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Eduardo Duhalde, Duhalde, Menem, Spanish court, kidnapping charges

Menem reshuffled Argentina’s military leadership in October 1996, replacing three of the country’s top four military leaders. The president requested the resignation of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the secretaries of the navy and air force, all of whom had shown signs of resisting Menem’s efforts to reform the military.

The role of the military in the disappearance of thousands of people in Argentina between 1976 and 1983 became the subject of an investigation by a Spanish court in 1997, as many of those who disappeared had been Spanish citizens. A Spanish judge issued orders for the arrests of former Argentine military officers for their alleged participation in kidnappings and killings, but amnesty laws passed in the 1980s protected the military from prosecution. In 1998 and 1999 an Argentine judge ordered several of the junta leaders arrested on kidnapping charges stemming from hundreds of child abductions that took place during the junta’s reign. The new charges were not subject to amnesty laws.

In late 1997 Argentina held elections for seats in its Chamber of Deputies, the lower congressional chamber. The dominant Peronistas lost their longtime stronghold when opposition parties won a majority of positions in the house. In the 1999 presidential election Fernando de la Rua of the center-left Alianza (Alliance) coalition easily defeated the Peronist candidate, Eduardo Duhalde. De la Rua, who had been mayor of Buenos Aires, succeeded Menem, who was constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term.

Under de la Rua, the economy continued to decline with little or no growth and high unemployment, and the administration was heavily dependent on financial support from foreign nations. By 2001 the economy was suffering its third year of continuous decline. De la Rua’s government instituted an austerity program, which included slashing government salaries and seizing pensions to pay creditors. In December protests and riots broke out in the streets of Buenos Aires and throughout the country in response to the austerity program and the country’s high unemployment rate. More than 20 people were killed in the protests. Shortly after the protests began, de la Rua resigned as president. Three politicians served briefly as president before the National Congress chose Senator Eduardo Duhalde of the Peronistas as president in January 2002.

In one of his first acts as president, Duhalde ended the practice of linking the value of the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar on a one-to-one basis. Many critics believed this practice, which began in 1992, had contributed to the country’s economic problems by causing the peso to be overvalued. An overvalued currency made Argentina’s imports and exports more expensive. Argentina became less competitive than its neighbors, particularly Brazil, and it sold fewer exports. By ending the practice of pegging the peso to the U.S. dollar, the government was able to sharply devalue the peso, making the cost of Argentina’s products more competitive in the global market. The government hoped that de-linking the peso would stimulate the economy in part by increasing exports.

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