The Miami Herald
December 31, 2001

Besieged interim Argentine president resigns

Leader next in line will not take position

 Herald World Staff

 BUENOS AIRES -- Just a week after Congress named him interim president of Argentina, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá resigned late Sunday when leaders of his party failed to support policies aimed at dragging the crippled country out of a political and economic morass.

 Rodríguez Saá could not win backing from warring factions in his Justicialista Party, also known as the Peronist Party. Peronist governors from several key provinces
 refused to attend a meeting Sunday afternoon with Rodríguez Saá where he sought consensus for his second Cabinet in a week.

 Argentine media reports Sunday said that the leader of the Argentine Senate, Ramón Puerta, who would normally be in line to serve as acting president, also resigned following Rodríguez Saá's announcement. Puerta served as president for about 48 hours after President Fernando de la Rúa resigned on Dec. 20 amid violent street protests.

 Press reports said the office will go instead to Peronist Eduardo Camaño, president of the Chamber of Deputies, Argentina's lower house.

 When Rodríguez Saá spoke to the nation in a televised speech late Sunday, he listed his efforts during his week in office, including suspension of foreign debt payments and his intention to create 230,000 new jobs. But blaming several provincial governors, he said that in the end there ``was no other path'' than to step down.

 ``I will not be the president of the continuity of the policies of the old Argentina,'' Rodríguez Saá told his audience.

 The opposition Peronists forced de la Rúa from power, but instead of moving to pull Argentina out of a morass, they turned on themselves in an orgy of bickering and a bare-knuckle grab for power.

 The resignation was the second by a president in 10 days and pushed Argentina, already on the brink of economic and political collapse, closer to outright anarchy. The country has already announced it would default on some of its $132 billion government debt and has limited citizens' access to bank accounts for fear the treasury will be run dry. And just days ago protesters looted the Congress and attacked the presidential offices in the capital, Buenos Aires.

 At issue, apparently, in the resignation was whether Rodríguez Saá would have stepped aside after March 3 elections called for by Congress or would have served out the remainder of de la Rúas term through December 2003, as some prominent Peronists wanted. Without consensus in his own party, Rodríguez Saá opted to go by plane to his native San Luis province, from where he addressed angry Argentines.

 Argentine television station TodoNoticias reported Sunday night that the resignation may have also been sparked by confidential reports of violent protests, promised overnight Sunday.

 Protests turned violent in the overnight hours between Friday and Saturday as Argentines attacked and looted the Congress and were thwarted after briefly gaining entry into presidential offices.

 A week ago, Argentines were euphoric after driving the unpopular de la Rúa from office, but Sunday night many were fearful as the reality sunk in that there appeared no one at the helm of the state.

 Others had hoped Rodríguez Saá could bring calm before March 3 elections.

 ``We are without a president for the second time in 10 days,'' said Rosa Ferrare, 67, a retired phone worker in Buenos Aires. Like many Argentines, she soured on
 Rodríguez Saá when he brought in old-line Peronists who had served in the decade-long government of former President Carlos Menem.

 ``I didn't like it when he called all the mafiosos and thieves from the previous government,'' she said, meaning Menem.

 Whoever eventually sits behind the presidential desk faces an uphill battle.

 Diego Giudice reported from Buenos Aires and Kevin G. Hall from Rio de Janeiro.

                                    © 2001