"Menem was a semi-statesman at best and stayed in the middle of the road. He did everything halfway," says Marcos Novaro. The sociologist, historian and PhD in Philosophy rescues the former president's idea of reforming the Constitution by consensus, but believes that after his exit from power the Peronists did their best to forget him.
"Menem was the least bad Peronist president. He was the one who took care of the problems that the country had accumulated, in part, because of Peronism. It is an exception in the history of Peronism and a problem in the history of Peronism that Peronism ends up telling its own story," he adds.
Was Menem the last project of a pro-market style Peronism?
It was the only Peronist pro-market project. We have to see if there's going to be another one, because Peronists have been trying to forget him for 20 years. Perhaps it will be accomplished. Menem always said he was trying to repeat what PerÃ³n did in '52. However, PerÃ³n left standing all the economic institutions he had created.
Menem tried to follow the path PerÃ³n had outlined: not only adjustments, but reforms to correct what had been done in the 1940s, which had been responsible for much of Argentina's suffering. That was a subtle form that Menem had to criticize Peronism views. Peronism then mainly rescued the vices of the original views and went on to aggravate the issues further.
What do you remember about the '90s? Absolutely nothing, perhaps this was his ultimate funeral and burial, a final death. Alberto shows a type of sympathy that buries everything indifferently. There's nothing to learn, nothing to think about, it's a mechanism that neutralizes it.
Do you think Menemism can return? With whom?
Today the issues are more serious than during Cristina's leadership and there is no intention of discussing anything related with what Menemism was. During Cristina's government, a few nostalgic citizens longed for Menem, but after Macri's failure, the idea seemed to be a closed case. Alberto's main goal is to make everyone unconscious of where we are heading. Even Schiaretti seems quiet.
What was his legacy in political terms?
"His legacy was negative. He invalidated all that he wanted to do. But the idea related with of institutional agreement was valuable. For example, a constitutional reform by agreement was very different from 1949, but nothing he did lasted. In part, the reform was devalued because there was the idea that the Pacto de Olivos was only made to guarantee re-election.
Nothing that the 1994 constitution promised was implemented: the Judiciary Council did not work, there was no Chief of Staff nor was it properly managed. Economically speaking, the issues were the same. Menem was a semi-statesman at best; he stayed in the middle of the road. He did everything halfway.
Menem removed Argentina's huge trauma of anti-North Americanism and broke up with that view. It lasted very little, since now a submarine goes by and we want to make a war; we just look stupid.
How much of Menemism was reversed by Kirchnerism?
Kirchnerism is a counter-reform. Nestor Kirchner was very opportunistic to do what the board commanded. To say that Menem embraced a conviction is as ridiculous as to say that Kirchnerism did the same. Cristina and Nestor followed with the counter-neoliberal reform because that's what the board had set for them. They went on to forget Menem in a very distressing way. But it was worse with Peronism: they were ungrateful to Menem for the times he put them through and were also very unworthy of defending their own role. Argentina showed no signs of inflation for 10 years. Why don't the Peronists have the dignity to admit that?
Did Macri continue Menem's work?
Macri initially had similar ideas. He was going to become president with a sector of the PJ that claimed to pursue the successes of the '90s. However, Peronism was getting smaller, changed strategy and built its own party. It was the beginning of the PRO as "Second best". It was also the result of a sort of feeling of frustration with Peronism, which had been poorly managed. Macri never understood what to do with PJ: build lasting allies with Peronism. He went ahead with Massa, who was an opportunist, and screwed up. Macri failed not to return to his original idea of building a Peronist ally for a reform program. He didn't continue Menem's work because he didn't have a reform strategy. He did what he could with what he had, and it was very little.
Menem was not only a reformist, but he knew how to build a coalition. Macri wasn't a reformist, he was an administrator. He is the one who continued the experience of weak governments, with loose and dispersed coalitions.
Was Peronism historically more similar to Menem or Kirchnerism?
Menem was the least bad Peronist president. He was the one who took care of the problems that the country had accumulated, in part, because of Peronism. It is an exception in the history of Peronism and a problem in the history of Peronism that Peronism ends up telling its own story.
Cristina and Nestor Kirchner were more like PerÃ³n: they performed a devaluation, adjustments, etc. That's being conservative. Nestor was much more responsible for Argentina's issues than Cristina. Nestor destroyed economic institutions that had been hard to build. The tax surplus, the free exchange rate and price regulations are all Nestor's measures.
Nestor was a counter-reformist; he did his best to destroy the legacy he received from Menem and Duhalde. That was their idea of a restoration. It's how they understood it.
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