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The former president Fernando de la Rúa dies at 81

Fernando de la Rúa assumed the presidency in 1999 after he proposed to end years of crude neoliberal policies

Fernando de la Rúa

Archive photo: Former President of Argentina, Fernando de la Rúa, in the middle, walks outside the Federal Court of Argentina in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 23, 2013. / AP Photo / Victor R. Caivano

Reuters

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Former Argentine President Fernando de la Rua, who was forced to resign in 2001 after just two years of a government marked by one of the worst economic crisis in the South American country, died on Tuesday at the age of 81, confirmed local authorities.

The current Argentine president, Mauricio Macri, lamented the death on Twitter, stating that "his democratic trajectory deserves the recognition of all Argentines, we accompany his family at this time."

The health of the former president, who suffered from a heart condition and who had been hospitalized repeatedly, had deteriorated severely in the last hours.

The Government decreed three days of national mourning after the death, which coincided with the national holiday of the country's independence day.

"A man who always sought to strengthen the democracy of our country," wrote Security Minister Patricia Bullrich on Twitter, who during her presidency served as Minister of Labor.

Who was Fernando de la Rúa?

Fernando de la Rúa assumed the presidency in 1999 when he proposed to end years of crude neoliberal policies and corruption. His mandate, however, is remembered as one of the worst in Argentina's history.

Drowned by the most serious social and economic crisis suffered by the country and allegations of corruption, he left power only two years later, amid violent riots and police repression that left dozens dead.

The image of De la Rúa rising to the presidential helicopter on the terrace of the Casa Rosada (presidential house) after having resigned, as if he had been in the middle of an attack, still lingers in the memory of the Argentines.

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"I did not escape from anything," he said years later during an interview in which he admitted that it was a mistake to leave the government house in a helicopter.

"At that time, I did not realize the size of the coup that had taken place," added the former president, who died on Tuesday at the age of 81.

The political leader, a lawyer who was born in the Mediterranean province of Córdoba, suffered heart problems and died almost in oblivion of his supporters.

As a young political leader of the traditional Radical Civic Union (UCR, in Spanish) party, De la Rúa was a deputy and national senator, to reach the mayor's office of the city of Buenos Aires in 1996.

After two consecutive mandates of the neoliberal Peronism of Carlos Menem, a period characterized by the decline of allegations of corruption and high unemployment, the Cordovan politician won the presidency in the 1999 elections with transparency and seriousness as his greatest values.

The social democratic coalition Alianza took over the government in December of that year with the promise of improving the institutions' functioning, while maintaining the neoliberal economic recipes so criticized during the Menem administration and the alignment with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) .

But the political capital of De la Rua began to fade a few months after taking office, when his administration was accused of bribing senators to approve a labor reform law. Then, the popular vice president Carlos "Chacho" Álvarez, disappointed with De la Rúa, left office, weakening the government coalition.

Mistrust about the economy - which was already depressed and with high poverty rates - grew, while the government was unable to take firm action due to a rigid exchange system that tied the peso to the dollar. A little more than a year after assuming the presidency, the image of a doubtful De la Rúa had collapsed.

In December 2001, the crisis finally broke out. Faced with the disastrous prospect, many Argentines massively took their savings in dollars from banks, which led De la Rua to restrict the withdrawal of funds with regulations popularized as "corralito".

The unemployed pickets and the "cacerolazos" (protests using pots) of the middle class multiplied, until De la Rúa ordered to suppress the multitudinous protests. With dozens of deaths on his back and overwhelmed by social rejection, on December 20, 2001 De la Rúa was forced to resign.

After his resignation, the former president retired from political life and avoided public appearances, although he had to appear before the courts for the violent repression.

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