After obtaining his law degree, he began working as a trade union lawyer. During this time, he joined the successor of the Peronist movement – The Justicialist Party.
In 1973 he was elected as governor of La Rioja province nut soon dismissed from office in the 1976 Argentine coup d'état by a military council. He was accused of corruption and maintaining links with guerillas. He was imprisoned and subsequently released in 1978, with a warning to stay outside his home town. He was kept under house arrest until 1981.
In 1983, along with the end of military rule, he regained the governorship of La Rioja. He worked towards expanding his government by favoring businesses with tax benefits and supporting industrial growth. His supporters grew in number and he was subsequently re- elected in 1987.
In 1989, he was elected as the President of Argentina during one of country’s most difficult times. The country was plagued by high inflation and severe economic recession.
As President, he took decisions contrary to traditional Peronist policies and decided to follow the Washington Consensus thereby reducing expenditure than money earned by the state, and opening opportunities for free trade. He also initiated the privatization of state enterprises like the telephones and the airline industry. These steps proved helpful in stabilizing the economy to an extent.
As per the permitted ‘Convertibility plan’, the value of the Argentinean Peso was raised to an exchange rate of one-to-one for a US Dollar. The existent currency Austral was replaced by the new Argentinean Peso. This was done as a measure to curb hyper-inflation, but the strategy did not work after the initial years.
State enterprises like water, electricity, gas including other state enterprises turned out to be favourable. However, in the following years a large section of people employed at these enterprises were fired and as a result unemployment rates grew by approximately 10%. Strikes and public outrage was prevented as the workers were given huge compensation.
Other decisions taken during his first term as President include the acquittal of human rights violators during the military rule period between 1976 and 1983, the signing of the ‘Olivos pact’ in 1993.
The ‘Olivos pact’ was signed between him and leader of opposition party, giving him the right to revise the constitution of 1853 and allow a President to serve for two consecutive terms with a reduced term of 4 years. These actions attracted significant criticism.
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In 1995 he was re-elected as President and during his second term as President, he focused on improving International relations. His trip to Britain in 1998 was much talked about as it was the first trip of an Argentinean leader to Britain since 1982.
During these years, the Peronist party was plagued by internal conflicts and corruption charges. After the end of his tenure of four years, he was succeeded by Fernando de la Rúa.
In 2001, he was held under house arrest following charges of his involvement in arms- smuggling. However, he was freed five months later. The following year, the uncertainty and confusion in Argentina’s social, political and economic conditions forced Fernando de la Rúa to resign. Carlos Menem made an entry into politics soon after and attempted to regain his position as President.
Following internal disputes within the Justicialist Party that led to a division, he contested against candidates from the Justicialist Party and other parties. However, he withdrew his candidature in between and Justicialist candidate Néstor Kirchner was elected the President.
In 2005, he was elected to the Federal Senate as a representative for La Rioja province. Two years later, he contested for the post of Governor of the province but was unsuccessful.
In 2008, he came under scrutiny for his role in the arms scandal involved in the 1995 Río Tercero explosion. He was later found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013. However, his position as senator gave him immunity from incarceration.
In December 2015, he was additionally convicted of fraud and punished with imprisonment for four and half years along with huge fine. His current term as senator ends in 2017.
Personal Life & Legacy
Carlos Menem was born into a Muslim faith but he converted to Argentina Roman Catholicism in order to accomplish his political ambitions.
He married Zulema Fátima Yoma in 1966 and the couple had two children, a son named Carlos Saúl Facundo Menem Yoma and a daughter named Zulema María Eva Menem. The couple separated after 25 years of marriage in 1991. His son died in a helicopter accident in 1995.
He had an extramarital relationship with Martha Meza, a deputy from Formosa province and they had a son, Carlos Nair Menem born in 1981.
On 26 May 2001, he married actress and former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco. The couple had a son, Máximo Saúl Menem Bolocco. However, they separated soon after and were officially divorced in 2011.