Until very recently, in Argentina pronouncing Carlos Menem’s name in public was something avoided by any politician, left or right, and by many citizens. In fact, if someone mentioned the former Peronist president (1989-1999), many men touched their left testicle at the same time, an obviously non-egalitarian custom that in Argentina is used to ward off someone who is jinxed or brings bad luck. The feminine variant, less widespread, is to touch the left breast.

It was not a joke, nor an unusual custom, nor reserved only for conversations or informal settings. The repudiation of the former president was widespread after the outbreak of the corralito crisis of 2001 which, although it detonated during the catastrophic government of the radical Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001), in the country there was unanimity that the main person responsible for the economic chaos was Menem.

In fact, one of those who popularized this Argentine tradition applied to the former president was the also Peronist president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), who did not hesitate to touch his left testicle when Menem was sworn in as senator in 2005. Kirchner had gone to the Senate to accompany to his wife, Cristina Fernández, who that same day was also sworn in as senator.

After his death in 2021 at the age of 90, after being involved in several corruption cases, and although even under Kirchnerism he was elegantly dismissed, Menem’s figure was not rehabilitated either. Until now. With the arrival to the Casa Rosada of the ultraliberal and anti-Peronist Javier Milei, the president has praised Menem, despite being a Peronist and an example of the caste that the anarcho-capitalist economist so rejects.

An exponent of the most right-wing Peronism, Menem carried out an ultra-liberal and privatizing government like the one Milei dreams of developing in Argentina, reducing the State to a minimum. In fact, the president has recovered several of the technicians, ideologues and advisors who worked during Menemism in his government.

Menem’s official rehabilitation came this Tuesday, when the effigy of the former president was installed and unveiled in the gallery of presidential busts, located in the honorary lobby of the Casa Rosada.

During the ceremony, Milei, who left aside the usual black rocker jacket and dressed in a suit and tie for the solemn occasion, said that Menem “was the best president of the last forty years.”

“We cannot forget that Menem received a hyperinflationary catastrophe and handed over to his successor in 1999 an orderly, stable country with a 60% higher GDP per capita,” Milei declared in his speech. “He managed to place Argentina among the emerging countries of the new globalization, he modernized the institutions in 1994 through the most consensual constitutional reform in history,” added the far-right president. “He led with audacity, intuition and pragmatism. He inspired us, to those of us who believe in freedom, to follow their example,” he added.

At this Tuesday’s event at the Casa Rosada, family members of the former president were present, led by his daughter, Zulemita Menem; his brother, former senator Eduardo Menem; and the latter’s son and nephew of the missing president, Martín Menem, who is the head of the Chamber of Deputies and one of the main leaders of La Libertad Avanza, the ultra party founded by Milei.

In his speech, the president, who cried when he spoke of the death of Menem’s mother after he was detained in 1976 by the dictatorship, explained an anecdote that occurred during a visit to Menem when he was not even considering entering politics. According to Milei, Menem told him: “You are going to be president of Argentina, but you are going to do it better, because not only do you have the intuition and courage, but you have the knowledge,” the president said that Menem would have told him. Milei would have responded: “Carlos, I hate politics.” And Menem would have replied: “I am never wrong.”