The events of December 2001 seemed to transform Argentina?s international status from poster child to basket case. Throughout the 1990s, Argentina had been widely hailed as a case of successful market reform under democratic government. The radical economic transformation undertaken by the government of Carlos Saúl Menem had ended hyperinflation and restored economic growth, while the country enjoyed an unprecedented degree of democratic stability. Elections were free; civil liberties were broadly protected; and the armed forces, which had toped six civilian governments since 1930, largely disappeared from the political scene. Yet in late 2001, Argentina suffered an extraordinary economic and political meltdown. A prolonged recession and a severe financial crisis culminated in a debt default, a chaotic devaluation, and a descent into the deepest depression in Argentine history. A massive wave of riots and protests triggered a strong of presidential resignations, plunging the country into a profound crisis. For several months, Argentina teetered on the brink of anarchy. Widespread hostility toward the political elite raised the specter of a Peruú or Venezuelaústyle partyúsystem collapse. As the 2003 presidential election approached, many observers feared that the vote would be marred by violence or fraud.
Published in Journal of Democracy 14, no. 4 (October 2003): 152-166.