Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) Biography » Carlos Saul Menem: 1930—: Political Leader Biography - Longtime Perónist, Served As Governor, Ran For President, Continued Controversies

Carlos Saul Menem: 1930—: Political Leader - Ran For President

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After his release from jail, Menem returned to office as governor of La Rioja in 1983. That same year, the first elected government in ten years took power when Raul Alfonsín was elected president. Alfonsín repealed the amnesty law enacted in the last months of military rule and began to investigate and prosecute some of the most serious crimes. Alfonsín's greatest challenge, however, was to bring the Argentine economy back to stability. In 1985 inflation hit more than 1,000% percent annually; as unreal as that figure seemed, it climbed even higher, with reports of 3,000 percent at one time.

Against this backdrop of social and economic unrest, Menem announced his candidacy for the presidential elections scheduled for May of 1989. Riding a wave of popularity, Menem had been reelected as La Rioja's governor in 1987, and he now pointed to his past record as evidence that he could solve the nation's problems. On May 14, 1989, Menem was duly elected—the first time in over sixty years that one elected government had been succeeded by another in Argentina—and the PJ gained control of both houses of Congress.

At the time of Menem's election, monthly inflation stood at almost seventy-nine percent, a rate that neared two-hundred percent by July. With strikes and riots breaking out all over the country, Alfonsín abruptly resigned from office in July of 1989 and Menem's administration took over a few months early. While it was expected that the new president would fill his cabinet with Perónists, he startled many by appointing free-market reformer Domingo Cavallo as his finance minister. Under Cavallo's insistence, the government began to sell off state-owned enterprises and limited inflation by linking the Argentine peso to the American dollar. Menem also attempted to impose spending limits on the government, although this strategy was much more difficult to implement. The most controversial move of Menem's first term, however, came with his decision in October of 1989 to pardon almost three hundred of those convicted or suspected of human rights violations during the Dirty War.

Menem was also criticized for allowing corruption to continue during his administration and for failing to rein in government spending, which doubled during his terms in office. With the peso tied to the dollar, the government resorted to borrowing to pay its way, and foreign debt ballooned to over $142 billion under Menem's rule. Menem remained popular enough, however, to win reelection to a second term in 1994. During his second and last consecutive term, Menem continued to increase government spending and privatize certain state-owned enterprises.

During Menem's last year in office, cracks began to appear in the Argentine economy that showed how little his reforms had reshaped the country's economy. With the peso pegged at an artificially high rate, exports of Argentine products were stifled and labor costs remained high. Menem's feeble attempts to impose austerity measures also meant that the government maintained a large foreign debt, an enormous liability once the global economy slowed down in the late 1990s. As Menem left office, Argentina's gross domestic product growth rate plunged into negative territory and unemployment climbed to over fourteen percent. By 2000 an estimated forty percent of Argentine' people lived below the official poverty line.

Carlos Saul Menem: 1930—: Political Leader - Continued Controversies [next] [back] Carlos Saul Menem: 1930—: Political Leader - Served As Governor

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