Trumpisation of Argentine Up Ahead?  

photo by Ilan Berkenwald

The libertarian far-right Javier Milei lost the first round of Argentina’s presidential election, with moderate finance minister Sergio Massa surprising his radical opponent. Milei supporters anticipated an outright triumph comparable to Jair Bolsonaro’s unexpected victory in Brazil in 2018. His peronist challenger Massa won the day with 36.6% of the 27 million votes cast. Milei, who has pledged to destroy Argentina’s central bank and avoid the country’s two largest trading partners, China, and Brazil, finished with 29.9%. However, things do not look cherry top sweet for peronists, as Patricia Bullrich, a conservative former security minister, came third with around 23.8% of the vote. Thus, the Argentinian far-right may have the last word in this struggle.  

Massa and Milei, both of whom are slightly over 50 years, will now compete in a second round on November 19. A candidate who gains more than 45% of the vote, or more than 40% with a margin of more than 10 percent points, wins.

Massa delivered a solemn address to hundreds of ecstatic supporters inside his campaign headquarters, claiming to lead a national unity government that would usher in “a new phase in Argentina’s political history.” His speech was much different from what he used to offer. “Know that as president, I will not fail you,” he declared, pledging a “no-risk country.” He even claimed that “Argentina is a big family and what it needs is someone to work 24/7 to protect it.” 

Milei urged dejected supporters to enjoy their party’s La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) “historic achievement” of reaching the run-off only two years after it was created. “Today is a historic day because two-thirds of Argentinians voted for change,” Milei said. He went on to add: “Either we change, or we sink.”  

Milei, who rose to prominence as a television pundit who waxed lyrical about tantric sex, claimed he could lead “the best government in history”. His pompatic style bought him millions of supporters all over the globe. He is in the same classroom of far-right pundits, created by Berlusconi, as Bolsonaro, Trump, Ron DeSantis, Salvini, and the rest of their kind. 

Wanna-Be President Who Prefers Mafia  

“I would rather have the mafia than the state. The mafia follows an honor code, does not lie, and competes in the market.” This is one phrase that summarized Javier Milei’s economic philosophy. But we can also put in other words: the State is absolutely evil. Or, in his own words, the state is “pedophile in the kindergarten with the children chained up and smeared with vaseline” (yes, he actually said so, a horrible phrase, but since he is likely to win the presidential elections, apparently we should get used to such language). It goes without further explanation that taxes are “remnants of slavery,” and that avoiding them is a “human right.” 

After years of economic collapse, Milei has vowed to “blow up” the political status quo, close the central bank, dollarize the economy, and – of course significantly decrease the state. These are proposals that have resonated with many people, particularly the young. But Milei is also a former minor-league rock musician and athlete, is anti-abortion and pro-gun rights. He has called worker-friendly labor regulations a “cancer,” and hailed Al Capone as a hero. Logical for someone who’d rather pursue a mafia career than the one in politics.

Milei’s ascent echoes a broader regional trend in recent years, which has seen Latin American politicians from outside the mainstream acquire popularity in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Chile. All of them promised to disrupt the current state of things. Most of them, eventually, turned to be pseudo-antysystemic fighters or ended up helpless.

Mastiff Lover Scenario  

However, if he is elected, the government will be in disarray. Milei has only been a member of Parliament for two years, and unlike Trump, he has no real party behind him. Libertad Avanza is little more than a movement, and he will not win more than one-third of the congressional seats. Unlike Bolsonaro, he does not have the backing of powerful sectors like agrobusiness, conservative Evangelical churches, or the military. In fact, he is a lone Crazy Horse (and he enjoys the comparison). “Take a Puccini character, put him in real life, and that’s me,” Milei said of himself in an interview with Pablo Stefanoni, historian, and author of the essay La rebeldia se volvió de derecha? (Has the rebellion turned right-wing?).  

Young people, who make up a major section of his vote, are unfamiliar with his complicated economic views, which are a combination of the Austrian School and US libertarian Murray Rothbard. They are more interested in the pompous sentences he speaks out and that seem like they came from a video game. 

Nevertheless, now he is the main opponent of the Peronist old guard. Former abused child, singer in a teen rock band, tantric sex master, with a morbid attachment to the four 100-pound mastiff dogs whom he named after economists he admires: Milton (Friedman), Murray (Rothbard), Robert and Lucas (both from American Nobel Prize winner Robert Lucas), might in the end, even if that sounds like a science fiction, become a president of a G20 country.  

Old Guard vs. Anarchocapitalism  

Sergio Massa is a peronist who was appointed Minister of Economy on August 3, 2022. He was formerly the National Deputy for the center-left coalition Frente de Todos, elected in Buenos Aires Province, and the President of the Chamber of Deputies from 2019 to 2022. Massa previously served as the Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from 2008 to 2009. He was also twice elected intendente (mayor) of Tigre and the Executive Director of ANSES, Argentina’s decentralized state social insurance organization. 

Despite inflation rising and the currency sank during his tenure, he finished top in the preliminary vote count. He had informed voters that he inherited an already awful position that had been aggravated by a severe drought that had destroyed the country’s exports, and that the worst was over. “On Monday, Argentina continues,” Massa said after casting his vote in Buenos Aires. “We have an enormous task … regardless of who governs, to address a multitude of problems.”  

In the last days of the campaign, Massa used most of his firepower to urge voters not to vote for Milei, portraying him as a dangerous upstart. He contended that Milei’s initiatives would have disastrous consequences for social welfare programs, education, and health care. He reminded that Milei also wished to abolish the ministries of health, education, and social development. This rhetoric is the main ammunition of the peronist old guard in the upcoming fight.  

Perils and Sins Up Ahead  

As a result, Argentina faces another month of tremendous uncertainty, economic turmoil, and fake news. Massa victory is not guaranteed since many of Bullrich’s right-wing votes may defect to Milei, like she had already recommended.

It does not matter that Milei’s proposals seem insane or, at best, impractical. This includes even a more ‘moderate’ proposal to dollarize the economy, which most Argentines oppose despite the peso’s fast decline and significant inflation. A dollar-peso peg implemented in the 1990s for similar reasons provided short-term gains but resulted in an unsightly depreciation. The present situation has been compounded by the COVID-19 epidemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has harmed the country’s economy by raising food and energy costs. Milei’s anarchocapitalism would not help here very much. But many of his voters enjoy his language, hate the left and dream of turning the table upside down.

The 19 November will be the day the Argentinians are going to decide over the fate of their country.  

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