Argentines turned out at the polls in May 1989 to choose a successor to President Rafil Alfonsin of the Radical Civic Union. The winner was Carlos Menem, the candidate from the largest opposition group, the Justicialist (Peronist) party. While on the campaign trail Menem pledged that if elected he would faithfully adhere to Peronist doctrine as originally postulated by Juan Perón. The party creed emphasized economic nationalism, strong state regulation of the economy, economic growth through direct government investments and financing of the private sector, and social justice favoring workers through income redistribution ( Borón 1991; Wynia 1992; Peralta Ramos 1992). Menem, with this rhetoric, harnessed the support not only from the traditional labor-dominated Peronist constituency, but also from the middle classes who voted for Alfonsin in 1982, only to be frustrated by five and a half years of broken promises and economic disasters. Menem skillfully avoided specific details about policy plans, but few questioned his real intentions. After all, his Peronist credentials were impeccable. Menem was a three-time governor of La Rioja, one of Argentina's poorest provinces. He had successfully put half of that province's work force on the state payroll by dispensing thousands of jobs. When the Radical government curtailed the disbursement of federal funds to La Rioja, he went so far as to print currency himself. However, in 1989, with the Argentine treasury depleted, the country was experiencing the worst economic crisis of the century. Menem realized shortly before taking office that there was no room for the redistributive measures he had promised so vehemently. The consolidation of democracy had been all-important for the Alfonsin administration. Menem's top priority would be to resolve the economic crisis.
In the most stunning policy reversal in Argentina's modern history, Menem reached the conclusion that turning the economy around no longer rested in the traditional populist, nationalistic, redistributive approach. The key to success was instead the establishment of a free market economy through the implementation of a sweeping market-oriented reform program worthy of Thatcher and Reagan's applause. Oddly, it took a Peronist President to undo most of Perón's welfare and policies of the 1940s ( Landi and Cavarozzi 1991: 18). Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo later admitted that, 'Menem is changing all that Perón did after World War II.' 1 However, Menem's adoption of a neoconservative economic approach was not an isolated case in Latin
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Publication information: Book title: Privatization South American Style. Contributors: Luigi Manzetti - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 71.