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An Argentine Trump — Or Bolsonaro? Don't Underestimate The Danger Of Javier Milei

Argentina's far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei, riding a wave of voter fury over dismal socio-economic conditions, wants to shrink the state to the bare minimum. But that's not even the most dangerous part...

Javier Milei speaks passionately into a microphone

Javier Milei during a campaign rally for the ''Libertad Avanza'' party in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 6 Nov 2021.

Gabriel Salvia


BUENOS AIRES — Should he become Argentina's president later this year, the anti-establishment legislator Javier Milei — who was the top vote-getter in last Sunday's presidential primary poll — would have major difficulty implementing the far-right agenda he has touted (like 'dynamiting' the Central Bank), all intended to downsize the state in a major way.

For starters, Milei would lack a majority in parliament, and his combative style (he's a shouter) is an impediment to necessary political negotiations to sway others for support.

After his surprise victory this week, Milei conceded that in October's general elections, his group could at best win only eight (of 72) Senate seats and 40 of the 257 seats in the lower chamber.

How could he implement his programs then without either undermining state institutions or having to make a pact with sectors of what he calls the 'political caste'? How would his government react to protests against his policy?

Milei's "liberal hero"

Milei referred to his "liberal hero" (Alberto Benegas Lynch) at his victory speech Sunday, and gave his definition of liberalism: "unlimited respect for the life project of others."

He is currently in that early phase of fanatical devotion.

Yet, how did Milei's libertarian hero respond to the military dictatorship that between 1976 and 1983 decimated the life projects — not to mention the lives — of a good many Argentines? Its litany of torture, murders and kidnappings is documented in the lengthy investigative report entitled Nunca Más. Instead of raising his voice against the state's atrocities in those years — as the journalist Robert Cox, a true liberal, did — the would-be hero Benegas Lynch instead was busy founding a business school in 1978. The school's expressed purpose was to teach market economics ... to the military!

Like his cherished mentor, Milei combines, with considerable incoherence, extreme economic liberalism and political conservatism. It is a nonsensical mix that opposes the right of dissent and democratic principle of cohabitation in a pluralist context.

Milei lambasts journalists whenever their questions irk him, in the manner of the populists Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. And they haven't even asked him the really hard questions yet: like what he would do about the Falklands (privatize them?), why he is paying a staff of 32 people in parliament and the city assembly from the public coffers (or 'stolen taxes' as he likes to say). Or why he cites himself as a pupil of Juan Bautista Alberdi, author of Crime of War (El crimen de la guerra) but plans to raise the military budget if elected?

President Donald Trump escorts Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to a dinner.Brazilian President Bolsonaro meets U.S. President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. March 7, 2020.

Alan Santos/ZUMA

Fanatical devotion

Then there is the question of how his supposed libertarian vision of personal freedoms doesn't include the right to abortion. Milei challenged the bill to allow abortion in Argentina. It was a good example of a participative and fully-debated legislative process on what was termed a public health issue, thus allowing deputies, exceptionally, to change positions.

Still, he defends privatization, including, it seems, crony-style state concessions to individuals like those approved in the Carlos Menem presidency in the 1990s.

One should remember that Milei embraced libertarian ideas just 10 years ago, which means he is currently in that early phase of fanatical devotion, which libertarianism foments. In these years he has picked fights with respectable and moderate figures behind the Argentine free market who insist: he's simply crazy.

Let's see how he reacts when he has to face some real, tough questions. My bet is, should he ever reach the presidential palace, he would crash and burn just as quickly as he has burst into our lives.

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​photograph of a smartphone on a selfie stick

Smartphone on a selfie stick

Steve Gale/Unsplash
David Craig and Stuart Cunningham

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