He is fast-talking, youthful looking and charismatic — but untested on a national level. When Ramon Puerta took over Friday as Argentina's caretaker president, even he acknowledged his time in power may be fleeting.

Until 10 days ago, Ramon Puerta was a little-known Peronist lawmaker from the sweltering jungle province of Misiones. Now, he is Argentina's provisional president, with Congress accepting Fernando de la Rua's resignation from the presidency.

Puerta, who is 50, said he doesn't want the job longer than 48 hours. But he said he would run when a popular election for president is held, and that he felt it his duty to help his country in a time of crisis.

"I've never held a post for which I have not been elected," Puerta said. "But I will fulfill my duties to the republic in these very difficult moments."

De la Rua's ill-fated presidency ended two years before his term was up. That catapulted Puerta — the provincial politician who became Senate leader only 12 days ago — from the relative obscurity of the Senate to center stage of this South American country.

A wealthy businessman who made his fortune producing and selling the "yerba" plant used in Argentina's steamy hot national tea, Puerta was chosen Dec. 10 to lead the Senate.

Congress is to discuss over the weekend when to hold elections — as early as March or as late as November 2003, when De la Rua was to have left office.

Puerta has risen steadily in politics. Born in Misiones, 900 miles northeast of Buenos Aires, Puerta was an excellent student who graduated with a degree in civilian engineering. But he found his calling in politics at 33, when he won his first provincial legislative election.

He served for two terms as governor of Misiones in the 1990s, privatizing public companies and slashing bloated bureaucracy. He then returned to the House, and won a Senate seat in October.

Never one of the more visible figures in the party stemming from the days of former President Juan Peron, Puerta nonetheless has good ties with a wing of the Peronists closest to former President Carlos Menem. That helped him serve as a bridge between the Peronists and De la Rua's crumbling government during its final days.

Never married, Puerta is the father of two teen-age boys.