Libertad (Freedom), Guns, Bolsonaro, Trump: LGBT. A twisting of the acronym that symbolizes sexual diversity the world over was reproduced on badges and black shirts worn by supporters of Argentina’s far-right candidate Javier Milei during an event to bring his campaign to a close in the capital, Buenos Aires, last Saturday night. The letters represent the ideology and political reference points of the 51-year-old ultra-libertarian economist who considers the state and the political class his enemies. On November 14, Milei will be elected to Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies for the Avanza Libertad (Freedom Moves Forward) coalition, according to the polls, which show the political grouping that he founded taking at least 13% of the vote in the capital during Sunday’s legislative elections. In Buenos Aires province, the country’s largest electoral district, it is estimated Avanza Libertad will glean over 5%. This would be the first time a far-right candidate has won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies since the country’s return to democracy in 1983.
“Milei shoots from the hip, he says what a lot of us think and want to say,” said Nicolás, a 25-year-old private security guard, standing in the amphitheater in the Lezama park in the south of Buenos Aires on Saturday. “We should all have the right to carry a gun to defend ourselves. The thieves would be scared of the working people then, not the other way around, like it is now.” As well as an LGBT shirt, he is wearing a face mask with the US flag emblazoned on one side and army pants.
Among the thousands of people who attended Milei’s rally, young men were the most numerous. They form the bulk of the support base for the economist, who describes himself as an anarcho-capitalist and shot to fame due to his controversial declarations on television before he made the leap into politics. Among his quotes are: “The left is frightened,” “In 50 years Argentina will be the biggest slum in the world,” “Would I go to the Central Bank? I’d be its last president because I would shut it down” and “I am against all taxes.” Milei also regularly questions feminism, one of the fastest-growing movements during the last five years in Argentina.
“I was a fanatical half-radical feminist at the age of 13. Later I calmed down and opened myself to other ideas and was drawn to liberalism because in Argentina they are killing us with taxes and I watch my mother working herself into the floor and she still can’t make ends meet because half of what she earns doesn’t go to her, it goes to a system that doesn’t work and that doesn’t give us anything back,” said Agustín, an 18-year-old IT student.
From the stage in Lezama park, Milei promises that he will never vote for a law that raises taxes, or for a budget that includes a fiscal deficit. “The downside of not having a deficit is that we will have to make an adjustment. We will make the political class pay for this adjustment,” he said to applause and shouts of “sons of bitches” from the crowd.
A crisis in the two-party system
Milei launches verbal attacks on all politicians, but reserves his most venomous words for Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, the chief of government of Buenos Aires, who is from center-right Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change, JxC) coalition and a probable candidate for the presidency in 2023. “When keeping us locked inside yielded 50% rating polls, Larreta was seated by the president’s side, a situation that did not change until the polls changed,” Milei noted in reference to the opposition’s initial support for the lockdown ordered by President Alberto Fernández during the Covid-19 pandemic. For his support, Milei paints Larreta as an accomplice of “a criminal government that did not carry out testing and that did provide vaccines in good time. The corruption and negligence of this government have cost the lives of over 100,000 Argentines.”
For decades, Argentine society has oscillated between Peronist and anti-Peronist governments. But the dissatisfaction among many voters with the Fernández administration after his first two years in power and the lingering bad memory of Mauricio Macri’s 2015-2019 tenure have weakened the two-party system and diverted votes toward extreme options on the left and the right. Milei is seeking to attract voters from JxC, the coalition that prevailed in the September 12 primaries and which the polls have as the front-runner in the legislative elections on Sunday. “Don’t let the siren call distract you, they are lying to you. If you want liberalism don’t settle for the cheap imitation, choose the best kind of liberalism, that of Avanza Libertad,” Milei told his supporters. “Long live freedom, damn it!” the crowd responded.
Barring any surprises, when the new lawmakers assume their office on December 10, the extreme right will be represented in Argentina’s Congress for the first time. The second name on Milei’s ticket is Victoria Villarruel, a lawyer and president of the Center for Legal Studies on Terrorism (CELTyV). Villarruel has on several occasions denied the existence of state terrorism during the military dictatorship, despite the Argentine legal system trying over a thousand former members of the military for crimes against humanity committed between 1976 and 1983.
“I ask you to roll up your sleeves and get dirty, to take the initiative, to help me to change Argentina, let’s make ourselves a power again. Long live freedom, damn it. Long live freedom, damn it. Long live freedom, damn it,” Milei told his supporters on Saturday. The enthusiasm of the applause contrasted greatly with the anxiety of those people who were walking along the street in front of Lezama park, on their way home from the Gay Pride march that had been taking place at the same time in downtown Buenos Aires.