Rarely has a presidential election in Latin America attracted so much attention in the rest of the globe, but the emergence of Javier Milei and his libertarian project has focused the gaze of politicians and commentators worldwide.
Until recently, the image of the now Argentine president-elect had been defined thanks to his histrionic appearances on television and his rallies where he emulated a rock star, as well as by his statements about the Pope or about rethinking the commercial relations of Argentina. However, now elected as president, he will have to dialogue and perhaps lower the disruptive profile that has characterized him.
Since the good results obtained by Milei’s project and his party, La Libertad Avanza, in the primary elections last August, great expectations began to be created around the new outsider that with a libertarian speech offered a solution to rampant inflation, corruption and the growth of crime in a country that still remembers that at the end of the 19th century it was the first economic power in the world.
The last 20 years have passed for Argentines between the Kirchnerist discourse that came to power in the midst of the so-called turn to the left, during which leaders such as Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa or Evo Morales were elevated. With Alberto Fernández and the former president and former first lady Cristina Fernández, the last four years have meant a progressive deterioration of the socioeconomic situation for Argentines.
Below the poverty line
According to the latest INDEC report, 40% of Argentines currently live below the poverty line, and 6.8% of households are below the indigence threshold. Despite everything, the Minister of Economy of the current government, Sergio Massa, managed to make his way to the runoff – second round – and obtain 44% of the votes. For this he had the support of the state apparatus and Argentine Peronism, which defines the political identity of broad sectors of society that still remember the labor and social policies promoted by Juan Domingo Perón. Despite the country’s Peronist tradition, voters have turned their backs on Massa’s project and have joined the Latin American anti-government movement.
In ancient times, the Latin phrase was placed on maps Hic sunt dracones –“you will find dragons”– to indicate the lands still unexplored, and Argentina seems to be going precisely there. Although the majority discourse in the international media has focused on the risk of trusting Milei to redirect the country’s direction, it is necessary to remember that the other option represented the continuity of the policies that have destabilized Argentina in recent years. The president-elect’s promises have been criticized as radical, although it remains to be seen to what extent these are achievable.
Criticism of Pope Francis and China
Perhaps one of Milei’s most striking moments in the media was when he called Pope Francis “envoy of the evil one” back in 2016. This has become relevant again after Alberto Benegas Lynch, mentor of Milei’s project, indicated at the event closing the campaign for the first round of the elections that Argentina should break relations with the Vatican because it considers that the pope is authoritarian, although this was later qualified by the presidential candidate.
Likewise, Milei also indicated that as president of the nation he would not promote relations with China because it is a communist country, despite being the country’s second most important trading partner. After knowing the results of the runoff election, the Chinese government congratulated Milei and highlighted his willingness to “work with Argentina to continue the friendship.”
Macri’s important role
The victory of Javier Milei must be understood not only as a response to the crisis that the country is experiencing, but also as the victory of the bet of former president Mauricio Macri, head of the Together for Change (JxC) coalition, for this second round.
After Patricia Bullrich came in third place in the first round of the elections, the liberal-conservative coalition gave its support to Milei’s project, so much so that in his speech after Sunday’s victory the president-elect thanked Macri, Bullrich and JxC prosecutors. The short history of the political project of La Libertad Avanza has prevented it from having a deep and solid implementation in the territories, which is better seen when considering that it only has seven senators out of 72 and 40 deputies out of a total of 247 in the Lower House , so the support of Macri, Bullrich and their coalition is vital for the governability of Argentina.
The alarmism surrounding the candidate has led many to call the president-elect a totalitarian or far-right, although these adjectives do not define the libertarianism that Milei champions. Although during the electoral campaign he left striking and alarming statements, his dependence on the center-right to govern Argentina suggests that his government will be more moderate than might have been thought.