Shouting “lefties are afraid,” presidential candidate Javier Milei summoned a crowd last Sunday at one of the most anticipated events at the Buenos Aires Book Fair. The night did not seem to be one for celebrations. That day, elections were held in three provinces of the country and his party, La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Moves Forward), barely registered. With the vote count still underway, the libertarian lawmaker who is heading numerous presidential polls in Argentina presented a book before a packed room that went wild as soon as he walked through the door. Milei had given up supporting provincial candidates two weeks earlier due to lack of resources, and the few candidates who did run made a poor showing. It didn’t matter. His party seeks to focus on the bigger battle: the August primaries and the October presidential election.
Milei made the leap from television to Congress in just four years, and currently sounds like a convincing candidate to a third of Argentines. Running along the lines of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the U.S., his proposals — to eliminate the Central Bank, to dollarize the economy, to privatize state companies and the free of arms and organs — have set the pace in the public debate in recent months . On Tuesday night, a lawyer published excerpts from his government program on Twitter and the proposals became a great topic of debate. They include the end of legal abortion and sexual education in schools, a for-pay public health system, and merging the Security and Defense systems so that the Army can have a greater deployment in the national territory.
The electoral debate is red-hot in Argentina, but with the August primaries as the first horizon in sight, political platforms have not yet been defined. Milei’s came to light because it was included in the documents filed with a court on May 10 to request that La Libertad Avanza be granted legal entity status.
“There is no more time, that is why we are proposing the structural change that Argentina needs today to become a power once again,” says Milei’s program. La Libertad Avanza proposes conducting a historical review of Argentina as the “promised land” for the European migrants of the 19th century, a land that has “maintained itself thanks to the effort, work and motivation of its working middle class;” a country that Milei considers destroyed by “the populist and totalitarian governments that marked the change of era in the middle of the last century and contributed to the relaxation of that methodology of life and work.”
The far-right candidate is proposing a three-stage plan to promote “a strong cut in public spending” that would include the privatization of state-owned companies, eliminating subsidies and cutting spending on pensions to promote a private system similar to the one in place in the 1990s and dismantled by former president Néstor Kirchner. Milei also plans to start charging for the services provided by public hospitals and to implement a system of “education checks” to stop financing the Ministry of Education and have parents invest their money in private schools. The free sale of firearms and the transition towards a public-private management prison system that would be militarized are some of his other proposals.
Milei also wants to introduce a labor reform that would eliminates compensation for seniority, to repeal the rural land law that prevents foreigners from selling land with important water sources or located in border security zones, “protect the child from the moment of conception” and collect medical expenses from foreign residents who are economically solvent.
To reverse the economic crisis that Argentina is suffering, Milei’s priority will be to immediately ease all foreign exchange restrictions and eliminate withholdings on exports. His signature idea to “burn” the Central Bank to eliminate the Argentine peso would only occur after the end of a projected 35-year plan.
A party without a national structure will fight for the presidency
Milei is rebounding in the polls even in spite of himself. The Argentine far-right candidate is gaining popularity with his cries of “kicking the ass” of “the political caste,” but the lack of a national structure for his party has led him to form alliances with old acquaintances across the country. Among them is Ricardo Bussi, a lawmaker from the province of Tucumán, son of a repressor during the military dictatorship and a professional politician since 1987; there is also the lawmaker from La Rioja Martín Menem, nephew of former neoliberal president Carlos Saúl Menem and son of another historical legislator from his province.
The latest addition to his lists has been his partner in Congress, the lawyer Victoria Villarruel, as his vice-presidential candidate. A daughter and granddaughter of soldiers, Villarruel came to the fore as a defender of the soldiers accused of crimes against humanity during the dictatorship. “The national defense law must inevitably be reformed so that the military can operate within the territory,” she defended this week in a television interview with Milei. According to the latest polls, they are among the favorites to lead the open primaries to be held in August, while the ruling Peronism and the center-right opposition have yet to define their candidates.
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