Who is the Donald Trump-like figure that has taken the shock lead in the recent elections in Argentina, and why is he amassing such support? Javier Milei is the far right libertarian economist turned television star and radio host. He scooped up 30 percent of the votes in the Latin American country’s recent elections.
Political scientist Juan Negri of the Torcuato di Tella University said, “No one imagined such an outcome for Milei. He came first in areas where he has no structure or support. An elephant walked past us, and we did not see it.” Some newspapers, including the Guardian, have christened him a “buffoon”.
But Milei, who heads up the Liberty Advances right wing coalition of parties, is much scarier than that. He’s anti-abortion even in cases of rape and thinks that climate change is a “socialist lie”. In one rant, he said trading in human organs should be made legal because “it’s just another market”.
Milei has promised to outlaw street and road blockades—a popular form of protest and revolt across Latin America. Milei combines such views with very particular ideas about how he can recover Argentina’s floundering economy by imposing austerity and privatisation.
For more than 20 years, he has studied and taught right wing strands of economics that try to justify capitalism. To stabilise the economy for the bosses and corporations, Milei wants to slash government spending on welfare and public services. And he wants to introduce the US dollar as the national currency—effectively outsourcing key economic decisions to the US.
He’s also for privatising the country’s national oil company and replacing Argentina’s public health system. After the big vote for Milei, as turmoil swept the markets, the government devalued the Argentinian currency, the Peso, by 22 percent.
This was at the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) request. But now investors have considered that Milei’s economic policy might provide the “shock therapy” they think the economy needs. Some bosses now consider him to be a safer pair of hands than Sergio Massa, the presidential candidate from the ruling The Union for the Homeland coalition.
With some of the bosses on his side and ordinary people fed-up with the same parties and politicians, Milei could come out victorious—just as Javier Bolsonaro did in Brazil in similar circumstances.
- The recent elections were primaries where each party chooses its presidential candidate. A party or coalition can run in the subsequent elections only if it receives 1.5 percent of the national vote.
October’s elections will decide on a president and vice-president, and parliament. To win the presidency, a candidate needs to take 45 percent of the vote or at least 40 percent—but with a 10 percent lead over opponents. Failing that, a runoff vote will go ahead between the top two candidates.
Inflation, poverty, hunger and desperation fuel reaction
In the last presidential election in 2019, Milei’s Libertarian Party only managed to grab 1.47 percent of the vote with José Luis Espert as the candidate. So what’s changed for this outlier party and a figure like Milei? The most obvious answer is that Argentina’s economy is in deep crisis and has been for some time.
Annual inflation in Argentina soared past 100 percent in March. In the single month from January to February food prices rose by almost 10 percent. This month inflation over the year had reached 115.6 percent. Half of all children under the age of 15 now live in poverty.
A mother with her children who was picking up free snacks from a charity explained the desperate situation for ordinary people to De Monde newspaper. “Everything is so expensive,” she said. “I had to sell my cell phone to buy food and medicine. We mothers prefer to deprive ourselves so that our children can eat.”
Ordinary people in Argentina are hungry, yet the mainstream political parties have offered almost no solution. The Argentine political system is complex, with political parties forming sprawling coalitions to enter government.
The current president is Alberto Fernández, who is part of a coalition called Union for the Homeland. He has had consistently low approval ratings throughout his presidency. The Union for the Homeland makes up one of the two main coalitions whose parties have dominated Argentinian politics for the last two decades.
Now ordinary people in Argentina are fed up with more of the same misery, rising prices and poverty that these politicians can’t fix. A former leader of the youth wing of Milei’s party, Freedom Advances, Mila Zurbriggen, explained why young people are turning to politicians like him.
“My generation’s outrage is very deep. It has a profound disgust for politicians. I think (Milei) has been able to channel this rejection very well. He exists because of the politicians disconnected from the reality of my generation and unaware of the damage they have done. They have turned a blind eye to our needs and are taking us for a ride.”
Failures of the left helped right
Milei has positioned himself as a break to what he calls “the caste”. What he really means is he poses as a break from the political ideologies that have dominated Argentinian politics. The first is Peronism which is named after army officer Juan Peron, who took power in the mid-1940s. Since 1946, ten out of 13 presidents have been Peronists.
The main pillars of this ideology are pushing for greater state intervention in industry and being a mediator between workers and so-called “patriotic bosses.” The other is Kirchnerism, based on the ideas of former president Néstor Kirchner and current vice president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Their offshoot of Peronism has a left wing gloss that has drawn in the Communist Party and parts of the Socialist Party. But neither of these ideologies has been an answer to regular economic crises. Peronist and Kirchnerist leaders have imposed austerity to make then working class and the poor pay for capitalist problems.
Milei is a real danger. But it won’t be Peronism, Kirchnerism or more of the mainstream alternatives that will bring change. Instead, ordinary people need independent workers’ resistance and socialist politics that are hostile to all the ruling class manoeuvres.
Far left challenge
While some ordinary people in Argentina voted for the far right, the vote for the far left didn’t collapse. The coalition that brings together several Trotskyist parties, the Workers’ Left Front—Unity (FIT-U) won 2.65 percent of the vote in the election, coming in fifth place.
The result was slightly less than the combined vote of the presidential candidates who stood as part of the coalition in 2015. Here they managed to scoop up 3.25 percent of the total vote. Myriam Bregman will be the FIT-U candidate for president.