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Argentina goes loco: Javier Milei elected president

FRANCISCO DOMINGUEZ looks at the grim implications of the shock victory for a shocking candidate, assessing how much damage they might do to the nation and the continent

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 per cent of the vote.
 
His rival, Peronist Sergio Massa, minister of economics of Alberto Fernandez’s outgoing administration, scratched 44 per cent of the vote. The support of the electoral coalition Juntos por el Cambio, which obtained 24 per cent 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 labelled misogynistic; he strongly opposes abortion, he also opposes feminist politics and policies and has stated to be in favour of “liberalising” 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 US dollar and the eventual abolition of the nation’s central bank; the abolition of all ministries except economy, justice, interior, security, defence 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 favours total economic deregulation.
 
Furthermore, Milei has also confirmed his determination to carry out a wave of privatisations 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 because he “will not promote agreements with communists.” Instead, he said Argentina will align with the US and Israel, countries he will visit before his inauguration.
 
Milei also rejects Argentina joining the Brics because it is a group that favours and promotes the de-dollarisation 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 per cent of soya and 57 per cent 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 labour laws. In his propaganda he has amalgamated government officials, trade union bureaucrats, the working class and the 40 per cent of Argentineans who depend on social benefits, labelling 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 symbolise 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 labelled “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 organise. 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).
 
Between 2018-20 the IMF granted Macri the largest loans in its history: $100bn ($56bn in 2018 and $44bn 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 $320bn which by November 2023 had reached $420bn — 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 per cent a year; about 40 per cent of people living in poverty; and a recession looming.”

The primary win by Milei led to an 18 per cent devaluation of the peso and an increase in interest rates to 118 per cent aimed at restoring confidence, and a generalised price hike of consumer goods by double digits overnight. No wonder demoralised and disenchanted voters flocked in such large numbers to Milei’s simplistic proposals.
 
However, given the country’s experience with neoliberalism, dollarisation and IMF austerity in the past, the Fernandez government failed to mobilise 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 per cent to 15 per cent of GDP will involve severe cuts in highly sensitive areas such as pensions, transport subsidies (12 and 2.5 per cent of GDP, respectively), and welfare benefits support for 40 per cent of the population.
 
Dollarising 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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