For Whom Is Argentina Crying?

Milei’s rhetoric about ending “the parasitic, stupid, useless political caste” has caught on with voters. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García Aguilera, Madrid, August 22, 2023 — To understand the Milei phenomenon, we have to go back a bit in history. Almost all of us have heard the song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” a show tune that has been covered by the likes of Madonna, Sinéad O’Connor, Sarah Brightman, Christina Aguilera and Andrea Bocelli. It was inspired by María Eva Duarte, better known as Evita Perón: a politician, actress, first lady of Argentina and wife of Juan Domingo Perón. Evita died of cancer in 1952 when she was only 33 years old. After her death, she was declared “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.”

Since then, Peronism has been the country’s most influential political movement. Its broad spectrum of adherents has made it difficult to classify. Several groups, from both left and right, claim to be Peronists. Among its most important offshoots, however, is the populist, nationalist wing, which is closely aligned with the working class and whose main issue is social justice.

Perón left Argentina after a military coup in 1955. After the demise of the so-called Liberating Revolution, and then the Argentine Revolution, (which were nothing more than dictatorships), Perón returned to Argentina and became president for the third time in 1973. He died a year later, however, leaving the presidency in the hands of his new wife, Isabel Perón, a former nightclub dancer who was thirty-five years his junior.

Argentina has now experienced thirty years of uninterrupted democracy. However, the beginning of the 21st century saw the collapse of the economically liberal policies adopted ten years earlier by Carlos Menem.

Isabelita, whose real name was María Estela Martínez, was not exactly a left-wing feminist. All thirty-nine cabinet ministers during her time in office were men. The country also suffered from runaway inflation, consumer shortages and corruption. Violence was unleashed, mainly between an anti-communist vigilante group, known as Triple A, and guerrillas of the radical left, known as the Montoneros. For much of the Cold War, Argentina was the only country in the region not governed by a military dictatorship and, even then, its weak democracy existed on life support.

Last year, the movie Argentina, 1985 won a Golden Globe award and received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It dramatizes the trial of the military junta which ruled the country from 1976 to 1983, leading the most brutal dictatorship in Argentina’s history. During this time, 9,000 persons disappeared, prisoners were tortured, infants were kidnapped, and people were even thrown alive from aircraft into the sea during “death flights.”

In 2018, I personally met General Martín Balza in Buenos Aires. In 1995 he surprised everyone with a self-critique on national television. The then Chief of the General Staff read a statement in which he acknowledged that the Army had committed human rights violations. For the first time, the military admitted its guilt and condemned all uniformed personnel who gave or carried out immoral orders.

Argentina has already experienced a thirty-year period of uninterrupted democracy. However, the beginning of the 21st century saw the collapse of the liberal economic policies adopted ten years earlier by Carlos Menem. Five presidents paraded through the Casa Rosada in one week, anarchy broke out and Fernando de la Rúa boarded a helicopter to his forced retirement. The stage was set for a new center-left Peronist variant: Kirchnerism.

Except for a period from 2015 to 2019, when Mauricio Macri was presdient, the Kirchnerists have governed the country since 2003. But the Argentine situation is once again chaotic, marked by an increase in poverty, insecurity, corruption scandals, internal divisions among the Kirchnernists, widespread discontent and chronic, intolerable inflation.

The economist Javier Milei speaking during a rally in Buenos Aires after primary results were announced. (EFE / Gala Abramovich)

Into this scene comes Javier Milei, an anarcho-capitalist libertarian, faithful disciple of the Austrian school, and admirer of Trump and Bolsonaro. His ideas had already been generating a lot of noise on social media as part of several cultural wars being waged by Argentina’s Agustín Lage, Guatemala’s Gloria Alvarez and Chile’s Axel Kaiser. The ruling party focused its efforts on demonizing Milei, which only made him more attractive to younger voters.

Aware that voters had had enough, Milei decided to play the Joker, grew sideburns like Menem and adopted incendiary rhetoric. His enemies made the mistake of attacking him for his relationships with his dogs and his sister, whom they compared to the Game of Thrones character Cersei Lannister. His calls to abolish “the parasitic, stupid and useless political caste” has caught on with voters, even though he himself has become a leader of that caste.

Milei is proposing to massively reduce in the size of government, to “voucherize” education and health care, and to dollarize the economy. He has even talked about doing away with all restrictions on firearm possessions and about creating a marketplace for the sale of human organs. It remains to be seen if he will be elected president, or if he will be capable of carrying out the policies he is proposing, or if he will inspire or prevent largescale social unrest. For now, Milei is the person for whom more than seven million Argentinines are crying.


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