It was with great sadness the Socialist International learnt of the passing of former Argentinean President Raúl Alfonsín, one of Latin America’s most respected leaders and a champion of democratic freedoms who died of lung cancer on Tuesday 31 March 2009 at the age of 82.
Born to shopkeepers in Chascomús in 1927, Alfonsín studied law and founded a local newspaper before becoming active in the Radical Civic Union party (UCR) during the late 1950s. First elected to the national Parliament in 1963, he came to prominence as one of the only politicians who dared to speak out against the military government that toppled Isabel Perón in 1976, setting up an independent organisation known as the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and defending political prisoners in court.
In the wake of the collapse of General Galtieri’s military Junta following the conflict with Britain, laws prohibiting political parties were lifted, and Alfonsín won the Presidential election of 1983. As head of state, the new President was an inspiring figure who waged a determined battle for progressive values, reforming the country’s constitution, initiating a UNESCO-award winning literacy programme and setting up a National Commission on Disappeared Persons (Conadep), which eventually won international acclaim for its provocative ‘Never Again’ report. Alfonsín also put all 9 members of the former military junta on trial to answer for their actions during the ‘dirty war’ of 1976-83, jailing members of the repressive regime for their crimes against the disappeared and violations of civic freedom.
During his Presidency, and later as an elder statesman, Raúl Alfonsín maintained his firm commitment to international democracy and solidarity. In 1996, under his leadership, the Radical Civic Union (UCR) joined the Socialist International and he later went on to become Chair of the SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean and a Vice-President of the Socialist International. His enthusiastic dedication and contribution to our movement will long be remembered with affection and deep respect by all his friends and colleagues worldwide. We honour his memory and pay tribute to his life, his work and to his deep personal commitment to the values and principles we share.