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ARGENTINA | 16-02-2021 11:46

Menem buried with military honours at ceremony in Buenos Aires

Former president Carlos Menem was laid to rest on Monday, granted military honours at a small ceremony on the outskirts of the capital.

Former president Carlos Menem was laid to rest on Monday, granted military honours at a small ceremony on the outskirts of the capital.

The late Peronist leader and senator's casket was buried next to his late son, Carlos Menem Jnr., at the Islamic cemetery in San Justo, Buenos Aires Province. 

A military band performed prior to the ceremony, while soldiers carried the coffin to its resting place. Readings from the Koran bookended the ceremony, which featured an address from Anibal Bakir, the head of the local Islamic Centre.

"Although he professed the Catholic religion, he will rest alongside my brother" the ex-leader's daughter Zulemita Menem said prior to the ceremony.

Menem, Jr died in a helicopter crash in 1995 that his mother, Zulema Yoma, long claimed was a terrorist attack and that Menem himself later blamed on the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

Born into a Muslim family, Menem later converted to Catholicism in order to pursue a political career, since the Constitution stipulated the president had to follow that faith.

During his first term, he changed the Constitution in 1994 to remove this requirement while also shortening the term from six years to four and allowing for a single consecutive re-election.

President Alberto Fernández declared three days of mourning following the death of his fellow Peronist politician, who was 90.

Menem had been in poor health in recent months and was hospitalised several times. He was receiving treatment in hospital for a urinary infection, which led to a heart attack.

His body lay in state at Congress, where he served as a senator until his death, before he was buried in an Islamic cemetery in the west of Buenos Aires on Monday.

In a nod to Menem's controversies and style, the late president was laid to rest with a song from his late friend and singer Cacho Castaña, appropriately enough 'A Mi Manera' – the crooner's version of Frank Sinatra's 'My Way.'

'He died as he lived'

Menem was known for his political about-face that saw him implement free market policies, privatisations and a political alliance with the United States. A charismatic hedonist, he deviated from the general nationalist, populist and leftist policies of the Peronist movement.

He was president from 1989 to 1999, during which time he introduced the controversial monetary policy to peg the peso to the US dollar.

Even more controversially, though, he pardoned the military leaders who were tried for crimes against humanity during the brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship – a move later reversed by another Peronist president, Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).

"The most serious thing he did was pardon the murderers of our children and the persecution of the Mothers," said Hebe de Bonafini, the outspoken president of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo humanitarian group, who are named after the square where they began protesting to demand answers to the disappearances of their children during the dictatorship.

Reactions were mixed, though, as Fernández praised Menem's "support for democracy," and ex-president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) called him "a good person."

Others were less complimentary. 

"He died as he lived: unpunished," said a statement from Memoria Activa, a group of family members of victims of the 1994 attack on the Argentine Mutual Israeli Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires.

Menem was tried for covering up the attack, which killed 85 people, but was acquitted.

His presidency was tarnished by multiple accusations of corruption and scandals. But while Menem was investigated in several cases, he never served jail time.

In 2001, Menem was ordered to be held in pre-trial home detention for a case involving arms smuggling to Croatia and Ecuador, but he was freed weeks later under a Supreme Court ruling and ultimately let off.

He was sentenced in 2018 to three years in prison for embezzlement, but his parliamentary immunity protected him from going to prison.

– TIMES/AFP

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