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Argentine ex-president Menem buried in Islamic cemetery

  • Published at 11:29 pm February 21st, 2021
Handout picture released by the Argentine Senate showing the honour guards carrying the coffin with the remains of late former Argentine president (1989-1999) and senator Carlos Saul Menem, during the funeral cortege at the Congress in Buenos Aires, on February 15, 2021 AFP

Born into a Muslim family, Menem later converted to Catholicism in order to pursue a political career

Former Argentine president Carlos Menem was buried Monday in a ceremony with military honours in a Buenos Aires Islamic cemetery next to his late son.

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

Menem, Jr died in a helicopter crash in 1995 that his mother, Zulema Yoma, 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 Argentine 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 Fernandez has declared three days of mourning over the death of his fellow Peronist, who was 90.

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

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

'He died as he lived'

Menem was known for his political about-face that saw him implement free market policies, privatizations 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 1976-83 military dictatorship -- a move later reversed by another Peronist, Nestor Kirchner (2003-07).

"The most serious thing he did was pardon the murderers of our children and the persecution of the Mothers," said Hebe de Bonafini, the president of the Mothers of the 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 Fernandez praised Menem's "support for democracy," and ex-president Mauricio Macri (2015-19) called him "a good person."

"He died as he lived: unpunished," said a statement from Active Memory, 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.

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