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Carlos Menem

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Carlos Menem

Carlos Menem
Official presidential portrait of Menem
47th 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
National Senator of Argentina
Assumed office
December 10, 2005
Constituency La Rioja
Governor of La Rioja
In office
December 10, 1983 – July 8, 1989
Vice Governor Bernabé Arnaudo
Preceded by Military Junta
Succeeded by Bernabé Arnaudo
In office
May 25, 1973 – March 24, 1976
Preceded by Military Junta
Succeeded by Military Junta
Personal details
Born Carlos Saúl Menem
(1930-07-02) July 2, 1930
Anillaco, La Rioja
Nationality Argentine
Political party Justicialist
Spouse(s) Zulema Yoma (1966–91) (divorced)
Cecilia Bolocco (2001–11) (divorced)
Relations Saúl Menem
Mohibe Akil
Children Zulema Menem
Carlos Saúl Facundo Menem
Carlos Nair Menem
Máximo Saúl Menem
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic (former Sunni Islam)[1]

Carlos Saúl Menem (born July 2, 1930) is an Argentine politician who was President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999. He has been a Senator for La Rioja Province since 2005.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and education 1.1
  • Political career 2
    • Governor of la Rioja 2.1
      • 1st term (1973–1976) 2.1.1
      • 2nd and 3rd terms (1983–1989) 2.1.2
    • Presidential election 2.2
    • Presidency 2.3
      • Economy 2.3.1
      • Politics 2.3.2
      • Death of his son 2.3.3
    • Continuing political career 2.4
    • Corruption charges 2.5
      • Cabinet 2.5.1
    • Honours and awards 2.6
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Early life and education

Carlos Saul Menem was born in 1930 in Anillaco, a small town in the mountainous north of La Rioja Province, Argentina. Both of Menem's parents were Syrian nationals who had emigrated from the town of Yabroud in present-day southwestern Syria.[2] As a young man, Menem joined his father as a traveling salesman dealing in feed and sundry items.[3]

Menem attended the National University of Córdoba in Argentina's second largest city. In 1955, he became a Lawyer. While a law student, he became a vocal Peronist.

Political career

Menem returned to Argentina after graduating from law school. After President Juan Perón's overthrow in 1955, Menem was briefly incarcerated. He later joined the successor to the Peronist Party, the Justicialist Party. He was elected president of its chapter in La Rioja Province in 1973.

Governor of la Rioja

1st term (1973–1976)

Elected governor of military junta in Formosa Province until 1981, and was reportedly tortured in the process.[4]

2nd and 3rd terms (1983–1989)

In October 1983, after the collapse of military rule, Menem was elected as Governor of La Rioja Province and reelected for a second term in 1987. During this second turn at the Governor's desk, Menem implemented generous corporate tax exemptions, attracting the first light manufacturing businesses for his province. The pragmatic Governor Menem also kept provincial payrolls well-padded.[5]

Presidential election

Campaigning as a maverick within his party, Menem defeated longtime Peronist leader Antonio Cafiero in the 1988 primary elections. That year he filed a libel suit against the journalist Jacobo Timerman, who had criticized his proposal to make the Isla Martin Garcia a free port, saying that it would encourage drug trafficking. The case was not ruled on by the Supreme Court until 1996, which ruled against Timerman.[6]

Menem was elected President on May 14, 1989, with 47.5% of the vote, defeating the Radical Civic Union candidate by a substantial margin. His campaign promised a "productive revolution" and a "salariazo" (jargon for big salary increases), to attract 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.[7]

Menem was scheduled to take office on December 10. Amid a massive economic downturn, outgoing president Raúl Alfonsín chose 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.



The economic crisis included hyperinflation and recession. After a failed stabilization program sponsored by Bunge y Born (a leading agribusiness firm), and another involving the conversion of time deposits into government bonds, the newly appointed Finance Minister, Domingo Cavallo, introduced a series of reforms in 1991 with a fixed exchange rate tying the Argentine peso to the US dollar. This Convertibility Plan was followed by privatization of utilities (including the oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), the post office, telephone, gas, electricity and water utilities). A dramatic 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 in the world of the developing countries. Argentina's GDP (below 1973 levels when Menem took office) increased 35% from 1990 to 1994 and fixed investment, by 150%.[8] Negotiations with Brazil resulted in the Mercosur customs union in March 1991. On November 14 that year, Menem addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, one of only three Argentine presidents to do so (others were Raúl Alfonsín and Arturo Frondizi).

With these successes, 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. 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. By the end of Menem's term, Argentina's country risk premium was a low 6.10 percentage points above yield on comparable US Treasuries.

In the years immediately following Menem's term, the combination of fixed-rate convertibility and high fiscal deficits proved unsustainable, despite massive loan support from the International Monetary Fund. It was abandoned in 2002, with disastrous effects on the Argentine economy. Most of the State enterprises privatized during his tenure remain in private hands.

But private pension funds, perhaps the most significant economic legacy of his administration, 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. By 2008, they depended on subsidies to cover minimum monthly pensions. Most affiliates, moreover, had stopped making contributions.[9] The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the problem. The funds were largely replaced by the public social security system in late 2008.[10]


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 following Cavallo's appointment as Economy Minister. 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. His administration peacefully solved more than over 20 border issues with Chile, including the arbitration of the especially serious Laguna del Desierto dispute.

In domestic policy, his administration created programs to improve AIDS awareness, increased flood prevention, vaccination, and improved child nutrition.[11] In addition, his government launched a Social Plan to increase spending on antipoverty programs, while other social programs addressed needs for poor Argentines.[12] These policies arguably had a positive impact on poverty reduction, with the percentage of Argentines estimated to be living in poverty falling during Menem's first term as president.[13] The Argentine quota law, proposed by the UCR, increased the number of women in the Argentine Congress.

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. He ran for office once again in 1995.

The new Constitution also introduced decisive checks and balances to presidential power. It made the Mayor of Buenos Aires an elective position (previously the office was designated for political appointees, who controlled a huge budget in the capital). The opposition candidate was elected as mayor in 1996. The president of the Central Bank and the Director of the AFIP (Federal Tax & Customs Central Agency), while political appointees, could be removed only with the approval of Congress. The new constitution created an ombudsman position, and a board to review and propose new judicial candidates.

Menem's tenure suffered most from local economic fallout due to the Mexican peso crisis of 1995. It became tainted by repeated accusations by opponents of corruption. Menem administration's handling of the investigations of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires were criticised as being dishonest and superficial. He is suspected of diverting the investigation from clues suggesting Iranian involvement, to avoid engaging with that power over the attacks.

Menem was strongly criticized for his 1976–83 dictatorship responsible for government terrorism and the disappearance of an estimated 15,000 political prisoners. They were convicted in the 1985 Trial of the Juntas. He also pardoned some guerrilla leaders on the grounds of national reconciliation. Nearly 50,000 people gathered in protest in Buenos Aires. Former President Raúl Alfonsín called it "the saddest day in Argentine history."[14]

The majority of the population criticized Menem's neoliberal policies, as did some in the Catholic Church. Opponents among unemployed workers developed the Piquetero movement. Some economists said his financial policies were anti-liberal.[15] These mounting problems and a rise in crime rates contributed to defeat for his party during the 1997 mid-term elections, the first time his administration faltered.

On December 3, 1990, Menem had ordered the forceful repression of a politically motivated uprising by a far-right figure, Col. Mohamed Alí Seineldín, ending the military's involvement in the country's political life. The president 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. He 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.

Death of his son

Carlos Menem Jr., son of the president, died in a helicopter accident on March 15, 1995. He was 26 years old. His death remains a mystery, but his father and mother, Zulema Yoma de Menem, suspect he was murdered. Roberto Locles, a ballistics expert, believes that "Carlitos" died in an attempted assassination. [16]

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 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 ran in 2003 and won the greatest number of votes, 24%, in the first round of the April 27, 2003 presidential election, but votes were split among numerous parties. 45% is required for election (or 40% if the margin of victory is 10 or more percentage points). 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.

By that time, Menem had become very unpopular. Polls predicted that he faced almost certain defeat by Kirchner in the runoff. At least one poll showed Menem losing by as much as 50 points.[17] To avoid 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." He announced his intention 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. Menem said that there had been only preliminary conversations and an alliance did not result.

In the October 23, 2005 elections, Menem won the minority seat in the Senate representing his province of birth. The two seats allocated to the majority were won by President Kirchner's faction, locally led by Ángel Maza, a former governor allied with Menem.

Menem ran for Governor of La Rioja in August 2007, but was defeated. He finished in third place with about 22% of the vote.[18] This was viewed as a catastrophic defeat, signaling the end of his political dominance in La Rioja. It was the first time in 30 years that Menem lost an election. Following this defeat in his home province, he withdrew his candidacy for president. At the end of 2009 he announced that he intended to run for the presidency again in the 2011 elections.[19]

Corruption charges

On June 7, 2001, Menem was arrested over a weapons export scandal. It was based on exports to Ecuador and Croatia in 1991 and 1996. He was held under house arrest until November. He appeared before a judge in late August 2002 and denied all charges. Rumors flew that Menem held more than US$ $10 million in Swiss bank accounts but 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. This request was rejected by the Chilean Supreme Court as under Chilean law, people cannot be extradited for questioning.

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

In August 2008, BBC reported that Menem was under investigation for his role in the 1995 Río Tercero explosion, which is alleged to have been part of the weapons scandal involving Croatia and Ecuador.[20]

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.[21] The settlement revealed that Menem had 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.[22]

On March 31, 2012, Menem was ordered to stand trial for obstruction of justice in a probe of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center that killed 85 people. Menem is accused of covering up evidence linking the attack to Hezbollah and Iran;[23][24] no trial date was set.

Following an Appeals Court ruling that found Menem guilty of aggravated smuggling, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on June 13, 2013, for his role in illegally smuggling weapons to Ecuador and Croatia; his position as senator earned him immunity from incarceration, and his advanced age (82) afforded him the possibility of house arrest. His Defense Minister during the weapons sales, Oscar Camilión, was concurrently sentenced to 5 and a half years.[25]


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)

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)
  • Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (United Kingdom)
  • Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great (Lithuania, 1996-03-07)


  1. ^ "Carlos S. Menem", National Geographic, December 1994. He was raised Muslim but converted to the Catholic faith, as did his son. Until the its 1994 reform, the Argentine constitution used to require that all Presidents be Roman Catholic. He and his son left Sunni Islam to become Roman Catholics. This may have been partly due to Argentine law that required the president to be a Roman Catholic. His wife Zulema did not convert and remained a Muslim. This too reveals that his conversion was for reasons of expediency.
  2. ^ Information Services on Latin America (Oakland, Calif.) (1990), p. 300 Yabroud, 50 miles north of Damascus, is now recognized for just one thing — being the hometown of the parents of Argentine President Carlos Menem.
  3. ^ "Carlos S. Menem", National Geographic, December 1994. He was raised Muslim but converted to the Catholic faith, as did his son. Until the its 1994 reform, the Argentine constitution used to require that all Presidents be Roman Catholic. He and his son left Sunni Islam to become Roman Catholics. This may have been partly due to Argentine law that required the president to be a Roman Catholic. His wife Zulema did not convert and remained a Muslim. This too reveals that his conversion was for reasons of expediency.
  4. ^ Andersen, Martin. Dossier Secreto. Westview Press, 1993.
  5. ^ Argentina: From Insolvency to Growth, Washington, DC: World Bank Press, 1993.
  6. ^ Juan Jesús Aznarez, "El Supremo argentino manda detener a Timerman, denunciado por Menem", El Pais, 30 March 1996, accessed 4 June 2013
  7. ^ "La Odessa que creó Perón", Pagina/12, December 15, 2002 (interview with Uki Goni) (Spanish)
  8. ^ "Ministerio de Economía y Producción – República Argentina". Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  9. ^ Clarín, 20 October 2008
  10. ^ SAFJP
  11. ^ Global Paradox by John Naisbitt
  12. ^ The Politics of Market Reform in Fragile Democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela by Kurt Gerhard Weyland
  13. ^ [1], World Bank, 27 June 1995
  14. ^ New York Times, December 30, 1990, page 9
  15. ^ """Alberto Benegas Lynch: "Menem fue un modelo de antiliberalismo. La Nación. June 6, 2004. 
  16. ^ A ballistics expert is sure that Carlos Menem Jr. died by an assassination attempt" (Spanish)""". Cadena 3. Sep 20, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Menem pierde el invicto y la fama". Página/12. 
  18. ^ "Former Argentine President Menem loses gubernatorial race", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), 20 August 2007
  19. ^ "Menem se anota en la pelea presidencial". Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  20. ^ "Americas | Menem probed over 1995 explosion". BBC News. 2008-08-16. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  21. ^ Crawford, David (2008-12-16). 'Wall Street Journal''"'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  22. ^ (AFP) – Dec 17, 2008 (2008-12-17). "Google News". Google. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  23. ^ "Argentina's Carlos Menem faces bombing trial". BBC News. 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  24. ^ "Ex-Argentina leader to face terror cover-up trial", JPost
  25. ^ "Argentina: Ex-president gets 7 years in prison for arms smuggling". CNN. June 13, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Argentina: Ministries, etc.". 

External links

  • Biography and tenure by CIDOB Foundation
  • Launch of new faction (from the BBC)
  • Chile declines extradition request (from the BBC)
  • Menem arrives on Argentine soil (from the BBC)
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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