Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South and Central America

Argentina: Background and U.S. Relations *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South and Central America

Argentina: Background and U.S. Relations *

Article excerpt


In December 2013, Argentina-a South American nation located in the continent's southern cone-celebrated 30 years of civilian democratic rule since the military relinquished power after 7 years of harsh dictatorship. The military's so-called Dirty War against leftists and their sympathizers in the late 1970s and early 1980s had resulted in thousands of disappearances. The military ultimately fell into disrepute in the aftermath of its failure in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) war with Great Britain in 1982, and the country returned to civilian democratic rule with the election of Raúl Alfonsín of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) as president in 1983.

Carlos Menem of the Justicialist Party (PJ), also known as the Peronist Party, won the 1989 elections and served two presidential terms until 1999, during which he transformed Argentina from having a state-dominated protectionist economy to one committed to free market principles and open to trade.1 Increasing corruption and high unemployment, however, led to the defeat of the Peronists in the 1999 presidential election, which was won by Fernando de la Rúa of the UCR as the candidate of a coalition known as the Alliance for Work, Justice, and Education.

In 2001-2002, Argentina's democratic political system endured considerable stress amid a severe economic crisis and related social unrest. In late 2001, as the banking system faltered and confidence in the government of President de la Rúa evaporated, widespread demonstrations turned violent, and the President resigned. The subsequent interim government then defaulted on nearly $100 billion in public debt, the largest sovereign default in history at the time. Ultimately, the political system survived the crisis. President Eduardo Duhalde (January 2002-May 2003), a Peronist (Justicialist Party, PJ) Senator selected by Congress to fill out the remainder of President de la Rúa's term, implemented policies that stabilized the economy; then, left-leaning President Néstor Kirchner (May 2003-December 2007), a Peronist who had served as a provincial governor of Santa Cruz in Patagonia, further enhanced internal political and economic stability.

Despite some difficulties, Kirchner made popular policy moves in the areas of human rights and economic policy that helped restore Argentines' faith in democracy. In June 2005, the government offered the first of two restructurings of its defaulted private bond debt with a historically low recovery rate to bondholders (about 30% on a net present value basis). While this was politically popular in Argentina, the government's failure to repay its arrears to official Paris Club creditors or to reach a deal with remaining private creditors in defaulted bond debt who did not accept the government's offer continued to prevent Argentina from having full access to international capital markets. Legislative elections in 2005 demonstrated strong support for Kirchner; his left-leaning wing of the PJ, known as the Front for Victory (FPV), made significant gains. Kirchner would have been eligible to run again in the 2007 presidential elections, but instead he supported the candidacy of his wife, Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (hereinafter Fernández).

Cristina Fernández is now in her second term as president. She won the 2007 presidential election with 45% of the vote, defeating her closest rival by 23 points, and became the first woman in Argentine history to be elected president. In concurrent legislative elections, Fernández's FPV faction of the PJ gained further seats, solidifying its majority in both houses of Argentina's bicameral Congress. Nevertheless, Fernández's political honeymoon was short-lived because of an energy crisis and a series of farmers' strikes that led to the congressional defeat of her proposed tax increase on key agricultural exports. As a result, the Kirchners suffered a significant setback in the 2009 legislative elections, with the FPV losing control of both houses. …

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