Carlos Menem

Carlos Menem
Carlos Saúl Menem
Carlos Menem as president
Senator of Argentina
For La Rioja
Assumed office
December 10, 2005
Serving with Ada Maza
Teresita Quintela
50th President of Argentina
In office
July 8, 1989 – December 10, 1999
Vice President Eduardo Duhalde (1989–1991)
None (1991–1995)
Carlos Ruckauf (1995–1999)
Preceded by Raúl Alfonsín
Succeeded by Fernando de la Rúa
Governor of La Rioja
In office
May 25, 1973 – March 24, 1976
December 10, 1983 – July 8, 1989
Vice Governor Bernabé Arnaudo (1983–1989)
Preceded by Military Junta (1973, 1983)
Succeeded by Military Junta (1976)
Bernabé Arnaudo (1989)
Personal details
Born July 2, 1930 (1930-07-02) (age 81)
Anillaco, La Rioja
Nationality Argentine
Political party Justicialist
Spouse(s) Zulema Yoma (1966–91) (divorced)
Cecilia Bolocco (2001–07) (divorced)
Relations Saúl Menem
Mohibe Akil
Children Zulema Menem
Carlos Saúl Facundo Menem
Carlos Nair Menem
Máximo Saúl Menem
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholicism (born a Muslim)[1]

Carlos Saúl Menem (born July 2, 1930) is an Argentine politician who was President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999. He is currently an Argentine National Senator for La Rioja Province.


Early life

Carlos Saúl Menem Akil was born in 1940 in Anillaco, a small town in the mountainous north of La Rioja Province, Argentina. His parents were immigrants from the Syrian village of Yabrud (part of the Ottoman Empire when they departed), and as a young man, he joined his father as a traveling salesman dealing in feed and sundry items.[2] Menem enrolled in the National University of Córdoba, and received the degree of "Abogado", equivalent to a Bachelor of Laws, in 1955. As a Law student, he became a vocal Peronist, and after President Juan Perón's overthrow that year, he was briefly incarcerated. He later joined the Peronist Party's successor, the Justicialist Party, and was elected President of its La Rioja Province chapter, in 1983.

Governor of la Rioja

Menem after his 1973 victory.
Governor Menem in 1983.

1st term (1973–1976)

Menem was elected Governor of La Rioja in 1973, a prominent post that left him exposed after the overthrow of President Isabel Martínez de Perón in March 1976. Having been close to La Rioja Bishop Enrique Angelelli (a Third World Priest opposed by much of Argentina's conservative Roman Catholic Church), he was imprisoned by the military junta in Formosa Province until 1981, reportedly tortured in the process.[3]

2nd and 3rd terms (1983–1989)

In October 1983, with the collapse of military rule, Menem was elected once again as Governor of La Rioja, and reelected in 1987. During this second turn at the Governor's desk, Menem implemented generous corporate tax exemptions, attracting the first sizable presence of light manufacturing his province had ever seen. The pragmatic Governor Menem, nevertheless, kept provincial payrolls well-padded.[4]


The 1989 election

Campaigning as a maverick within his own party, he defeated longtime Peronist leader Antonio Cafiero in the 1988 primary elections and was elected President on May 14, 1989, succeeding Raúl Alfonsín. His campaign was centered on vague promises of a "productive revolution" and a "salariazo" (jargon for big salary increases), aimed at the working class, the traditional constituents of the Peronist Party. Jacques de Mahieu, a French ideologue of the Peronist movement (and former Vichy Collaborationist), was photographed campaigning for Menem.[5]

Menem was originally slated to take office on December 10. However, amid a massive economic downturn, Alfonsin opted to transfer power to Menem five months early, on July 8. Menem's accession marked the first time since Hipólito Yrigoyen took office in 1916 that an incumbent government peacefully surrendered power to a member of the opposition.


Presidential inaugural, July 8, 1989.

Menem assumed duties in the midst of a major economic crisis which included hyperinflation and recession. After a failed stabilization program sponsored by Bunge y Born (a leading agribusiness firm), and another one involving the conversion of time deposits into government bonds, newly-appointed Finance Minister Domingo Cavallo introduced a series of reforms in 1991 and pegged the value of the Argentine peso to the US$. This Convertibility Plan was followed by a wholesale privatization of utilities (including the oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), the post office, telephone, gas, electricity and water utilities). A massive influx of foreign direct investment funds helped tame inflation (from 5,000% a year in 1989 to single digits by 1993) and improved long-stagnant productivity, though at the cost of considerable unemployment.

Menem's successful turnaround of the economy made the country one of the top performers of the developing countries in the world. Argentina's GDP (below 1973 levels when Menem took office) increased 35% from 1990 to 1994 and fixed investment, by 150%.[6] Negotiations with Brazil resulted in the Mercosur customs union, in March 1991, and on November 14, he addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, being one of only three Argentine presidents who had that distinction (together with Raúl Alfonsín and Arturo Frondizi). Menem was reelected to the presidency by a large majority in the 1995 elections.

The early success of the dollar peg (when the dollar was falling) was followed by increasing economic difficulties when the dollar began to rise from 1995 onwards in international markets. High external debt also caused increasing problems as financial crises affecting other countries (the Tequila Crisis in Mexico, the East Asian financial crisis, the Russian financial crisis in 1998) led to higher interest rates for Argentina as well. At the end of his term, Argentina's country risk premium was a low 6.10 percentage points above yield on comparable U.S. Treasuries.

Some years after the end of Menem's term, the combination of fixed-rate convertibility and high fiscal deficits proved unsustainable, despite massive loan support from the International Monetary Fund, and had to be abandoned in 2002, with disastrous effects on the Argentine economy. Though most of the State enterprises privatized during his tenure remain in private hands, perhaps the most significant economic legacy of his administration, private pension funds, have since largely been returned to the public sector. First licensed in 1994, these grew to over us$ 30 billion in assets, but suffered large losses during the 1998–2002 crisis, and by 2008, depended on subsidies to cover minimum monthly pensions. Most affiliates, moreover, had stopped making contributions.[7] The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the problem, and the funds were largely replaced by the public social security system in late 2008.[8]


President Menem in a 1992 address outlining his plans for the reform of the nation's educational system, as well as for the privatization of the YPF oil concern, and of the pension system.

Menem's presidency was initially bolstered by the significant economic recovery in evidence following Cavallo's appointment as Economy Minister, and his Justicialist Party enjoyed victories in mid-term elections in 1991 and 1993, as well as in his 1995 campaign for reelection. Menem's government re-established relations with the United Kingdom, suspended since the Falklands War, within months of taking office. He also earned plaudits for resolving territorial disputes with neighboring Chile, and during his administration, over 20 border issues with Chile – including the arbitration of the especially serious Laguna del Desierto dispute – were peacefully solved. In domestic policy, programs were created for improving AIDS awareness, flood prevention, vaccination, and improving child nutrition.[9] In addition, a Social Plan was launched which increased spending on antipoverty programs, while a number of social programs executed by other government agencies targeted poor Argentines.[10] These policies arguably had a positive impact on poverty reduction, with the percentage of Argentines estimated to living in poverty falling during Menem's first term as president.[11]

In 1994, after a political agreement (the Olivos Pact) with the Radical Civic Union party leader, former president Raúl Alfonsín, Menem succeeded in having the Constitution modified to allow presidential re-election, so that he could run for office once again in 1995. The new Constitution, however, introduced decisive checks and balances to presidential power. It made the Mayor of Buenos Aires an elective position (previously the office belonged to a presidential appointee and was in control of a huge budget), to be lost to the opposition in 1996; the president of the Central Bank and the Director of the AFIP (Federal Tax & Customs Central Agency) could only be removed with the Congress's approval. It also created the ombudsman position, as well as a board to propose new judicial candidates.

His tenure suffered, however, from local economic fallout due to the Mexican peso crisis of 1995, and became tainted with repeated accusations of corruption. His handling of the investigations of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center was often criticised as being dishonest and superficial. He is suspected of diverting the investigation from the "Iranian clue", which would lead to the responsibility of that country in the attack.

One of the most criticized measures of his administration was the pardon he granted on December 29, 1990, to Jorge Videla, Emilio Massera, Leopoldo Galtieri and other leaders of the 1976–83 dictatorship convicted in the 1985 Trial of the Juntas, and some guerrilla leaders as well, on the grounds of "national reconciliation". This action sparked a protest of nearly 50,000 people in Buenos Aires. Former President Raúl Alfonsín called it "the saddest day in Argentine history."[12] His neoliberal policies were also criticized by the majority of the population and by some in the Catholic Church, and gave rise to the Piquetero movement of unemployed workers. These mounting problems and a rise in crime rates helped lead to the president's first electoral defeat, during the 1997 mid-term elections.

With regards to the military, Menem ordered the forceful repression of a politically-motivated uprising by a far-right figure, Col. Mohamed Alí Seineldín, on December 3, 1990, and thus ended the military's involvement in the country's political life. Menem also effected drastic cuts to the military budget, and appointed Lt. Gen. Martín Balza as the Army's General Chief of Staff (head of the military hierarchy); Balza, a man of strong democratic convictions and a vocal critic of the Falklands War, had stood up for the legitimate government in every attempted coup d'état throughout his senior career, and gave the first institutional self-criticism about the Armed Forces' involvement in the 1976 coup and the ensuing reign of terror. Following the brutal death of a conscript, Menem abolished conscription in 1994, decisively ending a military prerogative over society and its self-perceived role as an institution that it "made men out of boys".


Office Holder
President Carlos Menem
Vice President Eduardo Duhalde (1989–91)
Carlos Ruckauf (1995–99)
Chief of Ministers' Cabinet Eduardo Bauzá (1995–96)
Jorge Alberto Rodríguez (1996–99)
Ministry of the Interior Eduardo Bauzá (1989–90)
Julio Mera Figueroa (1990–91)
José Luis Manzano (1991–92)
Gustavo Béliz (1992–93)
Carlos Ruckauf (1993–95)
Carlos Corach (1995–99)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Domingo Cavallo (1989–91)
Guido di Tella (1991–99)
Ministry of Defense Ítalo Argentino Lúder (1989)
Humberto Romero (1989–90)
Guido di Tella (1990–91)
Antonio Erman González (1991–93)
Oscar Camilión (1993–96)
Jorge Domínguez (1996–99)
Ministry of the Economy Miguel Ángel Roig (1989)
Néstor Rapanelli (1989)
Antonio Erman González (1989–91)
Domingo Cavallo (1991–96)
Roque Fernández (1996–99)
Ministry of Justice Antonio Salonia (1989–91)
León Arslanián (1991–92)
Jorge Maiorano (1992–94)
Rodolfo Barra (1994–96)
Elías Jassán (1996–97)
Raúl Granillo Ocampo (1997–99)
Ministry of Labor Jorge Triaca (1989–91)
Rodolfo Díaz (1991–92)
Enrique Rodríguez (1992–93)
José Armando Caro Figueroa (1993–97)
Antonio Erman González (1997–99)
Ministry of Social Assistance
and Public Health
Julio Corzo (1989–93)
Antonio Erman González (1993)
Eduardo Bauzá (1993–95)
Alberto Kohan (1995–96)
Avelino Porto (1996–98)
Julio César Aráoz (1998)
Alberto Mazza (1998–99)
Ministry of Education and Culture Antonio Salonia (1989–92)
Jorge Alberto Rodríguez (1992–96)
Susana Decibe (1996–99)
Ministry of Public Services Roberto Dromi (1989–91)


Continuing political career

Menem and U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen with Cohen's wife, Janet, on November 15, 1999.

Menem's attempt to run for a third term in 1999 was unsuccessful, as it was ruled to be unconstitutional. Opposition candidate Fernando de la Rúa defeated Eduardo Duhalde, the nominee of Menem's party, and succeeded Menem as President.

Menem tried again four years later, winning the greatest number of votes, 24%, in the first round of the April 27, 2003 presidential election. This was far from the 45% required for election (or 40% if the margin of victory is 10 or more percentage points), and so a second-round run-off vote between Menem and second-place finisher and fellow Peronist Néstor Kirchner, who had gotten 22%, was scheduled for May 18.

However, by this time Menem had become very unpopular, and the consensus of most polls was that he faced almost certain defeat by Kirchner in the runoff. A few polls showed Menem losing by 40 points. Certain that he was about to face a humiliating electoral defeat, Menem withdrew his candidacy on May 14, effectively handing the presidency to Kirchner.

In June 2004 Menem announced that he had founded a new faction within the Justicialist Party, called "People's Peronism," and stated his ambition to run in the 2007 election.

In 2005, the press reported that he was trying to make an alliance with his former Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo to fight in the parliamentary elections. The alliance was apparently frustrated; Menem said that there had been only preliminary conversations. In the October 23 elections, Menem won the minority seat in the Senate representing his province of birth. This was viewed as a catastrophic defeat, signaling the end of his political dominance in La Rioja, since the two senators for the majority were won by President Kirchner's faction, locally led by former Menemist governor Ángel Maza. It was the first time in 30 years that Menem lost an election.

Menem ran for Governor of La Rioja in August 2007, but was defeated, receiving third place with about 22% of the vote.[14] Following this defeat in his home province, he withdrew his candidacy for president. At the end of 2009 he announced that he intends to run for the presidency again in the 2011 elections.[15]

Corruption charges

On June 7, 2001, Menem was arrested over an arms export scandal relating to exports to Ecuador and Croatia in 1991 and 1996, and remained under house arrest until November. He appeared before a judge in late August 2002 and denied all charges. It was hinted that Menem held more than US$ $10 million in Swiss bank accounts. However, the Swiss banks and authorities denied these allegations.

Menem and his second wife Cecilia Bolocco, who had had a child since their marriage in 2001, moved to Chile. Argentine judicial authorities repeatedly requested Menem's extradition to face embezzlement charges, but this was rejected by the Chilean Supreme Court, as under Chilean law people cannot be extradited for questioning.

On December 22, 2004, he returned to Argentina after his arrest warrants were cancelled. He still faces charges of embezzlement and failing to declare illegal funds outside of Argentina.

In August 2008, it was announced Menem was under investigation for his role in the 1995 Río Tercero explosion, which is alleged to have been part of the arms scandal involving Croatia and Ecuador.[16]

In December 2008, the German multinational Siemens agreed to pay an $800 million fine to the United States government, and approximately €700 million to the German government, to settle allegations of bribery.[17] The settlement revealed that Menem received about US$2 million in bribes from Siemens in exchange for awarding the national ID card and passport production contract to Siemens; Menem denied the charges.[18]

Honours and awards

  • Knight Grand Cross with Gold Collar of the Order of Manuel Amador Guerrero (Panama)
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Grand Order of King Tomislav ("For outstanding achievements in promoting the development of friendship and fruitful cooperation in political, cultural and economic development between the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Argentina, and in promoting peace, democracy, stability and international cooperation in the world based on the principles of the UN Charter and the provisions of international law." – January 5, 1995
  • Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (1995)


  1. ^ until 1994 the Constitution of Argentina required the President to be a Roman Catholic
  2. ^ National Geographic. December 1994.
  3. ^ Andersen, Martin. Dossier Secreto. Westview Press, 1993.
  4. ^ Argentina: From Insolvency to Growth. World Bank Press, 1993.
  5. ^ La Odessa que creó Perón, Pagina/12, December 15, 2002 (interview with Uki Goni) (Spanish)
  6. ^ "Ministerio de Economía y Producción – República Argentina". Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  7. ^ Clarín (October 20, 2008)
  8. ^ SAFJP
  9. ^ Global Paradox by John Naisbitt
  10. ^ The politics of market reform in fragile democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela by Kurt Gerhard Weyland
  11. ^
  12. ^ New York Times, December 30, 1990, page 9
  13. ^ "Argentina: Ministries, etc.". 
  14. ^ "Former Argentine President Menem loses gubernatorial race", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), August 20, 2007.
  15. ^ "Menem se anota en la pelea presidencial". Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  16. ^ "Americas | Menem probed over 1995 explosion". BBC News. 2008-08-16. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  17. ^ Crawford, David (2008-12-16). "''Wall Street Journal''". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  18. ^ (AFP) – Dec 17, 2008 (2008-12-17). "Google News". Google. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Military Junta
Governor of La Rioja
Succeeded by
Military Junta
Succeeded by
Bernarbé Arnaudo
Preceded by
Raúl Alfonsín
President of Argentina
Succeeded by
Fernando de la Rúa

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