December 21, 2001

De la Rua: Promises fizzled out

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) --Fernando de la Rua cast himself as a candidate
of change, a dull but steady hand to guide Argentina out of a recession after a decade
under the flamboyant Carlos Menem.

It worked at first, with his approval rating topping 70 percent in December 1999.
But De La Rua soon began to flounder on the national stage in a truncated term in
office marked by indecisiveness, political stumbling and the multibillion-dollar debt
crisis he inherited.

De La Rua's promises of prosperity and jobs fizzled, corruption continued
unchecked, and the economy worsened. Two years after he took up the sash and
scepter of the presidency, he resigned on Thursday, driven from office by violent

Now 64, De La Rua entered politics at 26 and became a senator at 35, in 1973. In
1996, he was elected mayor of Buenos Aires, where he turned the capital's $600
million budget deficit into a surplus and installed anti-corruption agencies.

An admittedly stodgy lawyer, De La Rua showed none of the flashiness of Menem,
the Peronist Party leader whose last years in power were dogged by scandals
involving his top aides.

Against that background, De La Rua made his sedate image an advantage. One
campaign ad showed Menem in a Ferrari and De la Rua saying: "I'm going to end
this party."

De La Rua rode to the presidency at the head of the Alliance coalition, a perpetually
shaky union of his centrist Radical party and the leftist Frepaso movement of his
vice president, Carlos Alvarez.

After a brief honeymoon, he hit hard times.

First came a Senate scandal, with allegations that government officials had bribed
lawmakers to pass a key bill. Accusations that De la Rua was not confronting
corruption snowballed, and Alvarez resigned in October 2000, accusing De La Rua
of disregarding a "cancer" of corruption.

Meanwhile, the economy failed to pick up, and by March 2001, a desperate De la
Rua fired two economy ministers in two weeks and turned to Menem's former
miracle worker, Domingo Cavallo.

Cavallo could not muster a repeat performance, and both men's popularity
plummeted as the government imposed austerity plans, cutting state salaries and
pensions and hiking taxes.

In October, voters punished them by giving the opposition Peronists a bigger grip on
Congress, and critics accused De La Rua of losing touch with Argentina's
increasingly poor and angry populace.

As the anger boiled over his week, De la Rua made one last bid to build a
government of "national unity," then wrote out his resignation and flew by helicopter
from the rooftop of Government House as protesters looked on, cheering his

 Copyright 2001 The Associated Press