Argentina’s former playboy President Carlos Menem dies aged 90

Argentina’s former playboy President Carlos Menem, who served two terms between 1989 and 1999, has died aged 90. 

Current Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez confirmed the death of former leader, who had been ailing in recent weeks, earlier today.

The dapper lawyer from one of Argentina’s poorest provinces, who was dismissed by critics as a playboy, steered Argentina toward a free-market model that was, at one point, envied by neighbours and favoured by investors.

Tributes have since been paid to the Ferrari lover who vowed to make the nation ‘more fun’ and rebuilt relations with Britain after the Falklands War. 

Argentina's former playboy President Carlos Menem (centre), who served two terms as president between 1989 and 1999, has died aged 90

Argentina's former playboy President Carlos Menem (centre), who served two terms as president between 1989 and 1999, has died aged 90

Argentina’s former playboy President Carlos Menem (centre), who served two terms as president between 1989 and 1999, has died aged 90

Mr Fernandez tweeted earlier today with a post that read: “I learned of the death of Carlos Saúl Menem with great regret. 

‘Always elected in a democracy, he was governor of La Rioja, president of the nation and national senator. 

‘During the dictatorship he was persecuted and imprisoned. All my love goes to [his first wife] Zulema, [his daughter] Zulemita and all those who mourn him today.’ 

Mr Fernandez declared three days of mourning in Argentina in honour of the late ex-president, whose body would be taken to the Casa Rosada, the presidency announced. 

Mr Menem was considered to be supremely flexible as a politician, beginning his career as a self-styled disciple of General Juan Domingo Peron who founded the populist movement that bears his name and placed the economy largely under state control. 

Mr Menem, who served two terms as president between 1989 and 1999, transformed the country but in the opposite direction.

But his accomplishments, however, coincided with growing unemployment, economic inequality and foreign debt. 

‘I don’t know if I’m going to get the country out of its economic problems, but I’m sure going to make a more fun country,’ Mr Menem once said.

The former leader (pictured alongside Queen Elizabeth II in 1998), who was dismissed by critics as a playboy, steered Argentina toward a free-market model

The former leader (pictured alongside Queen Elizabeth II in 1998), who was dismissed by critics as a playboy, steered Argentina toward a free-market model

The former leader (pictured alongside Queen Elizabeth II in 1998), who was dismissed by critics as a playboy, steered Argentina toward a free-market model

Mr Menem relished the company of celebrities, hosting the Rolling Stones and Madonna in Buenos Aires, and memorably shrugged off criticism after receiving a red Ferrari as a gift from an Italian businessman in 1990. 

‘It is mine, mine and mine,’ Mr Menem, a car racing fan, said in front of television cameras.

‘Why would I donate it?’

Later, he reluctantly agreed to auction off the car for $135,000 with the proceeds going to state coffers.

The son of Syrian immigrants whose family owned a winery, Mr Menem was a folksy, three-time governor of northwestern La Rioja Province, noted for shoulder-length hair and muttonchop sideburns when he came to international prominence.

He won the Peronist Party nomination and surged to victory in 1989 presidential elections, capitalising on economic and social chaos in Argentina.

The country was mired in 5,000 per cent annual inflation and the poor were sacking supermarkets to obtain food.

Tributes have since poured in for Mr Menem (pictured right alongside U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1990) who vowed to make the nation 'more fun'

Tributes have since poured in for Mr Menem (pictured right alongside U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1990) who vowed to make the nation 'more fun'

Tributes have since poured in for Mr Menem (pictured right alongside U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1990) who vowed to make the nation ‘more fun’

Under Mr Menem, the economy registered strong growth, inflation dropped to single digits and the peso, the national currency, enjoyed unprecedented stability as it was pegged to the US dollar.

The long hair and sideburns were gone and the flashy clothes replaced by imported, hand-made suits.

The core of Mr Menem’s recovery plan, masterminded by energetic Harvard-educated Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, was the withdrawal of the state from the economy.

Mr Menem removed controls on prices and interest rates.

He sold the state-owned phone company, airlines, race tracks, steel mills and the oil giant YPF, then South America’s largest company.

He cut the state payroll and encouraged foreign investment.

He curbed once-powerful labour unions that formed the backbone of the Peronist movement and were angered by state payroll cuts that eliminated jobs.

In foreign affairs, Mr Menem withdrew Argentina from the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War-era structure that had espoused independence from the United States and — less so — the Soviet Union, and forged strong ties with Washington.

Argentinian troops participated in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq and joined UN peacekeepers in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

During Mr Menem’s tenure, Argentina was the scene of deadly bombings — against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and a Jewish centre in 1994.

Tributes have since been pouring in from other world leaders including Chile's conservative President Sebastián Piñera (Argentine flag pictured at half mast at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, earlier today)

Tributes have since been pouring in from other world leaders including Chile's conservative President Sebastián Piñera (Argentine flag pictured at half mast at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, earlier today)

Tributes have since been pouring in from other world leaders including Chile’s conservative President Sebastián Piñera (Argentine flag pictured at half mast at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, earlier today)

Mr Menem (pictured in 1997) relished the company of celebrities and memorably shrugged off criticism after receiving a red Ferrari as a gift from an Italian businessman in 1990

Mr Menem (pictured in 1997) relished the company of celebrities and memorably shrugged off criticism after receiving a red Ferrari as a gift from an Italian businessman in 1990

Mr Menem (pictured in 1997) relished the company of celebrities and memorably shrugged off criticism after receiving a red Ferrari as a gift from an Italian businessman in 1990

Argentina accused Iran of involvement; Iran denied it.

Mr Menem was later tried for the alleged cover-up of those responsible for the attack on the Jewish centre, but was found not guilty in a trial in 2019.

As president, Mr Menem prevailed in disputes with the Argentinian military, whose 1976 coup had led to the extrajudicial killings and disappearances of tens of thousands of people.

He trimmed armed forces spending and abolished the highly unpopular military conscription system.

He dismayed human rights groups by granting a pardon to former military junta members serving sentences of up to life in prison for crimes connected to the disappearance of Argentinian dissidents during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

The pardon was extended to former guerrillas in what Mr Menem described as a process of national reconciliation.

Mr Menem also renewed relations with Britain, severed after the Argentinian dictatorship’s 1982 invasion of the British-held Falkland Islands.

The invasion ended in Argentina’s defeat in a 74-day war.

Mr Menem was elected governor of La Rioja in 1973, but his first term was cut short by the 1976 coup.

The military rulers sent him to prison, along with other politicians.

He later was confined for nearly five years in a small village in northern Formosa province.

Various controversies trailed Mr Menem after his presidency.

In 2001, he was detained for several months for alleged involvement in the sale of Argentinian weapons to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s, at a time of international embargoes on those countries.

He was eventually convicted in the case and sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison, but he was protected from going to jail because he had been elected as a senator in 2005 and enjoyed immunity.

The case was dropped in 2017.

The former-president married and divorced twice - initially with Zulema Yoma (pictured together in 1989) with whom he had two children - Zulemita and Carlos

The former-president married and divorced twice - initially with Zulema Yoma (pictured together in 1989) with whom he had two children - Zulemita and Carlos

The former-president married and divorced twice – initially with Zulema Yoma (pictured together in 1989) with whom he had two children – Zulemita and Carlos

He went on to marry former Chilean Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco (pictured together in 2001), who was 35 years younger than him, with whom he had a second son Maximo

He went on to marry former Chilean Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco (pictured together in 2001), who was 35 years younger than him, with whom he had a second son Maximo

He went on to marry former Chilean Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco (pictured together in 2001), who was 35 years younger than him, with whom he had a second son Maximo

His colourful political career aside, Mr Menem was a subject of fascination for his personal life.

The former-president married and divorced twice – initially with Zulema Yoma and later with former Chilean Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco who was 35 years younger than him.

He had two children with Zulema – Zulemita and Carlos.

He had a second son, Maximo, with Cecilia. 

Tributes have since been pouring in from other world leaders including Chile’s conservative President Sebastian Pinera.

He took to Twitter with a post that read: ‘Today President Carlos Menem died, who marked the 90s in Argentina and was a good friend of Chile. 

‘My solidarity with his family and the Argentine people and may God welcome his soul.’ 

Chile’s Chancellor, Andres Allamand, also wrote: ‘My condolences to the Argentine family, citizens and government on the death of former President Carlos Menem. 

‘Chile was very close and during his tenure progress was made in cementing the deep Chilean-Argentine friendship.’ 

President of the United Arab Emirates Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan have reportedly sent cables of condolences to Mr Fernandez upon hearing of the former leader’s death.

Link hienalouca.com

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