1- Milei is the result of the economic crisis
Certainly, the economic crisis that causes Argentina to have one of the highest inflation rates in the world, exceeding 100% annually, deteriorates the living conditions of the entire population. This fact is nothing banal and cannot be read as secondary. On the other hand, it is not possible to treat the economic sphere as disassociated from the national and international political sphere. Explaining Javier Milei’s meteoric political rise as a social response to the economic crisis is easy, but insufficient, not to say lazy.
The Milei phenomenon has many particularities, but it is not lightning in a blue sky. It is part of a global wave of advancement by populist far-rights around the world. We can cite some examples such as Bolsonaro, in Brazil; Trump, in the USA; the Vox party, in Spain; and the AfD party in Germany. In common, these parties and leaders are characterized by antagonism to traditional politics and liberal democracy; for encouraging xenophobia; by militarism; by misogyny; and political conservatism associated with religious values.
Yes, Milei found a favorable scenario for his extremist speech in a country devastated by the crisis. At the same time, Milei uses tactics widely tested in countries like Brazil and Spain that involve the use of fake news, mobilization of fear and delegitimization of democratic institutions. Therefore, the Milei phenomenon, despite being anchored in economic issues, is still deeply political.
2- Milei is a liberal
Milei is not a liberal, he is a market extremist who flirts with conservative values. Its economic anti-statism is just one of the many pillars of liberalism. Again, looking only at the economy is a mistake.
We need to take into account that liberalism, as an ideological set, is not homogeneous, that is, there are many variations of liberalism. In none of them, for example, would the defense of the relativization of human rights violations be accepted, as does Victoria Villaruel, candidate for vice president on Milei’s ticket and open defender of the military who commanded the extermination and disappearance of 30 thousand Argentines (figure widely accepted by researchers and national and international human rights organizations, but questioned by Villaruel). In fact, it is worth remembering that the very notion of human rights is a liberal construction.
There is still one last point that distances Milei from liberalism: his sudden rapprochement with conservatism. Any liberal worth his salt argues that the right to abortion is an inviolable individual freedom. In order not to upset her religious voters and her international support network, Milei began to attack the decriminalization of abortion, a recent achievement for Argentine women. What liberal is this who wants the State and the Church to tell a woman what to do with her body?
3- Milei fights political caste
Unlike Jair Bolsonaro, his first-time supporter, Milei actually came from outside the traditional political system, which doesn’t mean he didn’t adapt very easily to it. Until very recently, Milei raged against everything and everyone. They were all corrupt, part of the caste, people who lived off privileges granted by the State, said the economist.
As the electoral process progressed, Milei needed allies and was not ashamed to look for old enemies, long-time professional politicians. The first was the right-wing former president Mauricio Macri, whom Milei once called “socialist”, “disgusting”, “mediocre and cowardly”. Soon after, he allied himself with his former competitor Patricia Bullrich, whom he called a ‘montonera’ [guerrilha peronista ativa nos anos 1970] assassination” in the middle of the presidential debate. Finally, Milei had the support of Luis Barrionuevo, one of the greatest symbols of a type of oligarchic and corrupt unionism that exists in Argentina. This alliance, however, did not last long. Barrionuevo withdrew the his support after the announcement of the alliance with Macri, a former enemy.
4- Milei runs her campaign without major supporters
Milei is receiving support from a large part of the major Argentine media. The same people who, years before, elevated him to the status of a nationally known economic commentator. In 2018, for example, when Milei was not yet a candidate, he gave 235 interviews, spending 193,547 seconds on national television. That’s much more time than any other economist had in the same period.
Some television channels, such as LN+, present coverage that is openly favorable to Milei. Furthermore, it would not be an exaggeration to consider radio host Alejandro Fantino and presenter Mauro Viale true godfathers of the economist’s campaign. Both had Milei as a recurring guest on their programs and are defenders of the proposals presented by the candidate.
Not to mention the support offered by businesspeople and landowners from the powerful Argentine Rural Society. Just to name a few names, at first Milei was sponsored by billionaire telecommunications businessman Eduardo Eurnekian. More recently, support came from Marcos Peña Braun, a member of a family that owns a supermarket chain and other businesses in Patagonia. And it doesn’t stop there: many exporters welcome the dollarization proposal presented by Milei, as this will represent an immediate appreciation of the US currency with which they are paid, even if this increases inflation even further and puts some more millions of people below the poverty line.
5- Milei has a new project for Argentina
After years of economic instability, under the command of different parties and governments, it seems tempting to vote for someone who promises something radically different. Milei uses and abuses an “economique” vocabulary, presents formulas and cites theorems. To a layman, she sounds like someone well prepared and with new ideas. To anyone with even the slightest knowledge of economics, it sounds like a scam.
Their proposals for Argentina are vague, confusing and almost always impractical, therefore, they do not constitute a project. The little of what he presents that can be considered intelligible is nothing innovative, it is pure destruction: dismantling the public system of education, health, retirement; eliminate the national currency and with it the country’s economic sovereignty; and end social programs that guarantee a minimum of dignity to thousands of people. If this could be considered a project, it would be one of misery and suffering for many and enrichment for a few.
*Rafael Rezende has a master’s and doctorate in sociology from IESP-UERJ. He was a visiting researcher at the University of Buenos Aires and is currently a visiting researcher at the Ruhr-Universität Bochumn, in Germany. He researches, among other things, social movements and popular economy in Argentina.
Editing: Thalita Pires