Fear mounts in Argentina as ultra-rightist president assumes power
Javier Milei, presidential candidate of the Liberty Advances coalition, speaks at his campaign headquarters after polls closed for general elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Oct. 22, 2023 | AP

Latin America and the world were stunned to learn that on November 19, 2023, Argentina’s most extreme right-wing politician, Javier Milei, had been elected president with a hefty 56 percent of the vote.

His rival, Peronist Sergio Massa, minister of economics of Alberto Fernandez’s outgoing administration, scratched 44 percent of the vote. The support of the electoral coalition Juntos por el Cambio, which obtained 24 percent in the first round, was crucial to guarantee Milei’s victory.

Javier Milei is not just an extreme right-wing politician; he is also a very odd character.

He suffered humiliation and physical violence from his parents, thus, for years he did not have any relationship with them; he was the rock band Everest’s singer; in secondary school, he won the nickname “El Loco” (“the crazy one” or “the madman”) because of his outbursts; he has faced court cases on issues related to plagiarism, gender violence, illicit association and for the finances of his electoral campaign; he has claimed to talk to God; he lives with four dogs (he calls “my four-legged children”) which he has named after famous economists; he claims to talk to “Conan” a dead dog he used to own; and in TV chat shows he has talked about threesomes and other sexual exploits.

A biography narrates that he made his first friend at 33 and had his first love at 47; he is charismatic, highly aggressive, offensive and has been labeled misogynistic; he strongly opposes abortion, he also opposes feminist politics and policies and has stated to be in favor of “liberalizing” the sale of weapons and human organs.

He sees himself as a warrior in the world’s culture wars and he thinks sex education is a Marxist plot to destroy the family. He defines himself as a libertarian or “anarcho-capitalist,” and is an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Donald Trump, and Jair Bolsonaro.

His proposals are ultra-neoliberal and include replacing the Argentine peso with the U.S. dollar and the eventual abolition of the nation’s central bank; the abolition of all ministries except economy, justice, interior, security, defense, and foreign relations; abolition of all subsidies, especially, energy, coupled with an economic reform aimed at drastically reducing both public and social expenditure as well as taxes; and he favors total economic deregulation.

Furthermore, Milei has also confirmed his determination to carry out a wave of privatizations of services such as health, education, and all state companies, particularly the system of public media, and state oil and gas companies YPF and ENARSA.

He will also restructure AFIP (Argentina’s Inland Revenue) and ANSeS (National Administration of Social Security) and he has promised to “turn [over] Argentina Airlines to its employees.”

On foreign policy, Milei proposes to break relations with Brazil and China and he is opposed to Argentina joining the BRICS coalition (Brazil, India, China, and South Africa) because he “will not promote agreements with communists.” Instead, he said Argentina will align with the U.S. and Israel, countries he will visit before his inauguration.

Rejects joining BRICS

Milei also rejects Argentina’s joining the BRICS because it is a group that favors and promotes the de-dollarization of trade. Milei’s top foreign affairs adviser, Diana Mondino, in an interview with Sputnik News, said Argentina would not go ahead with plans to join BRICS.

Breaking links with Brazil will be damaging to Argentina, but breaking with China would be disastrous: in 2022 Argentina exported 92 percent of soya and 57 percent of meat there, and China has carried out substantial investment in the country’s energy sector and its lithium industry.

Ideologically, Milei is an ultra-conservative who defends the 1976 military dictatorship and denies that it murdered over 30,000 people, a figure he says is only 8,753, the result of a “war” in which state forces perpetrated “excesses” but “so did the terrorists,” as he labels the dictatorship’s victims.

Milei was a political associate of genocidal military officer General Antonio Bussi, condemned to life in prison for crimes against humanity (repression, forced disappearances, kidnappings, torture, and assassinations) in Tucuman province during the dictatorship.

In 2022, Milei entered into a political agreement with Fuerza Republicana, led by Bussi’s son, Ricardo. Furthermore, Milei combines an anti-system populism with an extreme version of economic liberalism, ideally with “no state” participation in the nation’s economy.

His notion of anarcho-capitalism includes, among other things, loosening the country’s labor laws. In his propaganda, he has amalgamated government officials, trade union bureaucrats, the working class, and the 40 percent of Argentineans who depend on social benefits, labeling them “parasites and thieves.”

Milei considers the state to be worse than the mafia and proposes the arming of individuals as a “solution” to ensure public safety against crime. To symbolize his commitment to carry out drastic cuts in state spending he campaigned with a revving chainsaw in his hands.

In his victory speech, Milei declared that in the implementation of his economic policies, there would be no room for gradualism and, against those who resist the elimination of what he labeled “privileges” (working-class gains) “we will be implacable.”

It is unimaginable that such an economic shock can be implemented without grave attacks on political and democratic rights, the right to strike, the right to demonstrate, and even the right to organize. Milei’s views are inimical to liberal democracy since he deems it to be ruled by a “caste.”

Milei’s calls for purging the “political caste” are almost identical to Trump’s commitment to “drain the swamp,” and like the latter’s mantra “Make America Great Again,” the Argentinean constantly repeats his intention to restore his nation to a position of greatness “in the world that it should have never lost.” He even wears hats with the slogan “Make Argentina Great Again.”

Internationally, he has linked up with Spain’s extreme right-wing party, Vox, with Jair Bolsonaro and his son Eduardo in Brazil, and with people like Chile’s extreme right-winger, Jose Antonio Kast. Trump tweeted a euphoric message predicting Milei will “truly Make Argentina Great Again.” Milei has contacted Jair Bolsonaro to personally invite him to his inauguration.

What underlies the Peronist defeat was the IMF-mandated austerity policies of Alberto Fernandez’s government which received a hugely indebted economy, the legacy of the Macri administration, which took out a loan of $57 billion (127 times greater than the indebtedness capacity of Argentina).

Largest loans in history

Between 2018-20 the IMF granted Macri the largest loans in its history: $ 100 billion ($ 56 billion in 2018 and $ 44 billion in 2020). Thus between 2012-21, Argentina had the largest increase in public debt: 40.5 percentage points of GDP.

When Fernandez assumed office in 2019 the country’s debt was more than $ 320 billion which by November 2023 had reached $420 billion — a dire situation.

In August 2023 the Financial Times reported: “Argentina faces mounting pressure to devalue its currency again as its government struggles to avoid economic collapse ………with inflation more than 100 percent a year; about 40 percent of people living in poverty; and a recession looming.”

The primary win by Milei led to an 18 percent devaluation of the peso and an increase in interest rates to 118 percent aimed at restoring confidence, and a generalized price hike of consumer goods by double digits overnight. No wonder demoralized and disenchanted voters flocked in such large numbers to Milei’s simplistic proposals.

However, given the country’s experience with neoliberalism, dollarization, and IMF austerity in the past, the Fernandez government failed to mobilize its political base to exert pressure on the IMF to extract concessions to improve Argentina’s bargaining position.

Milei’s plans to slash public spending from 38 percent to 15 percent of GDP will involve severe cuts in highly sensitive areas such as pensions, transport subsidies (12 and 2.5 percent of GDP, respectively), and welfare benefits support for 40 percent of the population.

Dollarizing the economy, technically very difficult to implement, will massively exacerbate inequality and poverty, a situation which in the past has led to militant social unrest making non-Peronist administrations unable to finish their mandate.

Given the significance of Brazil and China for Argentina’s economy, it remains to be seen whether Milei is really willing to implement such a self-harming break.

Where Milei may also cause substantial damage is his opposition to continuing to develop a Brazil-Argentina common currency for their mutual trade but also for Latin America as a whole. It would substantially complicate, but not stop, the ongoing process of regional integration.

The election of Javier Milei as president will take Argentina into a gigantic and multifaceted crisis, leading his extreme right-wing administration to assault people’s rights and gains.

His promised brutal ultra-neoliberal policies will be supplemented by implacable repression and persecution of opponents. Thus, we must build the broadest solidarity movement to defend democracy and people’s democratic rights in Argentina.

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Francisco Dominguez
Francisco Dominguez

Francisco Dominguez is head of the Research Group on Latin America at Middlesex University. He is also the national secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in the U.K. and co-author of "Right-Wing Politics in the New Latin America" (Zed Books, 2011). Dominguez came to Britain in 1979 as a Chilean political refugee.