De la Rúa, Fernando (Argentina)

Reference work entry


Fernando de la Rúa was president of Argentina between 1999–2001, replacing the Peronist Justicial president, Carlos Menem. A member of the Unión Civica Radical (UCR), de la Rúa represented the coalition Alianza para el Trabajo, la Justicia y la Educación (Alliance for Work, Justice and Education). His term in office was spent trying to stave off the country’s deepening recession with a number of increasingly unpopular austerity measures. In Dec. 2001 following disastrous election results and amidst widespread anti-government demonstrations, de la Rúa resigned.

Early Life

De la Rúa was born on 15 Sept. 1937 in Córdoba. He studied law at the city’s university. After graduation he joined the UCR and served as an advisor to the interior ministry between 1963–66 under President Arturo Illia. Having been elected senator for the Capital Federal region in 1973, de la Rúa was a legislator in the upper chamber until the military coup of 1976. Over the next few years he worked in universities in Mexico, USA and Venezuela. De la Rúa was re-elected the capital’s senator in 1983 and again in 1989, when an agreement between the UCR and the PJ forced him to cede to a minority candidate. Three years later, he was restored to office. Traditionally appointed by the government, in 1996 de la Rúa became the first democratically elected mayor of Buenos Aires with 40% of votes.

In 1997 the UCR combined with the left-wing coalition Frepaso to form the Alianza as a challenge to the dominant PJ. Profiting from corruption charges surrounding Menem’s government, the Alianza proved popular in the 1997 congressional elections, winning seats at the expense of the PJ. For the 1999 presidential elections, de la Rúa was chosen as the coalition’s candidate. His main rival was the PJ candidate, Eduardo Duhalde. Du la Rúa’s campaign to fight corruption and continue tight economic policies won him the presidency with 48% of votes. The victory was not enough for an Alianza majority and the PJ remained stronger by four seats, including the most important seat, Buenos Aires.

Career Peak

On election de la Rúa pledged to tackle corruption, unemployment, the widening gap between rich and poor and rampant tax evasion. In 1999 Argentina was suffering a recession and still had large debts, especially in the provinces. The economy was under pressure to perform well to meet IMF demands. In 1999 Argentina’s fiscal deficit was at 3.8% of GDP compared to 2.2% in 1998. The IMF demanded a reduction to 1998 levels by 2000. De la Rúa announced a continuation of key economic policies begun by Menem. He introduced large cuts in public spending, raised tax and set up an anti-corruption office. He outlined plans to streamline ministries, combining smaller ones to lower cost.

Despite the anti-corruption office, the end of 2000 saw corruption charges against several senators, mainly PJ members, accused of accepting bribes. In Oct. 2000 the vice president, Carlos Alberto Álvarez resigned rocking the Alianza coalition. In the same year, continued economic problems necessitated a US$39.7bn. IMF aid package.

By March 2001, the economy was in crisis as Argentina failed to meet IMF targets agreed in Dec. 2000. Argentina’s 33 month recession continued and devaluation and default looked likely. Unemployment was up, the budget deficit was high and consumer spending had fallen sharply. The crisis was exacerbated by a fall in agricultural prices and the threat of foot and mouth disease, both affecting Argentina’s lucrative beef exports. As an emergency measure, de la Rúa enlisted the aid of Domingo Cavallo, a successful finance minister in the early 1990s. Cavallo’s austerity package included emergency spending cuts of US$1.5bn. in 2001 and US$4.3bn. in 2002 to cure the fiscal deficit. Cavallo was granted special powers to lower taxes, raise tariffs in order to attract investment and encourage production. He agreed a ‘zero deficit’ policy with the IMF allowing the government to spend only what it receives in tax. 13% pay cut for civil servants in Aug. increased the tension, as did the announcement that their salaries will be paid partly in bonds. Fearing a devaluation of the peso many Argentines removed their money from dollar bank accounts, further destabilizing the economy. In reaction, the government restricted offshore transfers and prevented Argentines from withdrawing more than US$1000 directly from their bank accounts In Dec. 2001 the IMF refused to grant US$1.3bn. in loans to the flailing economy. As unemployment passed 18%, a nationwide strike was called. Public discontent at austerity measures coupled with severe economic hardship led to mass anti-government protests. By 19 Dec. the government had declared a state of siege as rioting intensified and the country teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Cavallo’s special powers were revoked and he along with the entire cabinet, resigned soon after, followed on 20 Dec. by de la Rúa himself. He was forced to flee by helicopter from the rooftop of the presidential palace.

The crisis continued into the New Year as three acting or interim presidents resigned. On 1 Jan. 2002 Congress elected the PJ member Eduardo Duhalde as the country’s new president to see out de la Rúa’s term until 2003, and to attempt to stabilize both the country and the economy.

Later Life

In Aug. 2012 de la Rúa was put on trial, accused of bribing senators for votes during his presidency.

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