December 10, 1999
Web posted at: 8:24 AM EST (1324 GMT)
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Fernando De la Rua assumed
Argentina's highest office today, promising a new era of political
austerity after the glamorous presidency of Carlos Menem, one of
Latin America's most colorful leaders.
Embarking on a four-year term, De la Rua was sworn in today as Argentina's
47th president. Wearing a dark suit, he took up the blue-and-white sash of office
during a midmorning ceremony at the congressional palace.
The former mayor of Buenos Aires took over from Menem, whose two
consecutive terms over ten years -- replete with outlandish antics and bold
leadership -- are the longest served by any Argentine leader.
As the candidate of the center-left opposition Alliance, De la Rua, 62,
won an Oct. 24 election by casting himself as a sober antidote to the pomp
of the Menem years. It was one of the worst defeats for the long-dominant
On Thursday, De la Rua officially relinquished his post as mayor of Buenos
Aires and the balding, gray-haired lawyer said he was ready to begin
working "to provide answers to the needs of all Argentines."
De la Rua takes power at a time of acute economic hardship in Argentina.
Sparked by the devaluation of Brazil's currency in January, the economy
been slowed by the worst recession since free-market reforms, implemented
by Menem in the early 90s, revived the country's floundering economy.
The country is approaching fiscal danger with a federal deficit that some
could swell to $11 billion next year if no preventive measures are taken.
Following a brief hospital stay for minor lung surgery days after the election,
De la Rua has sought to reach agreement with the Peronist dominated
Congress on ways to slash spending in next year's budget.
De la Rua has also pledged to attack the social costs widely believed here
be the result of Menem's economic program. In casting votes for De la Rua,
voters said they felt he would better deter rising unemployment, a growing
crime problem and a widening gap between the rich and poor.
"Our priority will be to create jobs," De la Rua has said in reference
unemployment rate bobbing at 14 percent.
Menem bade farewell to Argentines in an open letter published Thursday
Argentine newspapers. He wrote that his government leaves a country far
better off than the one he inherited -- well poised for the 21st century.
"We leave a solid country, with institutional and economic stability, peace
and owners of a new international prestige," he wrote. "All of which will
allow de la Rua to successfully take the initial steps in the third millennium."
Menem now becomes the country's leading opposition figure. As leader of
Argentina's Peronist party, he is in position from which he could immediately
launch a bid for the presidency in 2003.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.