In the end it was Javier Milei who won. The man with the chainsaw, the anarcho-capitalist “el loco”. With 55.69 percent of the vote, he beat Sergio Massa, the Peronist candidate who came in first during the first round of elections on October 22, but now only reached 44.31 percent. Javier Milei will become president on December 10th, precisely on the fortieth anniversary of the victory of democracy after the last dictatorship. Sometimes fate plays really ugly tricks. The Vice President-designate and Minister of the Interior will be Victoria Villarruel, the daughter and granddaughter of soldiers, a lawyer who publicly defended the soldier Juan Daniel Amelong, who was convicted of crimes against humanity during the that dictatorship. A traditionalist Catholic and enemy of civil and human rights, she wants to redeem the honor of the military against the “terrorists” who bloodied Argentine history from 1976 to 1983. The victims are transformed into executioners.
This time, the present and future of Argentina is truly an unknown. If Milei were to implement the program he shouted about during the election campaign to the letter, the South American country’s very existence would be at risk. His first statements after the vote talk about the privatization of public TV and radio, the privatization of the oil company YPF, and the privatization of Telam, the most important press agency in the country. However, if he were to cancel, as promised, all subsidies and completely privatize schools, healthcare and transportation, an immense social tragedy would be superimposed on living conditions which are already very difficult, due to a crisis and inflation running at 140 percent.
For the moment, the post-election announcement of the famous and feared dollarization project, i.e. the official use of American currency instead of the peso, seems to be fading a little.
This operation, which was at the center of his electoral campaign, would cause the value of the local currency to fall even further, making it practically impossible to find lenders in the markets. Together with the proposed abolition of the Central Bank and the cancellation of every form of state welfare, the project would quickly lead almost the entire population into poverty. Two out of five Argentines already currently live in poverty. However, Milei does not seem to be giving up on the cancellation of the rental law. It immediately proposes payment of the fee in the currency that “the parties” will choose. In reality, only the owners of the properties will choose, who will almost certainly want to be paid in dollars.
Milei’s electoral success was particularly significant in inland areas. In Mendoza the new president reached 71 percent. In Cordoba 74 percent. The popular areas of Buenos Aires resisted. In Matanza, a Peronist stronghold, Sergio Massa reached 61 percent against Milei’s 39 percent. Likewise, we should note that in these places the Peronist Axel Kicillof, a former economy minister in Cristina Kirchner’s government, a man of solid Keynesian culture and an expression of the party’s left, was re-elected governor. Today, now that the disaster has occurred, it can be said that the progressive front chose a candidate for the presidential elections who, as the incumbent minister of the economy, was seen as responsible for the country’s unquestionable economic difficulties.
Faced with ultra-populism, the moderate candidate Massa was overwhelmed. Here a chapter opens that cannot be overcome. The prevailing interpretation has always spoken of Peronism as the main bastion for the expression of populist attitudes. However, things have been different for some time. From the Kirchner governments onwards, Peronism has always been configured, amidst limitations and contradictions, as an expression of a left capable of countering right-wing coalitions. Today, the right-wing of Macri and Bullrich publicly supported and was decisive for Milei’s victory. The vote of the rich neighborhoods of Buenos Aires was added to the popular vote of the local population. The true caste voted for the anti-caste. The intention is to pilot the forms and contents of the future government.
As we can see, populism has only one political outlet: the extreme right.
Behind the pyrotechnic face of the man with the chainsaw looms the shadow of those nostalgic for the military dictatorship and the interests of the wealthy families who supported and backed Macri’s government. It is no coincidence that among the first to congratulate Milei and ask for collaboration was Kristalina Georgieva, director general of the International Monetary Fund, the fund that gave Macri a loan of 44 billion, which weighs like a boulder on Argentina’s economic possibilities. The congratulations from Elon Musk and Trump (“proud of il loco’s exploit”) also describe the atmosphere very well. The vote of the radicals, divided between abstention and support for Massa, seems to be a puzzle, but the almost total absence of blank ballots suggests that anti-Peronist hatred prevailed in the end, diverting the vote to Milei in the privacy of the voting booth.
This vote is a warning, an alarm for everyone. Not only because it could rapidly change the geopolitical position of a country like Argentina, but also because it signals that populism has no limits. After Trump and Bolsonaro (who will be present at Milei’s investiture on December 10th) the Americas have gone beyond the imaginable. Social desperation is fueling a crisis of democracy that seems irreversible. Populism feeds on its predestined victims. The have-nots rely on those who promise to cut every form of subsidy. A genuine harakiri. Behind the cutting of privileges lies the reduction of social and civil rights. Exasperation destroys every social relationship, every form of humanity, and leaves you totally inert to the “new man”. In reality he hands you over to the boss who, playing the magic flute, takes you towards the abyss while promising a new rebirth.
“In a few years Argentina will become a great world power,” the new president says. It is not clear by what miracle all this could happen. But those who are in extreme difficulty, the old and new poor of this South American giant, cling to this mirage in the desert as if it were an incontrovertible truth. Populism transfigures reality. It turns hope into fear and fear into hate. Now the hatred is towards the political class that governed before. It is a hatred that clouds minds. It’s a hatred that makes you fail to realize that the very piece of politics that was most involved in the country’s social disaster is now being recycled on the winners’ bandwagon.
We will need to carefully observe in the coming months what is happening among the military and who will take on important roles in the command hierarchies. After the defeat, Sergio Massa announced a generational renewal of the Peronists. That is desirable, but it will certainly not be enough.
It should be accompanied by a cultural and programmatic renewal. It will be interesting to see how relations between the new government and Pope Francis will evolve. Milei has repeatedly insulted the bishop of Rome, and his social policy is obviously the polar opposite of that of the Argentine pontiff.
My thoughts now return repeatedly to the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. Estela Carlotto said the vote was a cold shower for her heart. They will ask the new president for a meeting. Their search for their grandchildren, who were stolen alive and illegally adopted during the 1976–1983 dictatorship, will not stop. Just as the denunciation of the assassins of the military dictatorship who kidnapped, tortured and killed thirty thousand Argentines will not stop. Now, however, this work requires great attention and international solidarity. The spotlight of world public opinion must be focused on them so that their activity of justice and democracy can continue. Now more than ever, information and sharing will be necessary to support the commitment they have made and have carried forward for forty years.
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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