“Today the reconstruction of Argentina has begun. Here I stand as your first libertine 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 Finance Minister Sergio Massa did not exceed 45 percent after 95 percent of the votes were 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 Peron, which is deeply rooted among the Argentinians. Milei profiles himself as an outsider to the establishment and therefore wants to rigorously put the chainsaw to the money-guzzling and bureaucratic civil service, as he has repeatedly promised.
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 guaranteed,” he said on Sunday evening.
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 eventually abolish the local peso, which no longer means anything due to enormous monetary devaluation. It is these plans and the fact that the Argentinians have completely lost their confidence in the Peronist government that Milei managed to grow significantly from almost nothing in a short time.
Many Argentinians hold left-wing leaders responsible for the accumulation of economic misery over the past 20 years or so. More and more Argentinians were convinced that things would not turn out well for their country, especially when inflation peaked last year to above 140 percent. 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 choice for a negative vote.
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Although Milei has also struck a chord with many young Argentinians with his call for ultimate freedom. They form a 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.
Yet there are major concerns among the portion of Argentines who did not vote for Milei, and among his critics. He is also called ‘El loco’, the madman. This partly has to do with his idiosyncratic character, his image with messy hair and a sometimes wild look in his eyes. But his controversial statements also contribute to this.
He also kicks against an open wound in Argentina: the Dirty War, the bloody dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Milei sows doubt about the number of victims. Officially, there were thirty thousand victims there, but according to Milei there were much fewer, just over eight thousand. Something that is also supported by his future vice president Victoria Villarruel, whose father and grandfather were soldiers during the dictatorship.
Before he entered 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 Luiz Gonzalez describes how Milei’s cloned his favorite dog, who died in 2017, and paid USD 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 firearms permits. The three share a distaste for socialism and anything remotely similar to it. Although freedom is Milei’s motto, this is not the case when it comes to the free choice for abortion. Although this has been legalized in Argentina after a long struggle by the Argentine women’s movement, he wants to reverse the right to abortion.
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According to critics, Milei could even be more dangerous than Trump or Bolsonaro, because he would be more unstable and much more excessive. Gonzalez describes in the book El Loco, also the risks that exist if Milei were to come to power. There should be serious concerns about Milei’s mental state, according to Gonzalez.
Looking for political support
In December, Milei is officially appointed as president. The question is whether he can then realize his far-reaching plans. His party ‘La Libertad Avanza’ does not have a majority in parliament or the senate and he must therefore seek political support for his plans. It will therefore very much depend on whether he is willing to cooperate with other parties. And to what extent will the Argentinians accept it if he – inevitably – also becomes part of the establishment?
After Milei was elected, the first international congratulations also came in. President Lula da Silva of neighboring Brazil congratulated him. Lula praised democracy and said she hoped for good cooperation. Milei, who is good friends with Lula’s archrival Bolsonaro and his sons, had previously said that he wants to cut all ties with Brazil as long as the country is led by Lula. Milei also wants to break the relationship with “communist China”, he has often said.
Now that Argentina will no longer belong to the bloc of left-wing countries in Latin America with an ultra-right president, the question arises what this could mean for cooperation between the countries. Analysts on the Brazilian channel Globo discussed this after the election results. Although long-term partnerships have already been signed, there are concerns about, for example, Mercosur or BRICS, which Argentina will most likely join.
Much will depend on whether Milei, now that he has become president of South America’s second largest economy, wants to engage in broad cooperation in the region, or whether, as he has promised, he wants to focus primarily on countries where like-minded people of his be the power.