Unbowed by arrest, Argentina's Menem to run again in 2003
BY BILL CORMIER
BUENOS AIRES -- Former President Carlos Menem, savoring his newfound freedom after more than five months of house arrest, said Thursday he plans to run again for the presidency in 2003.
Claiming he was the only person capable of rescuing Argentina from its economic crisis, the flamboyant 71-year-old, two-time former president promised to travel from ``town to town and city to city'' to regain the presidency.
``If there is a solution for Argentina's crisis it passes through the Peronist Party and, more modestly, through me,'' he said.
Menem spoke in a nationally televised news conference in his native northwestern province of La Rioja, where he flew hours after the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that prosecutors failed to prove he led a conspiracy to smuggle weapons to Croatia and Ecuador while in office in the 1990s.
Even though the election is still two years away, he said he would
move to rebuild his power base and reassert his leadership as the official
chief of the opposition
Peronist Party, the country's largest.
With his ex-beauty queen wife at his side, Menem blamed President
Fernando de la Rúa for leading Argentina into a deep crisis. South
economy teeters on the brink of a possible default on $132 billion in debt.
``Things don't work well when there is no leadership,'' he said of de la Rúa, whose popularity has plummeted amid a near-breakdown of his ruling Alliance coalition. ``And things don't work when there is no strong government.''
De la Rúa, who took over from Menem in December 1999, has often blamed his predecessor for the economic mess, calling it the result of years of lavish government overspending in the late 1990s.
Although recession tarnished Menem's last two years in office, the former president insisted he left Argentina economically sound when he stepped down in 1999 and far from the large-scale debt drama unfolding now.
Observers predicted Menem, still the official head of the Peronists,
will face a bruising battle within party ranks from rivals to retain his
leadership post and win the