“Today the reconstruction of Argentina has begun. Here I stand as your first libertarian president! Today begins the end of Argentine decadence. It is over with the fat state apparatus that only serves a small group and has plunged the masses into poverty,” the newly elected ultra-right president Javier Milei (53) began his victory speech on Sunday evening local time after he won the decisive second round of elections with 56 percent of the votes.
His center-left opponent and current ‘super minister’ of Economy, Sergio Massa, did not exceed 45 percent after 95 percent of the votes had been counted. More than an hour before Milei’s speech, Massa had already admitted defeat during a press conference and called his rival to congratulate him.
With Milei as president, a new era is dawning in Argentina in which there is no longer a place for Peronism, the left-wing populist movement associated with former president Juan Perón, which is deeply rooted among the Argentinians. Milei profiles himself as an outsider of the establishment who will rigorously put the chainsaw to the money-consuming and bureaucratic civil service. A large number of ministries will be overhauled and he wants to govern the country with a very small government where “private property is respected and free trade is established.” guaranteed,” he said on Sunday evening. “There will be no room for gradualism.”
Milei calls himself an anarcho-capitalist with radical ideas to make the economy healthy again. For example, he wants to close the Central Bank. And introduce the dollar, and in the long term abolish our own peso, which no longer means anything due to enormous currency depreciation. It is these plans and the fact that many Argentinians lost confidence in the Peronists that helped Milei to rally so many people behind him almost from nowhere in a short time.
Many Argentinians hold left-wing leaders responsible for the accumulation of economic misery over the past twenty years. They lost their last vestige of confidence in the incumbent politicians when inflation peaked above 140 percent last year. Of the 45 million Argentines, 40 percent now live in poverty, many people depend on meals at soup kitchens. According to analysts, the turn to the ultra-right is not so much an ideological choice as a vote against it.
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At the same time, Milei has also struck a chord with many young Argentinians with his plea for ultimate freedom. They form a relatively large part of the electorate and saw little future in bankrupt Argentina. “Libertad! Libertad,” was heard en masse around the Libertador hotel in Buenos Aires, where Milei’s supporters gathered at the end of election day to hear the results.
The part of Argentinians who did not vote for Milei, and his critics, are very concerned about this ‘leap of faith’, as for example the left-wing newspaper Page 12 it mentioned. Milei is sometimes called ‘El loco’, the madman, with his idiosyncratic character, his messy hair and impressive sideburns and a sometimes feral look in his eyes. Many controversial statements contribute to this unpredictable image.
During the campaign he also rubbed an open wound in Argentina: the Dirty War during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983). Milei sows doubt about the number of opponents that the junta had kidnapped, murdered and disappeared. Officially, there were thirty thousand victims there, but according to Milei there were much fewer, just over eight thousand. His future vice president Victoria Villarruel, whose father and grandfather were soldiers during the dictatorship, supports this statement.
Before entering politics, Milei was known as a television personality. He had his dogs cloned and is in favor of the legal sale of organs. In the biography El Loco by Juan Luis González describes how Milei’s cloned his favorite dog, who died in 2017, and paid $50,000 for it in the US. He is said to still regularly “communicate” with his dog through a paranormal medium.
Milei has a lot in common with his role models Trump and Bolsonaro. For example, when it comes to relaxing gun legislation. The three share an aversion to socialism and anything remotely similar to it. Although freedom is Milei’s motto, this does not apply to the free choice for abortion. Although this procedure was legalized in Argentina in 2020 after a long struggle by the women’s movement, he wants to dismantle the right to abortion again. Critics say Milei could be more dangerous than Trump or Bolsonaro because he is more unstable and outrageous. Biographer González argues that there should be serious concerns about Milei’s mental state.
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In December, Milei will be officially inaugurated as president. The question is whether he can then realize his far-reaching plans. With his party ‘La Libertad Avanza’ he is far from having a majority in Congress or the Senate and he will have to enter into political partnerships with other parties to implement his plans. He therefore runs the risk that his voters, who actually cast a protest vote against the ‘old’ politics, will see him become part of the establishment.
After Milei’s victory became clear, the first international congratulations quickly came in. President Lula da Silva of the large neighboring country Brazil congratulated him. Lula praised democracy and said she hoped for good cooperation. Milei, who is good friends with Lula’s arch-rival, ex-president Jair Bolsonaro and his sons, had previously said that he wants to cut all ties with Brazil as long as it is led by Lula. Milei also wants to break the relationship with “communist China”, he has often said.
With an ultra-right president, Argentina will soon no longer belong to the bloc of left-wing countries in South America. The question is what this will mean for regional cooperation between the countries. Analysts on the Brazilian channel Globo discussed this after the election results. Although partnerships for longer periods have already been signed, there are concerns about, for example, Mercosur or BRICS, which Argentina wanted to join.
Much will depend on whether Milei, as president of South America’s second largest economy, wants to cooperate with his neighbors. Or that, as he has promised, he wants to focus mainly on countries where like-minded people of his are in power.