In what has been described by commentators as a ‘political earthquake’, a far-right radical has recently taken victory in Argentina’s presidential elections. Javier Milei, former TV presenter and ‘tantric sex expert’, won the electoral run-off by a landslide, receiving 56% of the vote.
By his critics, Milei has been dubbed ‘El Loco’ (the madman), and for good reason.
He is surely the first world leader to have a superhero alter ego – the spandex-clad ‘General Ancap’ who fights for the values of ‘anarchic capitalism’. He is also probably the first to regularly quote advice in Parliament from his dogs. He may not be the first to have to publicly deny sexual relations with his sister, but it must be a short list.
The raft of policy proposals on which Milei has been elected range from hardline to extremely radical to downright insane. Let’s start with the economy.
The raft of policy proposals on which Milei has been elected range from hardline to extremely radical to downright insane.
Milei has vowed to ‘take a chainsaw’ to the Argentinian state. Not one for subtlety, at rallies he waves around a literal chainsaw (live), inches from the heads of his eager supporters. His economic philosophy is that of a radical Thatcherite. Indeed, for her economic reforms, he has publicly praised Mrs Thatcher, a rather bizarre move for a politician vying for election in Argentina, given the history.
Milei has vowed to cut public spending by up to 15%, slash export taxes and regulation, privatise most of Argentina’s public enterprises, instigate a blanket currency replacement, and shut down the central bank, which he says is a front for “crooked” politicians to print themselves money.
The new President is also determined to axe at least eight of Argentina’s eighteen government departments. A campaign video depicts Milei listing the branches that are for the chop. “Department for sport and tourism – out! Department for culture – out! Department for the environment and sustainable development – out! Department for women, gender and diversity – out!”
Now it is certainly true that the Argentinian economy is in a dire state. Inflation stands at 142%, the poverty rate is over 40% and national debt is skyrocketing. Much of the reason Milei achieved election in the first place was that his opponent was Sergio Massa, the finance minister of the very government that had crippled the economy. Clearly, economic reform is needed, but whether Milei’s ultra-radical changes will do more harm or good is yet to be seen.
Milei is no less right wing when it comes to his social policies either. He has taken power on an ‘anti-woke’ mandate, and a recent TV interview depicts Milei crazily ranting about how “you can’t give shit leftards an inch” or “they will kill you.”
This may have won him fans among figures such as Trump, Bolsonaro, and Musk, but Milei also isn’t afraid to make enemies. One word that is rarely used to describe him is ‘tactful’. He has publicly denounced China as “murderous” and Brazil’s President as a “communist.” Possibly not wise choices, considering that China and Brazil are Argentina’s two biggest trading partners.
I mentioned earlier his comments on Thatcher. Even more staggeringly, and in a further example of how desperate Argentina’s situation was, Milei managed to get elected in a country that is 63% Roman Catholic, despite describing Pope Francis as a “filthy leftist.”
Now elected, how many of Milei’s bold promises will actually be followed through remains to be seen. He has been President less than a fortnight, yet already there are hopeful signs that he might be moderating himself a little, as the FT reported last week that Milei may be backing away from dollarisation. This may provide a glimmer of hope for Milei’s opponents, who will hope that some of the new President’s more extreme proposals, such as the legalisation of human organ trading, will be watered down.
Due to his sheer ridiculousness, it is tempting to see Milei as a harmless fool, but this would be a mistake. This man can and will do real damage. He now helms the second most powerful country on the South American continent, a nation that ranks in the global top 30 for both GDP and military strength.
Due to his sheer ridiculousness, it is tempting to see Milei as a harmless fool, but this would be a mistake. This man can and will do real damage
Milei’s actions will have serious global implications. He has stated that the return of the Falklands to Argentinian rule is “non-negotiable”; if he makes a move for the islands it will almost certainly prompt another military conflict with Britain. It is reported that he is a “fanatic” of Israel, and will likely give unequivocal support to Israel’s actions in Gaza. And perhaps most significantly, he has denounced climate change as a “socialist lie”, so the international community can expect little Argentinian assistance in the fight against global warming.
He also has the potential to inflict major damage on the Argentinians themselves. His intention to reduce the, already fairly loose, firearm controls could lead to a major increase in gun violence. His desire to overturn abortion legalisation is a major blow for women’s rights. And while the impact of his economic reforms remain to be seen, it seems unlikely that having such an erratic leader will produce a stable environment conducive for business and investment in Argentina.
Recently, Britain and the US have both learned the hard way the dangers of electing cult-of-personality candidates, and the events in Argentina chime with a wider global rise in far-right ideology and populism. With his leotards and his talking dogs, Milei may be a comical figure, but for millions in Argentina, and for billions around the world, this election is no laughing matter.