The decisive weekend victory in Argentina’s presidential election of Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian, a self-described “anarcho capitalist” economist, and former TV personality, marks both a remarkable – and some say dangerous – revival of Trumpian politics on an international scale. It is also a historic defeat for the centre-left Peronism that has held sway for 16 of the years since the country returned to democracy in 1983.
Many had hoped that the unhappy Brazilian experiment with far-right politics, which saw Trump-clone president Jair Bolsonaro defeated last year, would put Latin American voters off more of the same. It was not to be. Milei won the second round election comfortably with 56 per cent of the vote.
Donald Trump, on whom Milei consciously models himself, was one of the first to congratulate him, posting: “You will turn your country around and truly Make Argentina Great Again!” That will be no mean feat. The Argentine economy is in a dreadful state with inflation running at 142 per cent and struggling to pay a $44 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund. More than two in five Argentines now live in poverty and the value of its currency has plummeted.
Milei’s radical solution involves “taking a chainsaw” to what he sees as the bloated state by slashing federal spending, privatising state industries, and shutting down up to 10 government departments. He pledges to “blow up” the central bank, replacing the peso with the US dollar.
How he will do this as president is not clear. Dollarisation of the economy would require plenty of dollars which Argentina simply does not have. And his political coalition, La Libertad Avanza (LLA), will hold just eight of 72 seats in Argentina’s senate and fewer than 40 of the 257 in the lower house. Even with some support from the main conservative block, Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), he faces a solid parliamentary obstacle.
Observers say Milei’s election reflects a deep public weariness with corruption and economic mismanagement rather than support for his ideology, and wonder at the extent to which his more outlandish libertarian policies have a real mandate. He has said that as long as the state doesn’t have to pay for it, he could support drug legalisation, open immigration, sex work and selling human organs. He has also proposed banning abortion, loosening regulations on guns, and calls the scientific consensus on climate change a socialist plot.
Milei has downplayed the atrocities of Argentina’s bloody military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 as mere “excesses”, refusing to accept that the number of “disappeared” is around the widely accepted figure of 30,000. His commitment to democratic values is clearly in doubt. Is this really what Argentina wants?