Argentina at 'breaking point' after second president quits

Click to follow
The Independent US

For the second time in 10 days, an Argentine president has abruptly resigned, plunging the country further into political and economic turmoil.

Adolfo Rodriguez Saa quit after complaining that his Peronist party had abandoned him, leaving him unable to confront the mounting crises plaguing the South American country saddled with a $132 billion public debt.

"The wolves and political lobbies running wild don't understand the spirit of the new times," he said, referring to some of his party's top leaders. "They've asked me to do in seven days what hasn't been done in the last 30 years."

Mr Rodriguez Saa became interim president on 23 December, two days after President Fernando De la Rua was forced out amid protests and looting over the government's inability to contain an economic crisis and unemployment now topping 18 percent. The violence left 28 people dead.

Argentina's third president in less than two weeks, his swift departure left the presidency in the hands of House majority leader Eduardo Camano. Ramon Puerta, the Senate leader who served briefly as president following de la Rua's resignation, also resigned to avoid inheriting the presidency again.

Mr Camano said he would call a special legislative assembly, possibly tomorrrow, to appoint a new president. "We want the quickest possible solution so we can have a president who can bring the country forward," he said.

Mr Rodriguez Saa was chosen by Congress to lead Argentina until a new presidential election, plannned forr 3 March. His resignation left Argentina without a clear consensus on how to resolve a devastating economic crisis that has prompted rising social tensions and street protests.

"The situation in this country is at the breaking point," said Nestor Kirchner, an influential Peronist leader.

Mr Rodriguez Saa's presidency began to unravel late on Friday night, after thousands of Argentines flooded the streets of downtown Buenos Aires. They were demanding that Rodriguez Saa lift a month–old banking freeze limiting cash withdrawals to $250 a week and that he strip controversial figures suspected of corruption from his Cabinet.

Mr Rodriguez Saa called Peronist party provincial governors to a meeting yesterday on key issues but talks broke down as only a handful of the governors offered their support.

Some Peronist leaders were reportedly worried that he was moving to extend his time in office, set at 60 days by a congressional body that appointed him a week ago.

He said he had little choice but to step down after failing to cobble together support for his caretaker administration, and blamed several members of his party for putting their presidential ambitions ahead of solving the country's pressing problems.

Announcing his resignation, he said several powerful Peronist provincial governments had withdrawn support for his presidency – singling out Jose Manuel de la Sota, who has made his ambitions to run for the presidency no secret.

However, Mr de la Sota complained that some in the Peronist party had not been consulted by the president during his seven days in office on plans to print a new currency and to launch an ambitious jobs program to inject needed money into the nation's bruised economy.

Mr Camano, the temporary leader, urged people not to mount large–scale protests. "I am begging people not to demonstrate, so we can have a chance to solve this crisis," he said. "If they want to bang pots, I ask that they do it at home."

Political analyst James Nielson said the political bickering in Argentina's largest party had left little room for any successor to build consensus on how to pull the country out of the political and economic crisis.

"Argentina's basic problem is that you can't get enough people to support any serious policies," he said. "You have a lot of people coming to grab the tin cup of the presidency, but they have no idea what they want to do with it."