BUENOS AIRESIn the richest contract ever signed by a world leader, U.S. President Bill Clinton agreed to a five-year deal with Argentina Monday worth an estimated $37 million.
Clinton, who assumed the presidency of Argentina Tuesday, said the offer was too good to pass up.
"While I very much enjoyed my time with the U.S., Argentina is really the best place for me right now," Clinton told reporters. "This is an exciting time to be in South America."
"From the sugar-beet farmer in Rio Gallegos to the seamstress in Catamarco, the Argentine people are ready for change," said Clinton, addressing a crowd of more than 100,000 from the balcony of his presidential palace. "By standing united, we can achieve anything."
Paid just $200,000 a year by the U.S., Clinton had been one of the lowest-paid leaders in the Western world. During his five years with the nation, he frequently complained to reporters and management about his contract and twice threatened to skip foreign summits if the salary for U.S. presidentswhich had not gone up since the Johnson Administrationwas not "substantially increased."
While Clinton's base salary with Argentina is $37 million, he could earn even more as a result of the numerous incentive clauses built into his contract. Among the bonus money Clinton stands to earn: an additional $6 million if Argentina moves into the top 10 in GNP by 2002; $3.5 million if the crime rate falls more than 15 percent; and $2 million if he is named Time's Man Of The Year.
Argentine officials, who released president Carlos Saúl Menem in February after the nation's unemployment rate hit a 50-year high, were excited about the acquisition of Clinton.
"We went out in the market and tried to get the best leader that was available, and we did just that," Argentina's Ramón Jorge Pazienza said. "This is a man who has all the tools to lead us into the next century."
On Tuesday, Clinton delivered his first weekly radio address to the Argentine people.
"Many great things lie ahead of us, but there are also many obstacles to overcome," Clinton said. "Domestically, there is the problem of inflation, which for too long has hurt our working class, badly decreasing the value of their hard-earned pesos. There is also the problem of pollution and overdevelopment, which threaten to destroy the great natural splendor of our beautiful nation, from the Pampas woodlands to the Gran Chaco plains. On the foreign front, we must work hard to maintain strong relations with other countries, particularly our neighbor to the north, Bolivia."
"As your presidente," continued Clinton, "I am committed to meeting these and all other challenges that lie before us. Argentina canand willbe numero uno once again."
According to political observers, Clinton was lured to Argentina by more than just money.
"In Argentina, Mr. Clinton will be free of the constant accusations of wrongdoing that plagued him as U.S. president," Emory University political science professor J. Arthur Lydall said. "Scandals are far more common and accepted in South America, as corruption has long been regarded as a natural part of the political process. A business deal like Whitewater would never have been questioned, much less investigated, if it had occurred in Argentina. And no longer will Clinton have to worry about being accused of sexual misconduct by the likes of Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and company: In the far more sexually permissive atmosphere of Argentina, he will enjoy a veritable harem of nubile mistresses without suffering any damage to his political or social standing."
Lydall said Clinton will enjoy numerous other perks in Argentina, including his own secret police, which he may use to eliminate those he perceives as enemies of the state and threats to his power. And, unlike his situation in the U.S., Clinton will not be relentlessly hounded by a free press protected by a Bill of Rights.
"I will always have fond memories of my years in America, and I look forward to returning someday to meet with my good friend, President Al Gore," Clinton told reporters. "But even more than that, I look forward to never again having to put up with all the [stuff] I did when I was running that [particular] place."