As perhaps few of my readers here know, I´m from Cordoba, Argentina. And tonight a saddening decease happened.
Tonight Former Argentina President Raul Ricardo Alfonsin died at age 82 after struggling against lung cancer for over a year.
aúl Ricardo Alfonsín (March 12, 1927 – March 31, 2009) was an Argentine politician and statesman, who was the President of Argentinafrom December 10, 1983 to July 8, 1989.
Life and times
Early life and entry into politics
Alfonsín was born in the city of Chascomús, in eastern Buenos Aires Province, to Raúl Serafín Alfonsín and Ana María Foulkes and raised in the Roman Catholic faith. Following his elementary schooling he took up studies at the General San Martín Military Academy, where he graduated after five years as a second lieutenant. He became afiliated with the centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR) in 1945 while taking an active role in the reform group, Intransigent Renewal Movement. Running as a UCR candidate for a seat in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Argentine Congress) in 1946, he lost to an opponent supported by Argentina’s newly elected populist leader, Juan Perón, and enrolled at the National University of La Plata Law School, graduating in 1950.
He returned to Chascomús as an attorney and married María Lorenza Barrenechea in 1950. Alfonsín founded a local newspaper (El Imparcial) and was elected to the city council in 1951. His periodical’s opposition to the incresingly intolerant Perón led to Alfonsín’s incarceration in 1953. A violent September 1955 coup d’état (the self-styled Revolución Libertadora) brought Perón’s reign to an end, however, and the resulting ban of Peronist political activity returned the UCR to its role as Argentina’s most important political party.
He was elected to the Buenos Aires provincial legislature in 1958 on the UCRP ticket, a faction of the UCR slightly to the right of the winners of the 1958 election, the UCRI. Alfonsín was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1963, becoming one of President Arturo Illia’s most steadfast supporters in Congress. He lost his seat when a military coup removed Illia from office in 1966. Developing differences with the party’s moderately conservative leader, Ricardo Balbín, Alfonsín announced the formation of aMovement for Renewal and Change within the UCR in 1971. He stood for the UCR’s nomination for the 1973 presidential election, but lost to Balbín, who was in turn defeated by Perón’s Justicialist Party. Argentina’s return to democracy in 1973 did not improve the country’s difficult political rights climate. An increasingly violent conflict between Trotskyite and Fascist extremists led to a sucession of repressive measures, mostly against the former. Amid spiraling violence in December 1975, Alfonsín helped establish the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights.
The March 1976 coup against the hapless President Isabel Perón did not lead to the Permanent Assembly’s closure and, instead, prompted its afiliated lawyers, including Alfonsín, to lend their sevices to the growing ranks of friends and relatives of the disappeared, arguably risking their lives to do so. Alfonsín was among the few prominent Argentine political figures to vocally oppose President Leopoldo Galtieri’s April 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands.
The 1981 collapse of conservative economist José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz’s free trade and deregulatory policies and the disastrous Falklands War, among other reasons, led the National Reorganization Process to seek a “democratic exit” in 1983, and new general elections were held on October 30. Alfonsín, who had been elected leader of the party in July that year, defeated Justicialist Party candidate Ítalo Lúder by 12 points, carrying a majority in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies and, though garnering only 18 of 46 seats in the Senate and 7 of 22 governors, the UCR’s Alejandro Armendáriz scored an upset victory in Buenos Aires Province, home to one in three Argentines. Alfonsín persuaded President Reynaldo Bignone to advance the inaugural three months and he took office on December 10.
A new beginning
Chief among Alfonsín’s full platter of inherited problems was an economic depression stemming from the 1981-82 finacial collapse and its resulting US$43 billion foreign debt, which demanded interest payments that, alone, swallowed all of Argentina’s US$3 billion trade surplus. The economy had recovered modestly in 1983 as a result of Bignone’s lifting of wage freezes and crushing interest rates imposed by the Central Bank’s “Circular 1050;” but inflation raged at 400%, GDP per capita remained at its lowest level since 1968 and fixed investment, 40% lower than in 1980. Naming a generally center-left cabinet led by Foreign Minister Dante Caputo and Economy Minister Bernardo Grinspun (his campaign manager), Alfonsín began his administration with high approval ratings and with the fulfillment of campaign promises such as the inaugural of a nutritional assistance program for the 27% of Argentines under the poverty line at the time, as well as the rescision of Bignone’s April 1983 blanket amnesty for those guilty of human rights abuses and his September decree authorizing warrantless wiretapping. Defense Minister Raúl Borrás advised Alfonsín to remove Fabricaciones Militares, then Argentina’s leadingdefense contractor, from the Armed Forces’ control, ordering the retirement of 70 generals and admirals known for their opposition to the transfer of the lucrative contractor.
Appointing renown playwright Carlos Gorostiza as Secretary of Culture and exiled computer scientist Dr. Manuel Sadosky as Secretary of Science and Technology, hundreds of artists and scientists returned to Argentina during 1984. Gorostiza abolished the infamous National Film Rating Entity, helping lead to a doubling in film and theatre production. The harrowing La historia oficial (The Official Story) was released in April 1985 and became the firstArgentine film to secure an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Alfonsín created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons(CONADEP) to document their human rights abuses. Led by renown novelist Ernesto Sábato, the CONADEP documented 8,960 forced disappearances and presented the President with its findings on September 20. The report drew mixed reactions, however, as its stated total of victims fell short of Amnesty International’s estimate of 16,000 and of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’s estimate of 30,000.
Alfonsín also initiated prosecutions of leading members of violent leftist groups, leading to jail sentences for, among others, notorious Montoneros leaderMario Firmenich, though in May 1984 he pardoned former President Isabel Perón for her prominent role in the early stages of the Dirty War against dissidents and for her alleged embezzlement of public funds. The move, partly intended to assuage differences with the defeated Justicialist Party (who still controlled the Senate), failed to restore Alfonsín’s relationship with the party, however. His January introduction of legislation providing for the secret ballotlabor union elections led to massive opposition by the CGT, Argentina’s largest, and handed his administration its first defeat when the Senate struck it down in February by one vote.
Relations with the United States suffered when Alfonsín terminated the previous regime’s support for the Contras, though in June, he did initiate the first diplomatic contact with the United Kingdom since the Falklands War two years earlier, resulting in the lifting of British trade sanctions. Proposing a Treaty with Chile ending a border dispute over the Beagle Channel, he put the issue before voters in a November 25, 1984 referendum and won its approval with 70%, securing a needed political, as well as diplomatic, victory.
Tackling inflation and impunity
Inheriting a foreign debt crisis exacerbated by high global interest rates, Alfonsín had to also contend with shattered business confidence and record budget deficits. GDP grew by a modest 2% in 1984, though fixed investment continued to decline and inflation rose to 700%. Losses among the panoply of State enterprises, service on the public debt and growing tax evasion left the federal budget with a US$10 billion shortfall in 1984 (13% of GDP). Unable to finance it, the Central Bank of Argentina “printed” money and inflation, which galloped at around 18% a month at the end of the dictatorship, rose to 30% in June 1985 (the world’s highest, at the time). Two meetings with U.S. President Ronald Reagan failed to ease Reagan’s opposition to economic concessions towards Argentina. Attempting to control record inflation (prices had risen twelve-fold in a year), his new Minister of the Economy, Juan Sorrouille, launched the Austral Plan, by which prices were frozen and the existing currency, the peso argentino, was replaced by the Argentine austral at 1,000 to one. Sharp budget cuts were enacted, particularly in military spending which, including cutbacks in 1984, was slashed to around half of its 1983 level. Responding to financial sector concerns, it also introduced a mechanism called desagio, by which creditors who received payments after the date of the start of the plan received a temporary supplement compensating for the built-in inflation that was assumed when the transaction was agreed upon; indeed, inflation (30% in June) plummeted to 2% a month for the remainder of 1985. The fiscal deficit fell by two-thirds in 1985, helping pave the way for the first meaningful debt rescheduling since the advent of the crisis four years earlier.
Alfonsín was forced to step down as President of the UCR following that party’s defeat at the September 1991 midterm elections. He defeated former Governor Armendáriz for the post in 1993, however, on anticipation of a power-sharing deal with the then-popular President Carlos Menem. Alfonsín and Menem signed the November 1993 Olivos Pact, through which the two largest Argentine parties agreed to support a constitutional reform which (among other things) paved the way for President Menem’s reelection. He resigned as leader of the UCR after their poor performance in the 1995 elections, but continued to be an important figure within the party.
Alfonsín suffered a serious automobile accident en route to a campaign event in 1999, though he recovered quickly. He was returned as leader of the UCR in October 2000 amid growing difficulties surrounding President Fernando de la Rúa, a prominent UCR figure elected in 1999 on an Alliance ticket with the center-left Frepaso. He was elected Senator for Buenos Aires Province in October 2001, but health problems led him to step down after a year, to be replaced by Diana Conti.
In 2006, Alfonsín supported a faction of the UCR that favoured the idea of carrying an independent candidate for the 2007 presidential elections. The UCR, instead of fielding its own candidate, endorsed Roberto Lavagna, a center-left economist who presided over the dramatic recovery in the Argentine economy from 2002 until he parted ways with President Néstor Kirchner in December 2005. Unable to sway enough disaffected Kirchner supporters, Lavagna garnered third place.
Alfonsín is a member of the Club of Madrid and was honored by President Cristina Kirchner with a bust of his likeness at the Casa Rosada on October 1, 2008.
On march 31st 2009 at the age of 82 after a long battle against lung cancer he died in his home peacefully surrounded by his family.