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President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa - 2001

Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, who was chosen as interim president by Congress 23 December 2001 after a marathon session, was a 54-year-old lawyer who had governed the western province of San Luis for the past 18 years. A long-time member of Argentina's dominant Peronist party, he was known for his colorful and populist rhetoric.

Mr. Rodriguez Saa was chosen by a special session of Congress on 23 December 2001 following the resignation of President Fernando de la Rua several days earlier. Mr. de la Rua, who was elected President in 1999 when he defeated rival Eduardo Duhalde, was driven out of office following bloody riots and protests against his failed economic policies.

Argentina's newly selected interim president, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, was a sunny optimist who compared himself to Franklin Roosevelt, the American president who restored hope and confidence when the United States was suffering from a deep economic depression in the 1930s. Mr. Rodriguez Saa faced dealing with a similarly grim economic situation in Argentina - problems that led to the sudden downfall in December 2001 of ex-President Fernando de la Rua.

On 23 December 2001, the administration of president Adolfo Rodríguez Saá declared a default on the federal government’s debt to foreign private-sector creditors. The situation was by then so disorganized that default would have been almost impossible to avoid, but rather than presenting the default as a reluctant step by a debtor willing but unable to pay its bills, president Rodríguez Saá presented it as an act of defiance to creditors.

Mr. Rodriguez Saa announced a series of measures, including a proposal to launch a new currency and to create one-million jobs to revive Argentina's stagnant economy. But these announcements, especially the move to create a third currency to operate alongside the Argentine peso and dollar, failed to generate much confidence. The interim President also was criticized for picking advisors who had been accused in the past of corruption and for not lifting banking restrictions imposed by former President de la Rua that limited cash withdrawals. This spurred thousands of middle class Argentines in Buenos Aires to turn out in the streets, banging pots and pans in protest. It was soon clear Mr. Rodriguez Saa also had lost the support of several key Peronist governors - and so he resigned.

His resignation meant Argentina would have a fifth President, including two temporary caretakers, in less than a month. This, coupled with continuing unrest, led some politicians, including Mr. Duhalde to warn of anarchy and even the danger of civil war.

These sudden Presidential transitions were being dealt with constitutionally, though there was the impression that there was a sort of institutional meltdown. But the institution that had melted down was the Presidency. The governorships, the legislature, and the rest of the institutional system is there. The fact that Argentina had moved through this process, respecting its constitution, and its laws was important.

On 02 January 2002 Argentina's Congress picked a new President for the second time in less than two weeks. The special joint session was called following the resignation of interim President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa after just one-week on the job.

Caretaker President Eduardo Camano, who was House majority leader, convened the special Congressional session, as provided for by Argentina's Constitution when there is no President or sitting Vice President. Camano, who will served in his post for the time it takes for lawmakers to choose a President, told reporters he hoped the decision can be made quickly. "I hope within a 24 hour period we can have a new President chosen by the Congress who can implement a serious program to restore the quality of life for all Argentines," said Mr. Camano.

Lawmakers could choose either a Senator or Deputy, or one of Argentina's provincial governors to become interim President. But with Argentina's traditionally dominant Peronist party in control of the legislature, it appears almost certain that the new President will be a Peronist. As lawmakers prepared to meet, a consensus formed around Senator Eduardo Duhalde, a one-time vice president, former governor and unsuccessful Presidential candidate in the 1999 election.

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