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Union Civica Radical (UCR)
Radical Civic Union

The Radical Civic Union (UCR) is the country's oldest party, and remains the only non-Peronist party with a national infrastructure. The UCR is a member of the Socialist International, and its policy positions range from liberal to social democratic. Since the turn of the century it has traditionally represented middle-class interests. The party moved away from statist and non-aligned policies, accepting the broad social and political reforms of the Menem Administration while retaining a critical attitude toward their economic application.

In 1916 the political system — long dominated by Conservatives representing export-oriented elites — was transformed to reflect the social changes brought on by waves of immigrants. That year saw the election of Radical Civic Union (Union Civica Radical—UCR) caudillo Hipolito Yrigoyen, who represented the coming to power of the nation's new middle classes. By 1930 the aged and increasingly incompetent UCR leader was unable to meet the crisis of the Great Depression, and he was overthrown by members of the armed forces representing the old Conservative export elites. Thus began the cycle of military interventions into the political process that had plagued Argentina ever since.

When the Conservatives lost control of the country after 1916, they lost it to a new force that had emerged during the 1890s to challenge oligarchical rule. In 1890, as the country plunged into a short but severe economic crisis, an organization led by Bartolomé Mitre, called the Civic Union, tried to overthrow the Conservative government. The revolt ended when Mitre reached an agreement with the government and joined forces with the Conservative Julio Argentino Roca for the 1891 elections. A dissident faction within the Civic Union refused to support the alliance and established the Radical Civic Union (Union Civica Radical — UCR) under the leadership of Leandro N. Alem in 1891. The UCR dedicated itself to a nationwide campaign to secure the universal secret ballot for male citizens by all available means, including revolution.

The UCR instigated rebellions in 1893 and again in 1905. When these proved unsuccessful, the party, under the leadership of Yrigoyen, assumed a position of intransigence in relation to the Conservatives. Convinced that UCR participation in elections supervised by the Conservatives would only place the party's stamp of approval on inevitable electoral fraud, Yrigoyen saw to it that the Radicals boycotted all elections before 1912. After the passage of the Sáenz Pena Law, the UCR ran candidates, electing Yrigoyen president in 1916.

Through the period of intransigence, Radicalism produced no platforms or proposals save general denunciations of the oligarchic nature of Conservative governments and calls for an undefined "national renovation" led by the UCR. In power from 1916 to 1930, Radicalism proved to be considerably less "radical" than the English translation of its name implied.

Before 1912 Radicalism's major difference with Conservatism was that its leaders could not come to power in the absence of free and honest elections. After 1916 it pursued policies that were not markedly different from those the Conservatives had pursued. Radicalism wanted a limited institutional change that would maintain the political power of the landed groups while providing wider opportunities for the middle class. This meant not so much a change in the economic structure as wider access for the middle-class groups to professional and bureaucratic positions.

Radicalism accepted the basic emphasis on export-led economic growth espoused by the Conservatives but modified the notion of a free-market economy to include reforms of the economic system that would distribute the benefits of economic growth to the middle class. It called for an overall increase in the government's role, both in providing basic services to citizens, such as education and public health, and as an economic actor in the public interest.

In 1919 Yrigoyen issued an executive decree nationalizing all petroleum deposits, and three years later he founded the National Petroleum Company. In 1920 Yrigoyen expressed Radicalism's view of the role of the state in the economy: "The state ought to acquire a preponderant position in the industrial activities of the nation in order to respond to the need for services, and in some areas these activities ought to be substituted for the application of private capital." This was a substantial innovation in Argentine political history.

During the first period of Perón's rule (1946-55), Radicalism returned to its emphasis on democratic norms, opposing the Peronist reforms and participating in his overthrow in 1955. Although Radicalism supported the rights of labor unions to organize workers and to strike, it did not envision labor as an integral part of a unified society until the 1960s. Under the leadership of Frondizi, one current of Radicalism rejected the traditional emphasis on relying on agricultural exports as the main engine of economic growth and sought an alliance of labor and domestic industrialists in an effort to industrialize the country.

Another, more traditional, wing of Radicalism, under the leadership of Illia, opposed Frondizi's efforts to wed labor to Radicalism and continued its emphasis on the rural sector and the urban middle class. During this period Radicalism continued its emphasis on an increased economic role for the state, not only as an economic partner of domestic industry but also as a promoter of exports.

A third group, objecting to the electoral proscription of Peronism by the military, emphasized Radicalism's traditional demand for free and honest elections and refused to participate in public life until that restriction was removed.

The original supporters of Radicalism were the middle class of Buenos Aires, who identified with the export-import industry and state employment, and medium-sized ranchers in the upper Littoral region. It eventually encompassed the new middle class groups, drawn mainly from the descendants of Spanish and Italian immigrants, professionals, clerks, and small shopkeepers. By the 1960s Radicalism was supported by most merchants and professionals, as well as by some industrialists producing for the domestic market.

The UCR succeeded the old UCRP formed by Ricardo BalbIn, who had opposed Frondizi's attempt to forge an electoral alliance with the Peronists in the 1958 elections. Although Frondizi's UCRI won the 1956 elections with Peronist support, the UCRP remained staunchly opposed to an accommodation with Peron and elected Illia president in 1963 with only 26 percent of the popular vote. After Illia's overthrow by OnganIa in 1966, the UCRP continued its opposition to Peron and thus, in effect, supported Onganla. In the 1973 elections the party, having changed its name to the UCR, participated with several right-wing parties in an electoral alliance known as the Revolutionary Popular Alliance (Allianza Revolucionaria Popular—ARP). The ARP's presidential candidate was Balbin, who was roundly defeated by Perón.

After Balbin's death in September 1981, the UCR's internal factions competed for control of the party. The three main national-level factions within the UCR were the National Line (Linea Nacional—LN), led by Carlos R. Contin, Juan Carlos Pugliese, and Fernando de la Rua, which controlled the party machinery; the Yrigoyenist Affirmation Movement (Movimiento de Afirmación Yrigoyenista— MAY), led by Luis Leon; and the Movement of Renovation and Change (Movimiento de Renovación y Cambio—MRC), led by Raull Alfonsin. There were also a number of provincial factions.

As the 1983 elections approached, AlfonsIn formed an alliance with Victor Martinez, leader of the UCR organization in COrdoba, and ran in a series of primaries in several provinces. After several victories it became clear that Alfonsin would gain the UCR presidential nomination. The LN, unsuccessful at the polls, tried to convince Alfonsin to accept de la Rua as his running mate, but he refused. The Alfonsin/Martinez ticket won the 1983 elections with 52 percent of the popular vote and 317 electoral votes after a campaign that emphasized firm opposition to the military government and verbal attacks on the trade union leadership of the PJ.

Despite AlfonsIn's victory, the UCR remained divided internally. Although supporting Alfonsin's policies, many in the party were concerned about what they perceived as the growing influence of the Radical Youth (Juventud Radicalista), which urged Alfonsin to greatly increase the role of the state by nationalizing basic industries and banking. In addition, many LN and MAY leaders were concerned about the effects of Alfonsin's efforts to deal with the country's economic crisis.

The UCR had split several times in the past and recovered, but the 2006 split was more serious, as both factions seek their salvation in one of two Peronist leaders -- President Kirchner and Roberto Lavagna. Past splits always involved differing UCR leaders and political programs, such as the split between the followers of Hipolito Yrigoyen and Marcelo T. de Alvear in 1928, and the fracture in 1956 between the supporters of Arturo Frondizi and Ricardo Balbin. The 2006 split lacked strong leaders with a national following and the principal conflict was whether or not to accept incorporation into Peronist President Kirchner's political machine, rather than substantive policy differences.

In 2006 the party was split between those who want to accept President Kirchner's call to join his "concertacion" and those who want to remain an opposition party. Kirchner did not create the UCR's weakness, nor many of its divisions, but he has skillfully utilized his power over the purse strings to force UCR Governors and Mayors to fall into line behind him. The pro-Kirchner bloc -- known as the Radicales K or by their favored term, Radicales G (for "government" or the Spanish word for "management") -- included the majority of the UCR Governors and the most prominent UCR Mayors.

Kirchner's use of the word "concertacion" was a reference to Chile's governing coalition of parties. Unlike Chile's example, however, Kirchner's concertacion in practice did not allow for differences of opinion or a policy debate and is instead an alliance of Peronists and non-Peronists who had signed onto Kirchner's political program.

The trouble with aligning so closely to another political force is that it left the aligning party's voter base with no incentive to remain in the party. Why continue to remain a Radical if most the UCR Governors and Mayors have gone over to Kirchner's side? Those Radicales that were seeking to sign onto Kirchner's cause would do well to remember the fate of leading third parties in their day that largely disappeared within a few years of aligning themselves with President de la Rua (Frepaso) and President Menem (the UcDe).

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