Paola Negrón Ríos is a third year BSc Anthropology student in the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences. She is passionate about the relationships between society and politics as well as decolonisation processes. Originally from Puerto Rico, her geographic areas of interest include Latin America and the United States.
Latin America lives and breathes politics. From its independence from Spain in the 19th century, the continent has taken the matter of governance very seriously. Following 20th century authoritarian dictatorships and widespread corruption, the Pink Tide indicated many states’ shift towards left-wing governments that preached equality and democracy. The pendulum of political orientation has been inverting towards the right once more.
On Sunday, 19 of November, Javier Milei prevailed in the run-off Presidential election in Argentina, defeating Sergio Massa, the country’s current Economic Minister, earning 56% of the total votes. This is yet another conservative victory in the world, that has been part of the conservative turn of recent years, following Giorgia Meloni in Italy, Donald Trump in the United States, and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Milei describes himself as an “anarcho-capitalist” and a libertarian; critics brand him a populist and a radical conservative. Prior to his political career, Milei was the chief economist at Corporación América, one of Argentina’s largest business conglomerates. He was also a football player for the Chacarita Juniors as well as a singer in Everest, a Rolling Stones cover band. He is known for his long, wild hair and his five dogs, all named after economists, that are cloned from his original dog Conan. Milei is an unconventional character and politician. So, what makes him so popular in Argentina? This becomes clear upon examination of his economic, social, and political ideologies in the context of Argentina's current situation.
Milei launched his political campaigns in 2020 when he founded the party La Libertad Avanza. This is a right-wing coalition and has links to the Libertarian Party and Partido Fe. It is a socially conservative and economically libertarian party. In 2021, he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, representing the City of Buenos Aires. Argentina’s economic situation has undoubtedly played a role in his popularity. The country is facing an economic crisis: although Argentina is the second-largest economy in South America, it is the slowest growing economy in the continent. It is currently faced with an inflation of more than 100%, and about 40% of the population is living below the poverty line.
Several factors contribute to this dire situation. Firstly, economic isolationism and overspending on price subsidies have undoubtedly influenced the deterioration of the economic situation. Since the 20th century, Argentina has been following economic isolationist policies. They believe that these policies protect native workers from cheaper labour or lower prices elsewhere. Nevertheless, it has left the country producing well below its potential. Argentina boasts vast natural resources and has the second largest lithium reserves in the world, totalling about 17 million tonnes, as well as bounties of Copper. Both could easily render profitable in the world markets, like Chile has done with the copper. Argentina has been running a fiscal deficit in the last 13 years due to its philosophy of “welfare state”, that has long been associated with left-wing politics. The massive debts incurred due to these endeavours have most definitely contributed to an anti-left sentiment and a shift towards right-wing policies.
Milei has entered the political arena promising radical change and improvements. Economically, he plans to dollarize Argentina, since according to him it is the only way to relieve the inflation. Many people already convert their earnings into dollars, since the currency could be devalued at any moment and the dollar is more stable. This would mean extinguishing the central bank of Argentina. Milei wants to reduce the size of the government and purge it of the “political castes”. According to Milei, large state bureaucracies are detrimental for the economy and for individual prosperity. This, in turn, has contributed to the deteriorating economic situation. He also aims to minimize the scale of the government’s outreach. The government currently employs a third of all workers in Argentina and subsidises commodities for its citizens. Further, the party plans to reduce the Cabinet size to 8 from the 19 current seats, eliminating the Ministry of Women and Diversity, Tourism, Science, among others.
Milei brands himself as a “culture warrior”. He opposes feminist policies and abortion, which Argentina legalised in 2020, and has proposed a plebiscite to repeal the law. In his interview with Tucker Carlson, Milei spoke against abortion policies, which had been legalised in Argentina in 2020. He also mentioned that climate change policies are part of the “socialist agenda” and rejects the notion that humans have accelerated the effects of climate change. He has also denounced Pope Francis, calling him “the representative of malignance on Earth.” As a Catholic himself, he claims that the pope only represents “communist assassins” and not him. This narrative connects Milei to the public, rendering him as “one of us”, rather than part of the political elite that has brought the country to shambles. They also appeal to the sentiment of urgent radical change widely felt by the public.
Moreover, his campaign has been plagued with populist narratives and sentiments. Populism comes from a sentiment of discontent of how things are, and how they are going. It spreads through disillusioned populations; due to its precarious economic situation, Argentinians are unhappy about how things are and want to change the status quo. Populists preach about turning the system upside down, overthrowing the political elite, and “draining the swamp”. Milei’s anti-establishment policies foster this sentiment of shrinking the state to its bones and allowing for greater individual economic control.
Leaders always include a ray of hope by appealing to former and future greatness: “Argentina is going to reclaim the place in the world that it should never have lost,” Milei said on his victory rally on Sunday. The sentiment of returning one’s nation to its former glory is exciting and hopeful. As a new politician and an economics background, people can trust him. Some of his supporters have been seen wearing hats with the slogan “Make Argentina Great Again”, likening Milei to Trump.
In his victory speech, Milei had a more serious demeanour, wearing glasses and speaking pointedly rather than attempting to persuade the public. This shift points towards a more professional appearance, fitting of a president, rather than a revolutionary moving the masses. He began his speech saying: “Today begins the reconstruction of Argentina”. This reflects how he continues to appeal to the public, but has now adopted a more subdued persona. As right-wing politics proliferate in the governmental field, Milei has succeeded in winning over the Argentinian public. Milei is now in the global spotlight, and he must now fulfil his promises to his nation.