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article imageFormer Argentine president De la Rua dead at 81

By AFP     Jul 9, 2019 in World

Argentine former head of state Fernando de la Rua -- who was famously evacuated by helicopter from the presidential palace during the 2001 economic crisis -- died Tuesday in Buenos Aires at the age of 81.

"I share in the pain of his family," said President Mauricio Macri, in announcing his death. "His democratic journey deserves recognition by all Argentinians."

De la Rua, who served from 1999 to 2001, died Tuesday at dawn in a clinic in the capital where he had been hospitalized with heart and kidney problems, according to local media.

His brief presidency was engulfed by Argentina's worst ever economic crisis, a severe recession that set off bank runs and deadly street riots.

More than 30 people were killed in the rioting, including five in and around the Plaza de Mayo in central Buenos Aires, scene of violent clashes in the final days of De la Rua's presidency.

De la Rua responded by declaring a state of emergency on December 19, 2001, but it failed to stop the riots and his cabinet resigned.

Unable to form a new government, the embattled president submitted his resignation to Congress the next day, lifting the state of emergency as his last official act and flying from the Casa Rosa presidential palace by helicopter.

Argentina then defaulted on its public debt, setting it adrift for several years until its economy gradually recovered, thanks to a cheap peso and booming demand for its agricultural exports.

De la Rua had been president for only half of his four-year term when he was forced to flee.

He kept a low profile after leaving office and his last public appearance came in November at a government function at the sumptuous Teatro Colon opera house during the Group of 20 summit in the capital.

Born in Cordoba in 1937, De la Rua attended the local military college before graduating with a degree in law.

He joined the Radical Civic Union (UCR), the oldest active political party in Argentina that for many years alternated in power with the Peronist movement and military dictatorships.

A three-time senator, De la Rua was the first directly elected mayor of Buenos Aires in 1996.

When he came to power three years later, he inherited an empty treasury and cut a very different figure, with his serious and austere personality, from the image of his predecessor, the media-savvy Carlos Menem, a Peronist who instigated neo-liberal reforms in the 1990s.

The most emblematic of those was to fix the exchange rate of the Argentine peso to the US dollar, in agreement with the International Monetary Fund, an expensive move that saw the national budget slip into deficit.

- Shakira's father-in-law -

De la Rua took office at the head of a center-left coalition that presented itself as "the force of morality opposed to frivolity and deceit."

His government started to wobble in 2000 when his vice-president Carlos "Chacho" Alvarez resigned following a corruption scandal.

Colombian singer Shakira was in a 12-year relationship with De la Rua's son Antonio
Colombian singer Shakira was in a 12-year relationship with De la Rua's son Antonio
Ethan Miller, Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP/File

The government had been accused of paying bribes to some opposition senators to support labor reform. De la Rua was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

In a context of economic recession, mass redundancies, an almost complete freeze on bank accounts, a ban on withdrawals from US-dominated accounts and a default, De la Rua's government fell.

The former president complained of being the victim of a "civil coup d'Etat" followed by "judicial, media and political persecution."

The UCR never recovered from the political crisis and is today part of center-right President Mauricio Macri's coalition government.

Married to the socialite Ines Pertine since 1970, De la Rua had three children: Augustina, Antonio and Fernando.

The middle of those would far outstrip his father's international fame due to a 12-year relationship with Colombian singer Shakira.

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