Argentine front-runner skips debate, draws scorn from rivals
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
Leading Argentine presidential candidate Fernando de la Rua's
failure to show up
at a Herald-organized teleconference Friday was widely reported by Argentine
media over the weekend, and became the theme of strong attacks against him by
his top rivals.
De la Rua, the Buenos Aires mayor whose opposition alliance is
leading in the
polls for the Oct. 24 presidential elections, had agreed to participate in what
would have been the first presentation with his two nearest rivals via
teleconference at the two-day Miami Herald Conference of the Americas.
But hours before the program, de la Rua aides announced he would
not arrive at
the TV studio in Buenos Aires because of ``scheduling problems,'' and declined
an offer to participate via telephone. His two top opponents, Buenos Aires
province Gov. Eduardo Duhalde and former economy minister Domingo Cavallo,
arrived for the debate.
``Duhalde and Cavallo were left without a chance to debate with
de la Rua,'' read a
headline in Saturday's editions of the mass circulation daily Clarin. The influential
daily La Nacion said, ``The three presidential candidates were invited . . . but de
la Rua didn't show up.''
During the program Friday, Duhalde, of the Peronist Party, quipped
president Raul] Alfonsin has already said it; de la Rua lacks courage, even for the
most elementary things, such as participating in a debate.'' Cavallo added that if
de la Rua ``lacks the courage to debate, he will have even less courage to
Duhalde spent most of his time at the teleconference blasting
Monetary Fund for demanding new austerity measures, and called for ``a
productive shock, without more belt-tightening measures.'' Cavallo called for
attacking unemployment by scrapping current labor laws that make it too
expensive for businesses to hire new workers.
De la Rua is leading in the polls by between 9 and 20 points.
If he doesn't reach
45 percent of the vote, the election could go to a second round, in which Cavallo
is widely expected to back Duhalde.