Fernando de la Rúa - Socialist Affairs looks at the life of the leading candidate in this year's Argentine presidential election
Issue 4, Volume 47, 1998
The office of the man who is now Head of Government of the city of Buenos Aires is on the first floor of an imposing building and it looks over the Plaza de Mayo and towards the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. If all goes well for him in the presidential elections he will be moving from one to the other in December at the head of a government which will include many who are devoted to the ideals of the Socialist International.
Fernando de la Rúa, for long marked out as a figure who would do well, is an expert on Argentine law and is in his early sixties. His legal training and his political attitudes lead him to take satisfaction in the recent imprisonment of many members of the former military dictatorship who have been jailed and confined under house arrest for their part in the kidnapping and the trading of babies born to political prisoners during their time in office from 1976 to 1983. Underlining the influence of the Argentine parliament, he points out that while the officers had been pardoned for their political crimes, the Congress had not absolved them from responsibility for cruel and unusual acts. Trading in babies was certainly one of those and it was for that reason that they were imprisoned by an investigating judge.
De la Rúa has reason to see that justice is done to former tyrants. Born in 1937 in the northern city of Córdoba and now married with three children, he was a member of the Radical Party from the beginning. At the age of twenty-six, he was one of the youngest members of the Radical government of Dr Arturo Illia which was cut down by a military coup plotted by General Onganía in 1966.
When order was restored in the country in 1973, de la Rúa was elected senator for the city of Buenos Aires, and went on to be the vice-presidential running mate of the veteran Radical Ricardo Balbín later that year, in opposition to the ticket represented by General Juan Domingo Perón and his wife María Estela `Isabelita' Martínez de Perón.
When another military coup was sprung, the Congress in 1976 was closed down and he was out of his senatorial post. As with many of his countrymen during the Dirty War he was forced into exile teaching at universities in the United States, Mexico and Venezuela.
Back in his homeland, and with the military ejected from office in 1983, he was once again elected to a seat in the Senate for Buenos Aires, his term being extended after he won a further victory in the 1992 poll.
His biggest job came in June 1996 when he was elected to the top post in this one of the biggest cities in the southern hemisphere, and it is one he enjoys. He recounts how he has saved the equivalent of 100 million pesos (88.5 million euros) by putting out to private tender such services as rubbish collection and street lighting. In November 1998 he won the presidential candidacy of the Alliance coalition, which includes SI member parties the Popular Socialist Party, PSP, and the Radical Civic Union, UCR, for the 1999 elections in a run-off with Graciela Fernández Meijide.
If elected, de la Rúa emphasises that he will start a drive against the sort of corruption that has been prevalent under the successive administrations of President Carlos Menem. His idea is the appointment of a special prosecutor with particular responsibility for fighting administrative corruption. As public services are privatised, he intends to strengthen the regulation regime which in the past in Argentina, and in other countries of Latin America, has allowed the private sector to get away with abuses.
The foreign affairs priorities of this man who enjoys a reputation for prudence are to strengthen the Mercosur group of countries, while looking more towards Europe: `It seems to me that we should revise the present idea of automatic alignment with the United States that the (Menem) government maintains', he states.
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