Wednesday, April 01, 2009

RIP - Raul Alfonsin

From Boz, I learn that Raul Alfonsin, Argentina's first civilian president after the military dictatorship, has died at 82.

Words do not describe what a difficult task Alfonsin faced during his administration. While the broader narrative of the history of Argentina's "Dirty War" paints their removal from politics as inevitable in the wake of the Falklands/Malvinas disaster, in 1983, it was anything but inevitable. While the military was indeed disgraced, it also continued to hover over politics, feeling civilians just wouldn't be able to handle things. Alfonsin not only managed to resist military pressures, he ended up being one of the best post-dictatorship leaders in Latin America in terms of pursuing human rights violators, putting on trial many of the leaders of the military junta, with five convictions resulting, including of two former presidents, Jorge Videla and Leopoldo Galtieri. Certainly, Alfonsin's actions in this arena would have been much more powerful if the Carlos Menem had not issued the unforgiveable general pardon of military criminals upon his election in 1990.

Certainly, Alfonsin was not a perfect president, and Argentina witnessed severe economic troubles during his term (including an annual inflation rate above 3000%), though the economic troubles brought on by Carlos Menem's neoliberalism and the collapse in 2001 made it clear that Alfonsin was not solely responsible for the economic decline in Argentina, either. But economics have taken second-stage in the narrative of Alfonsin's presidency and its importance, and rightfully so - he masterfully negotiated a return to democracy that continues today in a country that saw military intervention intermittently from the 1900s to 1983, and he did so while trying to pursue human rights to the best of his abilities. It is a sad day for Argentina.