One of Puerta’s first acts was to partially reinstate a “state of seige” emergency order De la Rua called off earlier today.
Puerta said he would re-establish the state of seige in provinces that request it. The order suspends civil rights and allows the government to impose a a curfew.
“We will give, at the request of provincial security agencies, the reinstatement of the state of siege which was for me inexplicably revoked by President De la Rua,” Puerta said.
De la Rua announced his resignation yesterday amid a devastating economic crisis that has pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Argentina, mired in a four-year recession, may default on its $132 billion International Monetary Fund debt payment if it does not receive the $1.3 billion it needs to pay off its loans.
At least 25 people have been killed and hundreds injured during two days of rioting sparked by anger at the president’s austere economic policies.
The transition came during a period of relative calm, despite scattered reports of continued looting and other violence.
Puerta said his succession to the presidency is mandated by Argentine law, but said it is only a temporary measure.
“I’ll just be president for 48 hours, only 48 hours, because that’s what the constitution dictates. The alternatives are [for the Legislative Assembly] to nominate a candidate or to call elections,” he said.
Puerta, from the left-leaning Peronist party, said he expects a special presidential election to be held this March. The Peronist party is widely expected to win the election because of the unpopular neoliberal economic policies of De la Rua and the Alianza party.
Founded by Juan and Eva Peron during the 1940s, Peronism has its roots in the working class and labor unions and, in a country struggling with its worst social and economic crises in decades, the populist Peronist party has rekindled its favor among Argentine voters.
Yesterday, the Peronist party, which already holds a majority in the senate and the largest minority in the house, rejected De la Rua’s bid to preserve his administration, which effectively forced the president to resign amid thousands of protesters demanding his departure.
“Now is the time for us to recognize that Argentina and Argentines come first — we must protect ourselves from [foreign] financial interests,” said Peronist leader Eduardo Duhalde, a senator from Buenos Aires and the party’s likely presidential candidate. “We must abandon this economic model. That is why the people are in the streets today.”
Duhalde, who was defeated by De la Rua during the 1999 presidential elections, told reporters he expected that new elections would be held this March.
“I think it’s important that the population, which has expressed its anger, should know that in 90 days they will be able to choose a leader,” Duhalde told reporters.
A political battle
The Peronist party opposed De la Rua’s free market, neoliberal policies, pushing instead for protection of domestic industries, an increase of trade barriers, and a peso devaluation. During the 1990s, however, former president and Peronist leader Carlos Menem broke from the party’s historic roots in socialism by implementing free-market policies that spurred dramatic economic growth.
De la Rua’s two-year term had been marked by fighting within his left-center Alianza party, and bitter feuding with the left-leaning Peronists over economic policy.
As president, De la Rua had tried nine different economic plans, which all failed to end the four-year recession. He was essentially ousted by the violent protests and rejection by government leaders.
Months of public discontent and frustration over the government’s spending cuts exploded into riots throughout the country this week, prompting the president to order an emergency “state of seige” Wednesday night.
Thousands looted stores and set fire to federal buildings as riot police using riot gear and riding horseback attempted to contain the violence.
The public largely blames the former finance minister and De la Rua for worsening Argentina’s four-year economic recession by imposing strict financial actions and causing the 18 percent unemployment rate.
The latest crisis started when the De la Rua government failed to procure an emergency $1.3 billion loan from the IMF that Argentina needs in order to meet its next debt payment.
If Argentina fails to garner more hard currency and make its loan payments, Latin America’s third largest economy could default on its mounting international debt, and either devalue its currency, the peso, or replace the peso with the dollar.