Former Argentinian president Carlos Menem dies, aged 90

Menem had been in poor health for some time

Argentina's former President Carlos Menem. AP
Argentina's former President Carlos Menem. AP

Argentina's former president Carlos Menem, who led his country with a neo-liberal approach to the economy, died in a Buenos Aires clinic on Sunday at the age of 90.

Menem had been in poor health and was admitted to hospital several times in recent months for pneumonia.

President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning for Menem.

Mr Fernandez tweeted his "deep regret" at the news of his passing and extended condolences to his family.

Born in July 1930 into a family of Syrian immigrants, which earned him the nickname "The Turk", Menem prided himself on never having lost an election.

He served two terms as president, from 1989 to 1999.

After withdrawing from the race for a third term, he was elected to the Senate in 2005, and was re-elected several times since.

Menem was a follower of Peronism, the leftist movement based on the legacy of former president Juan Peron, which today covers a broad spectrum of political leanings in Argentina.

He pursued an aggressive privatisation policy that many considered to be in direct contrast to his stated political ideology.

Menem's name is synonymous with the "Argentine miracle", a period when his decision to fix the exchange rate of the peso to the US dollar brought economic stability and an end to hyperinflation.

But this approach was widely considered to have led to the economic crisis of 2001, when debt stood at $100 billion, the country defaulted on repayment, its currency's value plunged and unemployment skyrocketed.

By the end of Menem's second term, the public deficit stood at $6bn, unemployment was at 14 per cent and poverty affected a third of the population.

But things were to get worse. Menem cultivated a playboy image, drove a Ferrari, played golf and was a friend of the jet-set.

Despised by the middle class for his flamboyance, the aficionado of luxury watches enjoyed the admiration of the poor and the self-serving support of the wealthy.

Menem was widely criticised for extending a presidential amnesty to leaders of the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983.

His presidency was tarnished by accusations of corruption and scandals.

But while Menem was investigated in several cases, he never served jail time.

In 2001he was ordered to be held in pre-trial home detention for a case involving arms smuggling to Croatia and Ecuador, but he was freed weeks later under a Supreme Court ruling and ultimately let off.

Menem was also tried for covering up the 1994 attack on the Argentine Mutual Israeli Association in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed, but was again acquitted.

In 2018, he was sentenced to three years in prison for embezzlement but parliamentary immunity protected him from going to prison.

Menem had three children from two marriages, the first with Zulema Yoma and the second with former Chilean Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco.

He fathered a fourth child, Carlos Nair, with a lover.

Menem's daughter, Zulemita, said he would be buried in the Islamic Cemetery in Buenos Aires, next to Carlos Menem Jr who died in a 1995 helicopter accident.

Updated: February 15, 2021 02:13 AM

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