Sergiu Miscoiu, Romanian political scientist, returns to Cross-Border Talks to discuss the outcome of Argentinian presidential elections, won by Javier Milei, a candidate whose proposals seem extreme even among the far right. Closing down the national bank, allowing free trade of absolutely everything (weapons and parts of the body included), banning abortion (in all cases), cutting taxes and social spending to zero – these are just some of his promises. Can this all be taken seriously, or is Milei just a product of modern media-centered politics, where you fight for attention only? We also asked our guest about the relation between massive protest movements in Argentina, mainly pro-social, pro-worker and pro-women and the outcome of the newest vote. Miscoiu also mentions the historical background of this vote: if once Juan Peron appeared as an anti-systemic candidate and destroyed all the political structure that existed earlier, now another politician comes to ruin Peronism – and more than a half of the society supports this.
The entire transcription of the interview is available below the video.
Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Cross-border Talks, this time devoted to the presidential elections in Argentina. Donald Trump of the South, not Bolsonaro, but a new candidate for this title won the election, and commentators are now wondering what happens next in one of the key countries of the global South. We are meeting today with Sergiu Miscoiu, our recurring guest political scientist from Romania. Sergiu, hello, it’s great to see you again on the program.
Hello. Great to see you.
And I will be asking questions together with my friend and co-creator of Cross-Border Talks, Veronika Susova-Salminen. Hello, Veronika.
Hello, everybody. Hello.
At this point, I should also remind everybody that Cross-Border Talks are present on SoundCloud, on YouTube, on Spotify, and also in other social media you know and like (or not). I would encourage you to subscribe not to miss any episode.
And now, let’s discuss Argentina. Sergiu, what should we know about the profile of Javier Milei? There are a lot of shocking facts about him. There are a lot of controversial statements that he became famous for. On the other hand, he is an educated economist, which makes some people believe that after all, he has knowledge that is necessary to run a big country. What is a real Milei, and what is a media product?
I think that in the case of these candidates for presidency, the difference between a media profile and the essential individual is quite weak. Milei thoughtfully built his profile as an anti-system agent, and this anti- system approach that he presented during the campaign is consistent with his personality. It worked very well, because he created an impression not of a politician, but rather a genuine individual, of course, educated as an economist, but more importantly, educated as a political beast and especially as a TV showman. This media profile is more important than his economical education.
He succeeded, with his personality and his performance, to produce an image of a real opponent of the entire system. He denounced everyone inside the system as a corrupt group of individuals, who work, no matter what is their political affiliation, to assume the resources of the country. He created a profile that was at the same time dynamic, iconoclastic, anti-systemic, but not that of a street guy, but on the contrary – of an individual who knows from inside the elite-based system. He also hinted that he would never accept compromises that had been made by both moderate right and the moderate left. This profile corresponds very well with the expectations of many people about what the modern president looks like. He also used his wife, a very well known dancer with TV broadcasts, in order to create this impression of modernity and of authenticity. He wanted people to believe that he was a genuine alternative to the system he was continuously denouncing.
At this point, I can’t help asking how feasible are his promises? Is it possible to dollarize Argentinian economy, for instance, or should we take it seriously when he promises that the free market will include everything, including human organs and weaponry?
These declarations were made meant to destabilize the adversaries and also to show that he would dare to go to the end to defend his ideas. All of these was said before the first round, and the purpose was to shock the public opinion and to draw attention to his personality. Actually, the entire campaign was about his ideas and his personality, and less about the adversaries who really did not count too much. They were too well known and too systemic.
Now, for the feasibility of the promises. I am very, very far from being able to consider them feasible. Dollarization of the economy is possible, but at the expense of the already crushed purchase power of the people who will never be able to buy things with this new new system. Especially the middle classes will be severely shocked by such reform. It’s also very difficult to create a monetary council that will replace systematically the currency with the dollar, which will be also rejected by numerous Argentinians. So I think that this promise will still be the horizon of his actions. Instead, he will try rather to stop the inflation by imposing different restrictive measures in terms of money printing. This will be what is feasible.
The problem he’s got is that he doesn’t have a majority in the Parliament. He’s very far from that, and any measure of this kind should pass through a wide majority. Such a majority is very far from being assembled, even if most of the right wing MPs support Milei’s proposals (with their own conditions, of course).
If we look at the Argentinian politics in last 20 years and we see the political profile of Milei, I have the feeling that it is a bit kind of like return to the past. Even the dollarization idea is not anything new in the Argentinian policy. We also know that in the last 20 years there was a kind of ‘division of labour’ within the politics between Peronists (especially in the early interpretation of Peronism) and a more neoliberal, more business-oriented right, which was also changing the tactics. Now a lot of commentators, including Argentinian commentators, say that Milei’s entrance to Casa Rosada, the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, is the kind of break in Argentinian politics, despite the constraints related to the parliament that you’ve just mentioned.. What is your take about this? Do you think that this is kind of a break, or it is rather a continuation, or even the historical circle of Argentinian politics? In Argentine, both right or left fail all the time, repeating the same mistakes…
It’s a very good question, and I think that the answer is: Peron. Let’s look historically at what Peron did in the interwar period, but also when he was elected for the first time after the Second World War. He smashed the system that had pre-existed – of course, on a different ideological ground. But it was fit for that period and he was also deeply anti-systemic. Through his particular kind of populism, which is Peronism, he succeeded in devouring the parties. After that, for a long time only left-wing and right-wing Peronists were fighting for power.
Now we are back to this kind of scenario. All pre-existing political forces proved to be very exhausted. Their image became disastrous, the results of actions that they made in terms of political reforms, especially in these economic and social spheres, were deeply unsatisfactory. The ultra-neoliberal populism promoted by Milei is, in fact, a part of a cycle. We are back to the moment when an anti-system politician was able to rule against the very tired and very disliked establishment. In Argentinian politics, people tried all the other solutions, but the tiring alternative between moderate right and moderate left was leading nowhere.
For the last few years, Argentina has come into headlines also because of social movements. The Green movement of women led to liberalization of abortion law, truly a historical event in terms of Latin America, in 2020. Before that, we had seen massive mobilizations, led by trade unions, against Mauricio Macri, the then right wing president of Argentina, a neoliberal. Seeing now Milei entering Casa Rosada, one can ask what happened to all these massive mobilizations. Were they simply exhausted and turned out ineffective in view of how the Peronist administration did badly? Did all these people in the streets simply vote for another candidate and now will be looking for strategies to survive in a state led by Milei?
It’s also a very good question. The problem with mobilization, especially in Latin America and particularly in Argentina, is that one mobilization leads to a continuum of mobilizations. Anger can be expressed in very different ways. The passage from the moment you back an idea of inclusion and altruism in society to the moment where you mobilize for a repressive cause is not so difficult for neither individuals nor groups. We saw that among the supporters of Milei. We saw that among his current supporters there were lots of people who had in the past protested for some progressive ideas.
There were people who considered themselves socially progressive, but who now say that in the end we need a storm, a change, a major shake that will put the system on the ground. Only then, they think, we can build something else. This is an idea of a tabula rasa. By the way, labor unions were also denounced as being part of the system, just as some NGOs, especially the very progressive ones that were also denounced by Milei as being part of a conspiracy against Argentina.
That could be apparently paradoxical, but from a social psychology point of view, it is very easy to explain why people who were used to demonstrating and to protest decide that, in the end, the best way to protest is to vote for a person who is deeply anti-establishment. They were happier to see somebody beating the establishment, from wherever he came, than see the establishment being reproduced. That is, of course, to some extent semi-apocalyptic. But regarding the economic situation of Argentina, this apocalypse doesn’t seem such a bad prospect for many people, unfortunately.
Argentina has, at the moment, 43% of people living in poverty and 140% inflation in October. This is a context in which Melai wins the election.
I would like to turn the attention to the foreign policy, because Argentina is not only an important country in the global South, but it is the second most important country in South America after Brazil. Milei is preferring the turn towards the United States and also Israel in the current conditions. He is critical towards very important allies and also economic partners of Argentina, countries like Brazil and China, both important for Argentinian exports. And we have to notice here that Argentina is very much an export oriented country. That is one of the weaknesses of its economy, being too much dependent on the external conditions of the world economy. Finally, we know that Alberto Fernandez, the current president, applied for the membership in BRICs, and this seems to be not also a priority for Javier Milei. So what do you expect in the foreign policy with the fact that, of course, we cannot guess really what will be the reality? One thing is the campaign, another thing is real politics.
I will build on your last remarks. One thing is the campaign, another things is governance We saw this in many cases and we’ll certainly see this in the case of Milei and Argentina. Of course, people who were upset on the relation that some of them denounced as commercial exploitation by China or by Brazil, were very happy to see Milei going as far as proposing to denounce the agreements with these countries, or maybe even cut the diplomatic relations… which is something that most certainly he won’t do. I think that he will practice, in fact, much more of a realpolitik when in power.
Of course, he bets on a rapprochement with the United States, especially if Donald Trump is re-elected there. This could demonstrate that Argentina could, in the end, turn to another geopolitical axis, what was already the reality. Of course, given the complexity of the trade relations with countries such as China and Brazil, a logic of continuing the collaboration with these states will not expire. I think that the application for BRICs will be put on hold. This was something that anyway had weak chances to materialize, and the new axis will most probably be presented as being much more realistic, much more solid in terms of commitments, much more coherent from an ideological point of view.
I don’t think that we will see flamboyant, unexpected gestures in the foreign policy, but we will have some symbolic gestures that will place Argentina in the camp of the neoliberal, ultra pro-American states in Latin America, and most probably in the world.
This was the latest episode of Cross-border Talks. We were talking about the recent presidential election in Argentina. Thank you for your time and being with us and offering your insights about the Argentinian situation.
Thank you for having me here.
And I will remind our audiences that Cross-Border talks also have a newsletter on Substack. You can follow us on different social media and you can visit our website, on which you can also find new commentaries and articles from all over the world. Thank you very much for your time and we wish you a nice evening, afternoon or morning from Cross-Border Talks.