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Profile: Carlos Menem
Carlos Menem
Menem is running for a third term as president

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem is a flamboyant, charismatic figure whose years in public life have been characterised by scandal and controversy.

In two successive terms as president following election in 1989, he set Argentina on a course of radical free market reform which saw privatisation of state-owned businesses and the currency pegged to the US dollar.

Although his time in office is remembered by some as a period of stability, Mr Menem's economic policies are blamed by many Argentines for the country's current economic crisis.

In 1999 Mr Menem stepped down amid faltering support and allegations of rampant corruption in his government. At the time, he vowed to run again for president in 2003.

A recent poll suggested 60% of Argentines would never vote for him under any circumstances. But a separate poll recorded that a similar figure believed he would win the April 2003 election.

Whiff of scandal

Known affectionately and pejoratively as "the Turk", Mr Menem is renowned for his love of the high life, driving a red Ferrari and socialising with movie stars, footballers and other celebrities.

Four years ago the 72-year-old former president married Cecilia Bolocco - a former Chilean beauty queen 35 years his junior.

In 2001, he was placed under house arrest for five months after charges that he headed an "illicit association" which dealt arms to Croatia and Ecuador during his years in office.

Carlos Menem
Menem has toned down his old flamboyant style

He has also been accused of controlling two illegal, undeclared Swiss bank accounts and other charges of corruption involving state funds.

Until his political re-emergence this year, Mr Menem spent most of his time in relative seclusion at his estate in the desert province of La Rioja.

Over the years, he has moderated his image.

The former trademark mop of hair and white-streaked sideburns have given way to the well-groomed, dapper look of an elder statesman.

Carlos Menem was born in Argentina's La Rioja province in 1930 of Syrian parents. He trained as a lawyer and became a lifelong supporter of President Juan Peron.

He was elected governor of La Rioja in 1973, a position which gave him national prominence during the last years of Mr Peron's presidency.

Controversial reforms

His fortunes turned when the armed forces overthrew the government of Mr Peron's widow in 1976 and he was imprisoned by the leaders of the new military government.

Menem has the image of a leader and that's what people are looking for during a crisis
Enrique N'Haux, biographer

The country returned to democracy in 1983 and Mr Menem was re-elected to his old job as governor of La Rioja.

He was elected president in 1989, succeeding Raul Alfonsin at a desperate time for the country. The economy was in a critical state and Argentina was still divided after years of military government.

Mr Menem's measures were swift but also controversial. State-owned industries, including the oil company and post office were privatised and the Argentine peso linked to the US dollar.

Unemployment rose, but inflation was ended.

In 1990 Mr Menem issued a pardon for the leaders of the military government.

During his years in office, Mr Menem attempted to raise Argentina's international profile, helping to set up the South American Common Market, Mercosur, and campaigned for Latin America to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

He maintained Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands, but has said he will not pursue this claim by force.


In his later years in office, Mr Menem was accused of autocracy and of accumulation of power.

In 1995 he was able to change the constitution to enable him to run for re-election, but he could not gather the support needed to reinterpret the constitution to run for a third consecutive term in 1999.

With the country in the grip of a deep economic crisis, analysts believe Mr Menem's character and populist politics could still appeal to many Argentines.

"Menem's strong point is that he has the image of a leader and that's what people are looking for during a crisis," Enrique N'Haux, a Menem biographer, told the New York Times.

Argentina's poor hit new record
01 Feb 03 |  Americas
Q&A: Argentina's economic crisis
12 Feb 03 |  Business
Argentina lifts final cash curbs
27 Mar 03 |  Business
Country profile: Argentina
17 Apr 03 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Argentina
11 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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