By BILL CORMIER
BUENOS AIRES -- Fernando De la Rua was sworn in Friday as Argentina's
president, promising to create an austere government in contrast to the
flamboyant decade of Carlos Menem.
``One era is over and a new century is beginning,'' said De la
Rua, a 62-year-old
former Buenos Aires mayor, who inaugurated the opposition's first coalition
government in Argentine history.
``As president, I salute you!'' he told a cheering crowd from
the balcony of the
Casa Rosada presidential palace, moments after Menem handed over the gold
presidential baton and blue-and-white sash.
Menem's two terms and 10 years in power were the country's longest
uninterrupted stay in the presidency.
Menem, 69, was constitutionally prohibited from a third straight
run for office, but
he has suggested he would like to seek reelection in 2003. As the leader of the
Peronists, Menem becomes Argentina's top opposition figure.
De la Rua, of the centrist Radical party, teamed up with the leftist
to defeat the Peronists in the Oct. 24 election. De la Rua easily won election over
his Peronist challenger, saying Menem's record left high unemployment and other
social costs unattended.
Speaking to a crowd on the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa
Rosada, the new
president suggested he would help those still untouched by free market reforms.
``All Argentines across the length and breadth of this country
are seeking better
times. We are going to work to that end!'' he said.
Menem insisted he has left Argentina far better off than when
he took office in
1989 amid economic chaos. Menem tamed hyperinflation, stabilized the currency
and sold off scores of languishing state industries.
``We leave a solid country, with institutional and economic stability,''
wrote in a farewell letter, ``all of which will allow De la Rua to successfully take
the initial steps into the third millennium.''
Menem also cemented some of the strongest ties with the United
States in Latin
America, and is credited with strengthening democratic rule after the 1976-83
Menem is known for his flashy style, hobnobbing with statesmen
and movie stars,
driving race cars and flying helicopters.
After taking the presidential oath in Congress, De la Rua and
his wife rode in an
open car to the Casa Rosada, escorted by red-uniformed soldiers on horseback in
The mood was festive, but De la Rua got straight to business,
his first speech as president that lawmakers had failed to pass next year's budget
in time for his inauguration. Weeks of bickering between his party and the
Peronists, who dominate Congress, delayed the legislation's passage.
Copyright 1999 Miami Herald