Carlos Menem

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"Menem" redirects here. For the surname, see Menem (surname).
Carlos Menem
Menem con banda presidencial.jpg
Official presidential portrait of Menem
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 (age 85)
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[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.

Early life and education[edit]

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, Saúl Menem and Mohibe Akil, were Syrian nationals who had emigrated to Argentina. He attended elementary and high school in La Rioja, and joined a basketball team [2]during his university studies. He visited Buenos Aires with the team, and met the president Juan Perón and his wife Eva Perón. This influenced Menem to become a Peronist. Menem studied laws at the National University of Córdoba, graduating in 1955.[3]

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. In that capacity, he was included in the flight to Spain that brought Perón back to Argentina, after his long exile.[4] According to the Peronist politician Juan Manuel Abal Medina, Menem played no special part in the event.[5]

Governor of la Rioja[edit]

1st term (1973–1976)[edit]

Elected governor of La Rioja in 1973, Menem was in a prominent post that left him exposed after the overthrow of the President Isabel Martínez de Perón in March 1976; he had been close to La Rioja Bishop Enrique Angelelli (a Third World priest opposed by much of Argentina's conservative Roman Catholic Church). Because of these ties, Menem was imprisoned by the military junta in Formosa Province until 1981, and was reportedly tortured in the process.[6]

2nd and 3rd terms (1983–1989)[edit]

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.[7]

Presidential campaigns[edit]

Antonio Cafiero had been elected governor of the Buenos Aires Province, led the renewal of the PJ, and was considered their most likely candidate for the presidency. Menem, on the other hand, was seen as a populist leader. Using a Big tent approach, he got support from several unrelated political figures. That way, he defeated Cafiero in the primary elections. He sought alliances with Bunge & Born, union leaders, former members of Montoneros and the AAA, people from the church, "Carapintadas", etc. He promised a "revolution of production" and huge wage increases; but it was not clear which were the exact policies that he was proposing. The rival candidate, Eduardo Angeloz, tried to point both the mistakes of Menem and Alfonsín.[8] Jacques de Mahieu, a French ideologue of the Peronist movement (and former Vichy collaborationist), was photographed campaigning for Menem.[9]

The elections were held on May 14, 1989. Menem won by a wide margin, and became the new president. He was scheduled to take office on December 10, but the inflation made a turn for the worse, growing into hyperinflation, and caused public riots.[10] The outgoing president Raúl Alfonsín resigned and transferred 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 was peacefully succeeded by a president from a party in the opposition.[1]


Economic policy[edit]

Domingo Cavallo introduces the Convertibility Plan in 1991.

When Menem began his presidency, there was a huge hyperinflation and recession. Most economists of the time thought that the ideal solution was the Washington Consensus: reduce the expenditures below the amount of money earned by the state, and open the international commerce to free trade. Alfonsín had proposed similar plans in the past, alongside some privatizations; but those projects were resisted by the PJ. The plan was resisted by factions benefited by the protectionist policies, but the magnitude of the crisis convinced most politicians to change their minds. Menem, fearing that the crisis may force him to resign as well, embraced the Washington Consensus and rejected the traditional policies of Peronism. He invited the conservative politicians Álvaro Alsogaray and María Julia Alsogaray to his cabinet, as well as businessmen from Bunge and Born.[11]

The Congress sanctioned the economic emergency law and the state reform law. The first one allowed the president to reduce or remove subsidies, and the other one to privatize state enterprises, the first ones being telephones and airlines. Those privatizations benefited foreign creditors, who replaced their bonds for company shares.[12] Despite the increased tax revenue and the money from privatizations, the economy was still unstable. The Bunge & Born businessmen left the government in the late 1989, amid a second hyperinflation. The first measure of the new minister of economy, Érman González, was a mandatory conversion of time deposits into government bonds: the Bonex plan. It generated more recession, but hyperinflation was lowered.[13][14]

His fourth economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, deepened the neoliberal reforms. The Convertibility plan was sanctioned by the Congress, setting a one-to-one fixed exchange rate between the United States dollar and the new Argentine peso, which replaced the Austral. The law also limited public expenditures, but this was frequently ignored.[15] There was an increased free trade, to reduce inflation, and high taxes on sales and earnings to reduce the deficit caused by it.[12] Initially, the plan was a success: the capital flights ended, the interest rates and inflation lowered, and economic activity increased. The money from privatizations allowed Argentina to retrieve many of the Brady Bonds issued during the crisis.[16] The privatizations of electricity, water and gas were more successful than the previous ones. YPF, the national oil refinery, was privatized as well, but the state kept a good portion of the shares. The project to privatize the pension funds was resisted in Congress, and was approved as a mixed system that allowed both the public and private options for the workers. The national state also signed a fiscal pact with the provinces, so that they reduced their local deficits as well. The Buenos Aires Province was helped with a fund that gave the governor a million pesos daily.[17]

Although the Convertibility plan had positive consequences in the short term, it caused problems that surfaced later. Large numbers of employees of the privatized state enterprises were fired, and unemployment grew over 10%. The big compensations prevented an immediate public reaction. The free trade, and the expensive costs in dollars, forced the private companies to reduce their number of workers as well, or risk bankrupcy. The unions were unable to resist the changes. The people with low incomes, such as retirees and state workers, suffered tax increases while their wages stayed frozen. The provinces of Santiago del Estero, Jujuy and San Juan had the first violent riots. To compensate these problems, the government issued a number of social welfare programs, and restored the protectionist policies over some sectors of the economy. It was difficult for the Argentine companies to export, and the easy imports damaged most national productions. The national budget soon got a deficit.[18]

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.

Domestic policy[edit]

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 began his presidency assuming a nonconfrontational approach, and appointing people from the conservative opposition and business people in his cabinet.[19] To prevent trials against the projected privatizations, the Supreme Court had its members expanded from five to nine; the new judges ruled in support of Menem and usually had the majority.[12] Other institutions that control or limit the executive power were controlled as well. When the Congress resisted some of his proposals, he used the Necessity and Urgency Decree as an alternative to send bills to it. He even considered feasible to close the Congress and rule by decree, but this project was never implemented.[20] In addition, he developed a bon vivant lifestyle, taking advantage of his authority. For instance, he made a journey from Buenos Aires to Pinamar driving a Ferrari Testarossa in less than two hours, violating speed limits. He divorced from his wife Zulema Yoma and expanded the Quinta de Olivos presidential residence with a golf field, a small zoo, servants, barber, and even a buffoon.[21]

The swiftgate scandal broke out in 1990, as American investors were damaged by a case of corruption, and asked for assistance from the US ambassador Terence Todman. Most of the ministers resigned as a result of it.[14] Domingo Cavallo was reassigned as minister of economy, and his successful economic plan turned him into a prominent figure of Menem's cabinet. Cavallo brought a number of independent economists to the cabinet, and Menem supported him to replace Peronist politicians.[22] Both of their teams complemented each other. Both Menem and Cavallo tried to be acknowledged as the designer of the convertibility plan.[23]

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.

In domestic policy, his administration created programs to improve AIDS awareness, increased flood prevention, vaccination, and improved child nutrition.[24] In addition, his government launched a Social Plan to increase spending on antipoverty programs, while other social programs addressed needs for poor Argentines.[25] 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.[26] 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.

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.[27] 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.

Armed forces[edit]

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.

Menem was strongly criticized for his pardon on December 29, 1990, of Jorge Videla, Emilio Massera, Leopoldo Galtieri and other men who had been leaders of the 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."[28]

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[edit]

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. [29]

Foreign policy[edit]

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 20 border issues with Chile, including the arbitration of the especially serious Laguna del Desierto dispute.

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 as well as covering for a family friend, Alberto Kanoore Edul, a Syrian-Argentine businessman suspected of involvement in the attacks.[30]

Public image[edit]

Contrary to Peronist tradition, Carlos Menem did not prepare huge rallies in the Plaza de Mayo to adress the people from the balcony of the Casa Rosada. Instead of that, he took full advantage of mass communication media, such as television.[31]


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.[32] To avoid a humiliating electoral defeat, Menem withdrew his candidacy on May 14, effectively handing the presidency to Kirchner.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35]

Corruption charges[edit]

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, the 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.[36]

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.[37] 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 but nonetheless agreed to pay the fine.[38]

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;[39][40] 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.[41]

Honours and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b Edwards, p. 162
  2. ^ #Herney2k15
  3. ^ Roberto Ortiz de Zárate (March 9, 2015). "Carlos Menem" (in Spanish). Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. Retrieved September 16, 2015. 
  4. ^ "El chárter histórico" [The historical charter] (in Spanish). Clarín. October 12, 1997. Retrieved November 5, 2015. 
  5. ^ Miguel Bonasso (November 16, 2003). "La historia secreta del regreso" [The secret history of the return] (in Spanish). Página 12. Retrieved November 5, 2015. 
  6. ^ Andersen, Martin. Dossier Secreto. Westview Press, 1993.
  7. ^ Argentina: From Insolvency to Growth, Washington, DC: World Bank Press, 1993.
  8. ^ Romero, p. 283
  9. ^ "La Odessa que creó Perón", Pagina/12, December 15, 2002 (interview with Uki Goni) (Spanish)
  10. ^ Romero, pp. 284-285
  11. ^ Romero, pp. 287-288
  12. ^ a b c Romero, p. 289
  13. ^ Edwards, p. 103
  14. ^ a b Romero, p. 290
  15. ^ Edwards, pp. 104-105
  16. ^ Romero, p. 291
  17. ^ Romero, pp. 292-293
  18. ^ Romero, pp. 293-294
  19. ^ Edwards, p. 103
  20. ^ Romero, p. 295
  21. ^ Romero, p. 296
  22. ^ Romero, p. 292
  23. ^ Romero, pp. 297-298
  24. ^ Global Paradox by John Naisbitt
  25. ^ The Politics of Market Reform in Fragile Democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela by Kurt Gerhard Weyland
  26. ^ [1], World Bank, 27 June 1995
  27. ^ "Alberto Benegas Lynch: "Menem fue un modelo de antiliberalismo"". La Nación. June 6, 2004. 
  28. ^ New York Times, December 30, 1990, page 9
  29. ^ ""A ballistics expert is sure that Carlos Menem Jr. died by an assassination attempt" (Spanish)". Cadena 3. Sep 20, 2009. 
  30. ^ Fernholz, Tim (February 5, 2015). "The US had ties to an Argentine terror investigation that ended with a prosecutor’s mysterious death". Quartz (Atlantic Media). Archived from the original on February 6, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2015. 
  31. ^ Romero, p. 298
  32. ^ "Menem pierde el invicto y la fama". Página/12. 
  33. ^ "Don't cry for Menem". The Economist. March 15, 2003. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  34. ^ "Former Argentine President Menem loses gubernatorial race", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), 20 August 2007
  35. ^ "Menem se anota en la pelea presidencial". Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  36. ^ "Americas | Menem probed over 1995 explosion". BBC News. 2008-08-16. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  37. ^ Crawford, David (2008-12-16). "''Wall Street Journal''". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  38. ^ (AFP) – Dec 17, 2008 (2008-12-17). "Google News". Google. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  39. ^ "Argentina's Carlos Menem faces bombing trial". BBC News. 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  40. ^ "Ex-Argentina leader to face terror cover-up trial", JPost
  41. ^ "Argentina: Ex-president gets 7 years in prison for arms smuggling". CNN. June 13, 2013. 


External links[edit]

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