos Sanatorium in the city of Buenos Aires, where he had been hospitalized since last December 15.

Menem had been transferred to that hospital at the beginning to undergo a prostate medical control and where he was diagnosed with a urinary infection that complicated his heart problems.

On Christmas Eve he was induced into a coma after suffering kidney failure in the midst of his delicate health, although on January 8, Zulema Yoma, Menem’s ex-wife and mother of his daughter Zulemita, both two of his closest people in Today, he told Efe that the ex-president had already come out of the coma and was feeling better, worse on January 19 he got worse again.

The former head of state and also a senator was interned on two other occasions in 2020, although later he returned to participate in various sessions of the Senate virtually, a methodology established during the coronavirus pandemic.

Minutes after entering 2021, Zulemita had tweeted a message with the phrase: “We win 2020”, along with a photo that showed her hands intertwined with those of her father.

Days before, the senator’s daughter regretted that “a great defender of life” could not participate in the debate on the abortion law, which the Senate finally approved on December 30.

A lawyer by profession, Menem was president for two consecutive terms, from 1989 to 1999, after having been governor of La Rioja, his native province, between 1973 and 1976 -year in which he was arrested after the coup that led to the last dictatorship. (1976-1983) – and again from 1983 until he began his presidential campaign for the 1989 elections, which he ended up winning.

His tenure as head of state was marked by the transformation of the economy, with a great commercial opening and an intense process of privatization of public companies, but also by accusations of corruption, which he had to face in court in recent years, as time he served as a senator, a position he held since 2005.

Praised by some and demonized by others, even by some of his fellow politicians, what is clear is that Carlos Menem marked an era.

“Everything I have done, from the different functions that I have performed in my political life, I have done with the conviction and certainty of what was good for the people of the nation,” the former president wrote in his autobiography, published in 2018.

A neoliberal Peronist

Menem was a Peronist. But many of those who adhere to the movement founded by former president Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1955 and 1973-1974), including former presidents Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), harshly questioned his government , by accusing him of promoting a neoliberal economy that they did not consider typical of Peronism.

Syrian parents

Menem was born in 1930 in the province of La Rioja, in northwestern Argentina. His parents were Syrian.

Saúl, her father, had come to Argentina looking for a better future and started working as a street vendor. During a visit to his family in Syria, he met Mohibe, whom he married before starting the trip to Argentina together.

In the town of Anillaco he spent the childhood of the late former president, where his father set up a business with his uncle. When the family finances began to falter, Carlos combined school with help with his father’s work chores.

“With the passage of General Perón through La Rioja I clearly discovered my vocation”

About the end of high school, his political awakening occurred.

“It was with General Perón’s passage through La Rioja that I clearly discovered my vocation,” said the former president in his book, in which he specified that “Perón’s voice, expressions and popular mobilization” captivated him.

After graduating in law, his first professional activities were dedicated to the defense of political prisoners after the coup that Perón suffered in 1955, which even led him to be arrested for the first time.

In 1964, during a trip to Syria, he made a visit to meet the old leader in exile in Madrid, and in Damascus he met Zulema, his future wife, also the daughter of Syrian immigrants in Argentina. They were married in 1966.

Together they had Carlitos -who died while flying in a helicopter in 1995, an event still under investigation- and Zulemita, who was in charge of accompanying his father publicly until his last days and even served as first lady when, already as president, Menem separated from his wife.

Road to the presidency with the ‘Menemóvil’

In the 1973 elections, after the ban on Peronism ended, the Riojan was elected governor of his province, until with the 1976 military coup he was imprisoned for five years.

As a result of an extramarital affair, she had her third son, Carlos Nair.

In 1983, with the return of democracy, Peronism went into crisis by failing to return to the Casa Rosada, but Menem won again in La Rioja and was reelected in 1987, which positioned his name throughout the country.

Thus, with his iconic sideburns, he decided to run for the Presidency and with the “Menemóvil” he toured Argentina along with his candidate for vice president, Eduardo Duhalde. They won the party’s primaries and the 1989 elections.

Commercial opening and ‘crazy life’

Menem began his term in the midst of hyperinflation and the social explosion that had led Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) to advance the elections and the transfer of command by several months, but also with frustrated military uprisings. Controversial were the pardons he signed in favor of both the military who participated in the dictatorship and the leaders of the leftist guerrillas.

During his tenure, while he became a kind of ‘showman’ -remembered is his race at 200 kilometers per hour in his Ferrari, his promises of trips to the stratosphere, the expulsion of his wife and children from the presidential residence or his receptions to Madonna and the Rolling Stones- the economy underwent profound transformations, with a great commercial opening and an intense process of privatization of public companies.

“After decades of inefficiencies and waste, the situation did not give for more”, affirmed.

To defeat inflation, something he did, in 1991 the famous “one-to-one” scheme was implemented, which maintained the parity between the peso and the dollar for more than a decade. Years of “champagne pizza”, as that time of euphoria was later known.

For many, this model, which worked during his first term but in the second – after his reelection in 1995 – showed signs of exhaustion, with rising unemployment, laid the foundations for the serious crisis unleashed in 2001, during the term of conservative Fernando. of the Rúa.

His government also pushed for a constitutional reform in 1994 that included shortening the president’s term from six to four years and admitting immediate reelection.

Causes of corruption

His years in power were also punctuated by allegations of corruption, a time in which the Supreme Court was also accused of forming an “automatic majority” that always ruled in favor of the Executive.

In addition to a case for alleged illicit enrichment that has been open for five decades, Menem was detained in 2001 preventively for six months for the alleged illegal sale of weapons to Croatia and Ecuador, for which he was first convicted but finally acquitted.

He was also sentenced to 4 years in prison for the alleged payment of bonuses during his government, but has never been detained under his jurisdiction as a senator since 2005.

At present, he was also prosecuted for “aggravated malicious havoc” in the case of the explosion of a military factory in the province of Córdoba, in 1995, which left 7 dead and 30 injured.

“These complaints and accusations can only be understood by the bad faith of some, by the joy or falsehood of others or by trying to make the lie reign as truth,” criticized the ex-president, who was also acquitted in causes such as that of the Cover-up of the first investigation into the attack on the AMIA Jewish mutual in Buenos Aires, which left 85 dead in 1994 and remains unpunished.

Resignation in favor of Kirchner

With great divisions in Peronism, Menem ran for the last time in the 2003 elections, and although he won the first round, he gave up competing in the second, which gave the automatic victory to Néstor Kirchner, who appeared as the great favorite.

Before, in 2001, he married for the second time, with the Chilean model Cecilia Bolocco, with whom he had his last child, Máximo Saúl.

In recent years, in addition to being a senator and facing accusations, Menem has maintained a low media profile that contrasted with that of his glory days when he was in power.