Hipólito Yrigoyen


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(b. Buenos Aires 13 July 1850; d. Buenos Aires, 3 July 1933)

Argentine; President 1916–22, 1928–30 In 1896, following the suicide of his uncle, Yrigoyen inherited the leadership of the Radical Civic Union, a middle-class protest movement opposed to the prevailing oligarchical political system. Yrigoyen's declared goal was the establishment of a popular and ‘ethical’ democracy via free elections. His tactics included rebellion, electoral abstention, and ‘intransigence’ or refusal to compromise with other political actors.

Until 1912 he remained on the political sidelines but with the granting of universal male suffrage he was able to exploit the growing demand for a more representative political system. In 1916 he was narrowly elected President.

In his first term Yrigoyen showed that his commitment to reform was not only mild but also came second to party political advantage. He kept Argentina neutral during the First World War, reformed the university system, and nationalized the oil industry but never seriously threatened the economic and social power of the landed oligarchy. Nor did he deepen Argentina's fledgling democracy or address the burgeoning social problem, opting instead for controlling labour protest with military force and using his constitutional powers to oust his political opponents from provincial power. He also—fatefully—intervened in internal military affairs. His principal achievement was to use public patronage to convert the Radical Civic Union into an effective electoral machine.

Constitutionally prevented from succeeding himself in 1922, Yrigoyen was returned to the presidency with a sweeping majority in 1928. Popularly believed to be by now senile, his second term was largely devoid of policy initiatives. Following the Great Crash he was overthrown by a neo-Fascist group within the army in September 1930.

Though wealthy, Yrigoyen lived a very solitary and frugal life. He made no speeches and never appeared in public. Argentina's first democratically elected President, he did little to consolidate democracy.

Subjects: World History — Politics.

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