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What’s going on inside Javier Milei’s head?

The winner of Argentina’s primary elections is against abortion and supports the right to bear arms. But, at the same time, he’s in favor of the legalization of drugs and defends a person’s right to choose their own gender

Javier Milei
Presidential candidate Javier Milei, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 14, 2023.Tomas Cuesta (Getty Images)
Federico Rivas Molina

Javier Milei, the winner of the primary elections held on Sunday, August 13, in Argentina, has a mixture of ideas. This makes him difficult to classify. When asked how he defines himself politically, he proclaims himself to be an “anarcho-capitalist,” because “the enemy is the state.” But the member of the Chamber of Deputies also says that he’s a “minarchist — someone who believes that the state should only be in charge of security and justice.”

Milei doesn’t hide his closeness to other extremist right-wing leaders in the region, such as former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro or former Chilean presidential candidate José Antonio Kast. Outside of Latin America, he has reached out to the far-right Spanish party Vox — whose leaders have extended their congratulations — and to Donald Trump.

The principles of “life, liberty and property” structure a line of thought that his political party, La Libertad Avanza [Liberty Advances], promotes without any nuance. Sometimes, however, this enthusiasm means that the movement falls into ideological contradictions.

For instance, while Milei — an economist and TV commentator by profession — opposes abortion, champions the right to bear arms and denies climate change, he defends gay marriage, the legalization of drugs and an individual’s right to choose their own gender. He’s also anticlerical: he considers Pope Francis — a fellow countryman — to be an incarnation of communism. He often says that he’s ready to convert to Judaism. Milei is, in short, a character with fluid ideas who has tapped into an army of the disenchanted. He’s willing to blow everything up to start all over again.

What’s going on inside Javier Milei’s head? EL PAÍS takes a look at a range of his ideas on issues such as drugs, dollarization, the use of weapons, homosexuality and the role of the state, in an attempt to find an answer.

The “enemy” state and the “aberration of social justice”

The basis of the economic model that Milei proposes for Argentina is the reduction of the state to its minimal size. This is the only way, he says, to reduce political spending and the fiscal deficit. If politicians are a “parasitic and corrupt caste,” it’s within the state where they do their dirty business and steal money “from citizens.” The candidate has already announced that, if he wins, he will eliminate the ministries of Education, Health and Social Development — the “safes” that politicians take from to enrich themselves.

On Sunday night, when he already knew that he had won the primary elections (the general election is in October), he celebrated in front of his supporters and told them that they were “facing the end of the caste model, the one that repeats the atrocity that ‘where there’s a need, a right is born,’ without taking into a account that someone has to pay for it.” He also hit out at the “aberration of social justice, [which] translates into a strong fiscal deficit,” in a rejection of the state model proposed by the ruling left-wing Peronist coalition.

For Milei, the role of the state should be limited to internal security and the administration of the judicial system. “I consider the state to be an enemy; taxes are a [new take] on slavery. Liberalism was created to free people from the oppression of monarchs; in this case, it would be from the state,” Milei clarifies. Without the state, social relations become contracts between private parties. This principle is highly relevant in the structuring of the candidate’s thinking.

Same-sex marriage

“For me, marriage is a contract” between private parties, says Milei. Therefore, according to him, the state shouldn’t intervene. People can marry whoever they want, whether it’s someone from the opposite sex or the same sex. Milei even goes a step further and says that he’s against “marriage as an institution” regulated by the state. He himself isn’t married and has no known partner.

Homosexuality

If the individual is a being that cannot be conditioned by the state, the way in which sexuality is lived “is a personal choice,” Milei affirms. “I don’t agree at all [with the idea] that homosexuality is a disease,” he emphasizes.

Sale of organs

Apparently, the sale of organs out of economic necessity deserves Milei’s attention. The trade should be regulated, he says, by supply and demand, without the intervention of any authority. “My first property is my body. Why can’t I dispose of my body? There are 7,500 people [in Argentina] suffering, waiting for transplants; something isn’t working. What I propose is to look for market mechanisms to solve this problem.”

At the beginning of the campaign, he even extended this reasoning to the sale of children, for being “parental property.” Given the uproar that this generated, he hasn’t mentioned the subject again.

Abortion

While professing the benefits of individual freedom, Milei draws a line on the issue of abortion. He attacks the right to choose, explaining that a good chunk of his voters are “celestial” — or belonging to Catholic groups that campaigned against the pro-choice law approved by Congress in December of 2020. He clarifies that his opposition to abortion isn’t moral.

“I’m a liberal and liberalism is respect for another person’s life project. If you go against life, there’s no property or freedom [that can compensate]. Human life starts from conception. It’s a mathematical problem: life is a continuum with two discrete jumps, conception and death. During which week is abortion ok? At 14 weeks? 14 weeks minus one second? ... A woman can make choices about her body, but what she has inside her womb isn’t her body — abortion violates the principle of non-aggression,” Milei claims.

His relationship with the Catholic Church

Milei professes the Catholic faith, but his relationship with the Church isn’t the best. He usually rails against Pope Francis, whom, on different occasions, he has called a “Jesuit who promotes communism,” “an unpresentable and disastrous character” or “representative of evil on Earth.” On more than one occasion, the Argentine Episcopal Conference has repudiated the “mistreatment” of the Argentine pope by the presidential candidate. Milei is also an admirer of Judaism and Israel — a country he considers to be a potential ally, along with the United States, should he win the presidency in October.

“I’m a Catholic and, every day, I kneel in front of a Jew,” he once wrote on Twitter. When asked by EL PAÍS if he would be willing to change his religion, he replied that he was “studying” the matter, although he noted certain limitations: “If I’m president and Shabbat falls, what do I do? Am I going to disconnect from the country from [Friday to Saturday]?” There are some issues that would make [the religion] incompatible [with the presidency]. The rabbi who helps me study says that I should read the Torah from the point of view of economic analysis.”

Legalization of drugs

Milei is in favor of the legalization of drugs. Consumption is an individual action in which the state and the judicial system shouldn’t have to get involved, so long as the addiction doesn’t generate an expense for the state. “If you want to commit suicide, I have no problem with that, but don’t ask me to pay the bill. If you’re not going to take responsibility for your decisions, it seems unfair to me,” the candidate says.

Gender identity

The same argument that Milei applies to defending drug use is used to defend gender identity. “Do you want to identify as a cougar? Do it — it doesn’t matter to me, as long as you don’t make me pay the bill. Don’t impose it on me from the state: don’t steal money from people to impose the ideas of others on them,” he emphasizes.

Climate change

Milei is a climate change denier, like two of the leaders he most admires: Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. “Global warming is another socialist lie,” Milei sighs. “10 or 15 years ago, it was said that the planet was going to freeze. Now, [climate scientists] argue that it’s going to get hot. Those who know how these simulations are designed can see that [the information is exaggerated] on purpose, to generate fear.”

Historical memory

Milei isn’t an apologist for the Argentine military dictatorship (1973-1983), at least, not in public. He leaves that role to his candidate for vice president, Victoria Villaroel — the daughter of a high-ranking soldier, who is in favor of taking into account not only the version of civilian victims of the regime, but also those in uniform convicted of crimes against humanity. Should she reach the vice presidency, Milei has already announced that she will have a key role in matters of security and national defense.

Security, the right to bear arms… and the “Bukele model”

To resolve the issue of public safety, Argentina needs the security forces “to have authority again,” Milei affirms. He’s in favor of lowering the age of criminal responsibility for minors and “deregulating the legal arms market,” which, in Argentina, is highly-restricted. “What would be the problem if I could use a handgun? Furthermore, possession takes away relative power from the state, which has the monopoly of violence. [Personal arms] wouldn’t have to be regulated by the state,” Milei says.

Consulted by this newspaper about the heavy-handed policy undertaken by President Nayib Bukele in El Salvador to confront the gangs, the Argentine candidate distanced himself from it, although he hasn’t ruled out the Salvadoran security model outright. “In principle, we say that we have to study it and what Nahuel [Sotelo, a pro-Milei member of the Chamber of Deputies] did was go to study it [in El Salvador]. We’re studying it because it’s been extremely successful,” he shrugs.

Dollarization

This is Milei’s principal solution to put an end to inflation, the evil that has been devastating the Argentine economy for a century. Among his proposals are “burning down the Central Bank,” so that the country can no longer issue its own currency. He refers to the current monetary model as “a scam that leads to the loss of purchasing power.”

“When they take away the bill-printing machine from politicians, inflation will end, because inflation is always a monetary phenomenon generated by an excess of money,” Milei tells EL PAÍS. The next step is to dollarize the economy — a radical version of the convertibility of the peso with the dollar that, in the 1990s, was put in place during the presidency of Carlos Menem. This brought inflation down to single digits. “Starting in 1993, Argentina was the country with the least inflation in the world. It was the most successful program in Argentine history,” Milei notes.

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