AUSTIN, Texas—Carlos Menem, who served as president of Argentina from 1989-99, will discuss Argentina in the 1990s and the challenges of the new millennium at a lecture March 8 at The University of Texas at Austin. The event will be held in the Texas Union Ballroom beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Menem’s talk, titled “La Argentina en la década del 90 y los desafíos del nuevo milenio” (Argentina in the Decade of the 1990s and the Challenges of the New Millennium), will be delivered in Spanish. Simultaneous translation will be available. Menem’s visit is sponsored by the newly created Argentine Studies Center at the UT Austin Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS).
“Even Menem’s detractors confess that his presidency transformed Argentina in many positive ways,” said Dr. Nicolas Shumway, director of ILAS. “Previously a country of state-run industries and a protected economy, Argentina under Menem enthusiastically embraced liberal economic policies. As a result, foreign investment grew, partly as a result of privatizing state enterprises, but largely because Menem’s policies made the country so much more attractive to foreign capital.”
Such investment has greatly improved Argentina’s infrastructure, noticeable particularly in telecommunications, Shumway said. “As in other countries that have embraced similar neo-liberal policies, Argentina saw its unemployment rate skyrocket with a consequent loss of purchasing power among the lower and middle classes.”
Optimists, however, argue that Menem’s program eventually will produce a higher living standard for everyone, Shumway added. “In the recent presidential elections (in which Menem could not stand for re-election) neither candidate wanted to alter his economic program in any significant way.”
The ILAS director noted that Menem also is praised for radically changing Argentina’s military establishment, so much so that the military — which led six coups d’état between 1930 and 1976 — hardly figures in today’s Argentine political equation. The resulting political stability makes Menem the first Argentine president since 1928 to complete his constitutionally mandated term of office. Similarly, the transfer of power last December from Menem’s Justicialist Party to the Radical Party was the first time since 1916 that a peaceful transition of power took place from one Argentine political party to another.
Menem also brought Argentina out of its historical isolation. In both World Wars, Argentina claimed neutrality — a position supported by the country’s closed economy policies. Menem’s Argentina, however, was the first Latin American country to pledge troops for the Gulf War — an item that helps explain perhaps his close friendship with former President Bush. Last year, said Shumway, he shocked many by proposing that Argentina join NATO and consider making the dollar its national currency. “Although no longer president, Menem, as senior statesman of Argentina’s largest opposition party, remains a significant force in Argentine and world politics.”
For more information, contact ILAS at 471-5551.