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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 05:52 GMT
Profile: Fernando de la Rua
President Fernando de la Rua
Facing an emergency - President de la Rua
BBC News Online's Nick Caistor profiles Fernando de la Rua, who has resigned as president of Argentina.

When he won the presidency in 1999, Fernando de la Rua was voted in mostly for negative reasons.

He was not like his predecessor, the flamboyant Carlos Menem, whom Argentines suspected of corruption and favouritism.

He was not a Peronist, the party that still dominates Argentina's trade unions and most of its provinces, but a member of the moderate Radical Party, only once before in power in recent history.

He was not linked to the armed forces, who brought violence and the horrors of the "dirty war" against subversives to Argentina in the 1970s.
President de la Rua in the street
De la Rua was pelted with eggs in the street

The 64 year-old Mr de la Rua's main problem is that, two years into his administration, few Argentines have found anything more positive to define him by.

By declaring a state of emergency - which led to more outbreaks of violence - Argentina's president has once again showed his lack of political judgement.

Mr de la Rua has dithered on all fronts, and has seen Argentina's stable economic situation slide into the chaos that has led to riots in the streets and the declaration of a state of emergency.

Hyperinflation

Early in 2001 he turned for a solution to the economic mess to the man who had been the chief architect of Mr Menem's success in the early 1990s - Domingo Cavallo.

It was Mr Cavallo who brought in the strict parity of the Argentine peso with the US dollar.

A decade ago, this was a powerful economic tool to fight the country's main economic problem - hyperinflation.

The measure worked, and by the mid-1990s Argentina was registering stable prices and wages, and significant economic growth. But by the time Mr de la Rua came to power, Argentina was facing renewed but different economic pressures.

By tying Argentine prices to the US dollar, exports had become expensive - particularly after neighbouring Brazil devalued by some 30% in 1999.

At home, Argentines used the strong currency to buy cheap imported goods - plunging not only themselves but the country into debt.

Argentine government food handout
Food handouts have not defused the situation
And as local industry felt the pinch, unemployment rose to the highest levels for many years - 20% in the capital Buenos Aires - but much higher in some of the poorer provinces.

But Mr de la Rua left his economy minister to deal with the problem.

Throughout the second half of 2001, it was Domingo Cavallo who virtually ruled Argentina, with the president doing all he could to smooth the way for him, by voting emergency powers and accepting all his suggestions.

The political fallout of this weak government was soon obvious. Congressional elections in October saw the opposition Peronist party take control of both houses.

Disillusion

The riots in the streets of Argentina's main cities have also shown how disillusioned many ordinary Argentines are with Mr de la Rua's administration.

The last time a Radical government was in power, in the second half of the 1980s, similar popular unrest forced President Raul Alfonsin to hand over power to the then president-elect Mr Menem several months early.

This time there is no-one to hand over to, and to call elections would mean a crushing defeat for Mr de la Rua's Radicals.

Until democratic rule returned with the Radicals in 1984, this is the point when the Argentine armed forces would usually have stepped in to take control of affairs.

There seems little risk of that happening this time, but Argentines are demanding that someone acts more decisively than President de la Rua has done until now.

See also:

20 Dec 01 | Americas
Argentina plunges into turmoil
10 Dec 01 | Business
Argentina in new bid to cut debts
06 Dec 01 | Business
IMF blocks loan to Argentina
03 Dec 01 | Business
Argentina curbs cash withdrawals
25 Nov 01 | Business
IMF spotlight on Argentina
20 Jul 01 | Business
General strike paralyses Argentina
03 Dec 01 | Business
Analysis: Argentina's woes explained
03 Dec 01 | Americas
Fear of ruin haunts Argentines
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