How Javier Milei Upset Argentina’s Political Status Quo

Yves here. We’re featuring a post from openDemocracy on Argentina’s primary results that had far-right candidate Javier Milei beating the candidates of the two parties that have been in power for two decades. The post is telling, and not in a good way. Milei does advocate extreme views (not that he can go as far as he likes since even if he won a plurality again, he would still be leading a coalition government). And too many commentators forget that voters regularly move to the right in bad economic times, which Argentina is certainly suffering. It’s that the piece depicts him as a Trumpian outsider/madman, when Nick Corbishley’s post right after the primary results were in describes Milei’s considerable, if sometimes seamy, establishment connections…including to the Kochs:

Until seven years ago, Milei made his living as an economist working for and with different organisations, some of which one might think would clash with the libertarian principles he espouses (disclaimer: I myself am not a libertarian). For example, Milei is a member of the World Economic Forum, which serves the global plutocrat class, proudly describes itself as the “international organisation for public-private partnerships” ( i.e, corporatism), and is one of the biggest proponents of centralised, technocratic, top-down governance on the planet.

Milei has also worked as senior economist at the Argentinian subsidiary of HSBC as well as head economist for Corporación America, a conglomerate belonging to Eduardo Eurnekián, one of Argentina’s richest men. The company has virtual monopoly control over the airports of Argentina and other LatAm countries. Again, any genuine, self-respecting libertarian would oppose, with every sinew of their being, the very existence of monopolies and monopolists, let alone work for one for over ten years.

Milei also owes his political career to Eurnekián, who also owns part of Grupo América, one of Latin America’s biggest media conglomerates. When Eurnekián realised that Milei had a certain gift of the gab, Grupo América began inviting Milei on its news and chat programs, where he would rip into Argentina’s then-President Mauricio Macri, with whom Eurnekián had a history of beefs. In effect, Eurnekián and his partners gave Milei an enormous soapbox from which to project his views, which is how he became a media sensation, then an MP and now a presidential candidate with a real chance of becoming president.

Perhaps worst of all, Milei worked for Antonio Bussi, a military general who tortured and killed untold numbers of people during the dictatorship, including a 16-year old girl. After the transition to democracy, in the mid-’80s, all indictments against Bussi were dropped as part of the “full-stop” law (though the charges would be reinstated decades later, leading to a sentence of life imprisonment). A free man in a new world, Bussi ran for governorship of the state of Tucaman and won, becoming the only senior figure of the previous dictatorship to be elected to public office in the democracy that replaced it.

In the mid-’90s, by which time Bussi’s grisly crimes were common knowledge, Milei worked on two contracts for the governor. Asked about it in an interview, Milei said: “I did my work, it came to an end and I left.”

Milei also has ties to the US-based, Koch-funded Atlas Network, which since its inception in 1981 has forged loose partnerships with more than 450 “free-market” think tanks around the world, including many in Latin America. As Lee Fang reported for The Intercept in 2017, the network has operated “as a quiet extension of U.S. foreign policy, with Atlas-associated think tanks receiving quiet funding from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a critical arm of American soft power.”

Mind you, it isn’t as if Argentina hasn’t already moved to the right, as Ignacio Portes pointed out in a guest post in 2017: The Fall of the Latin American Left, Part III: Argentina and the Right Winning Elections. But if Milei continues to do well, his success seems set to embolden the right across Latin America.

By Juan Elman, an Argentinean journalist, specialising in international politics. He writes the newsletter Mundo Propio for the independent media Cenital, and is the author of ‘Nada será como antes. ¿Hacia dónde va Chile?’ (Ediciones Futurock, 2022). Originally published at openDemocracy

A political tsunami has hit Argentina with far-right libertarian economist Javier Milei winning the largest share of the vote in the presidential primary elections last Sunday, 13 August. It’s no longer far-fetched that Milei could become president; in fact, it now seems the most likely scenario.

“We are the true opposition,” he declared. “We are the only ones who want real change. Because remember: a different Argentina is impossible with the same old ones, who have failed.”

The primaries, in which presidential candidates from all parties take part, is seen as a good gauge of the actual election, scheduled for 22 October. Milei’s party Freedom Advances (La Libertad Avanza) took 30% of the total vote, while Milei (who had no rival for his party’s presidential nomination) won the most votes at an individual level.

The centre-right opposition coalition Together for Change (Juntos Por el Cambio) came second on 28%, with hardline ex-security minister Patricia Bullricht becoming its candidate for president. These two results – Milei’s overall victory and Bullrich’s victory as nominee – entails a significant advance for the right.

The ruling centre-left coalition Union for the Fatherland (Unión por la Patria) came third on 27%. It was the worst result for Peronism – a movement identified with former president Juan Domingo Perón, whose main banner is social justice – since the return of democracy 40 years ago. Union for the Fatherland’s presidential candidate will be the current economy minister Sergio Massa, who won the primary comfortably. But governing took its toll: Union for the Fatherland lost almost half of the votes it won in 2019.

Turnout was under 70% – a low number given that voting is compulsory.

It’s unlikely that any of the three candidates – Milei, Bullrich, Massa – will win the presidency in the first round, which requires 45% of the votes (or 40% plus a difference of ten percentage points from the second-placed candidate). But Milei is now the favourite to win the run-off in November.

Milei anchored his campaign on the promise of uprooting the “political caste” and what he sees as its byproducts: a bureaucratic state that cares for those in need. Before he began his victory speech in a packed hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, Milei’s excited young supporters chanted: “They all must go – not a single one of them must remain.” That slogan, aimed at the country’s political parties and their leaders, was last heard on Argentina’s streets during the severe economic and political crisis of 2001.

The bipartisan political system born out of that crisis – basically centre-left ‘Kirchnerism’ based on Néstor Kirchner’s presidency in 20o3 and his wife Cristina Fernández’s two terms (2007–15) followed by the centre-right ‘anti-Kirchnerism’ of Mauricio Macri, who won in 2015 – has ended with the emergence of Milei.

Now the country is back in crisis. Inflation is above 100%, 50% of the population does not have secure employment, 40% live in poverty and there’s been no growth for more than a decade. In the 20th century, Argentina boasted of being a sort of European island in Latin America; now it increasingly resembles its neighbours.

That longstanding polarisation has been replaced by a more powerful one that pits traditional politics (“the caste” in Milei’s words) against the “indignados” (‘outraged’).

Eccentric Libertarian

An eccentric character, resembling a messy-haired rockstar in looks, Milei was born into a lower middle-class family and had a turbulent childhood. Journalist Juan Luis González portrays him in his recent biography ‘El loco’ (‘the madman’) as an unstable person who indulges in messianic delusions and communicates with his deceased dog via his sister Karina. In his victory speech on Sunday, he thanked his “four-legged children”, who are named after Austrian School economists.

Before becoming a politician, he taught economics at university, worked as a financial adviser for several large companies and was a TV panellist discussing economics. In 2021, he won a seat as a deputy in Buenos Aires city – his only political experience so far.

Milei’s supporters are socially diverse and come mainly from the provinces. In Sunday’s primaries, Milei and his party won 16 of the country’s 24 provinces. In some traditionally Peronist provinces in the south and north, he got more than 40% of the vote, as he also did in the agribusiness-dominated central region, until now a centre-right stronghold. He fared worst in Buenos Aires city and province, respectively Argentina’s capital and most populated electoral district, which have long monopolised national politics.

Milei is a libertarian who identifies with the global far right, wants to launch a referendum about the 2020 legal abortion law and has promised to scrap mandatory sex education, as openDemocracy explained. A climate crisis denier, he proposes a shock economic programme with dollarisation as the main policy – until recently considered taboo in Argentine politics, but perceived by many voters as the only way to curb inflation.

A negative media campaign, which intensified in recent months in the wake of a series of financial scandals, did not damage him; possibly the opposite, in fact.

With an electorate divided into almost three equal parts, Milei is not far ahead of his rivals, but he has the advantage of momentum from his victory – and they also face more problems.

The centre-right candidate Patricia Bullrich may well lose right-wing votes to Milei. Her dilemma reflects a global trend, with the rise of the far right punishing mainly traditional centre-right parties.

Meanwhile, the ruling party’s candidate Sergio Massa carries the burden of being the driver of an economy that was dealt a severe blow by Sunday’s results. After a record interest rate hike, inflation is expected to rise, further exacerbating the economic crisis. The ruling coalition still has a chance of reaching the presidential run-off, but to achieve this it will have to win the left-wing vote.

And all the parties have to appeal to the record ten million voters who didn’t cast their ballots on Sunday.

As for Milei, he has to show he’s more than the recipient of ‘angry votes’ and that his proposals are feasible. The opinion polls, which before the primaries failed to capture the strength of his support, show some dissent from his own voters for his more radical ideas.

The results of the primaries in the southern province of Santa Cruz, the home and stronghold of centre-left Kirchnerism, are revealing. Milei won the most votes as contender for president. But his Freedom Advances party did not present any candidates, ceding first place to the ruling party – but on only 17% of the vote. More than 60% left this part of their ballot blank. In other words, it was Milei’s party or none at all.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. orlbucfan

    Less vision, more stupidity in international politics. We need much more of the former, and much LESS of the latter. Hi Yves, I hope you are resettled as I haven’t wandered over here lately. :-)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thank you for asking. I am moved but not settled. I am very well ensconced for now in a nice hotel at a very good long-stay rate, so I am in no hurry to find an apartment. I feel I need to get to know the city a bit better first anyhow.

      1. veronius

        Are you in Argentina? Just curious as I’m considering moving there (from Canada). Not so sure after this article though…

      2. Joe Well

        Very good judgement (as usual) starting with a temporary rental.

        Here in Mexico, I am doing something similar (but less nice and cheaper) with a month-to-month rental.

        Meanwhile, the expat Facebook and Whatsapp groups are filled with people complaining about the noise levels because they signed one-year leases on their first day here or even before arriving.

  2. tegnost

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out, we in the US don’t see three way elections and this one seems somewhat evenly distributed.

  3. truly

    On Youtube, ‘Tectonic Shift in World Order’ by BreakThrough News. They have a guest on “Zoe” from Peoples Dispatch. Interview starts around 7:30 mark.
    I think it fair to summarize that while she is alarmed at his positions, she suggests that the primary is just a “temperature check” and not that meaningful as to who will emerge as a victor in the general election.
    I cant vouch for the quality of this news site, but Zoe seemed quite informed on the mechanics of this election system.

  4. Insouciant Iowan

    No mention of possible effects of Agentina’s $44B IMF debt and its 30 month extension. It’s IMF loans created huge capital flight.[]
    Nor of Milei’s intention to forgo Argentine monetary sovereignty by “gradually” dollarizing it economy. A bloodless coup by the US?

  5. Joe Well

    >>In the 20th century, Argentina boasted of being a sort of European island in Latin America; now it increasingly resembles its neighbours.

    I kind of know what this means, but many Argentineans wish their economy resembled the stability of their neighbor Uruguay, or the kind of long-term growth in Brazil and Chile, or even Paraguay or Peru (though few would ever admit it).

    Meanwhile, they have too much in common economically with Europe’s PIGS, something they’re painfully aware of since so many people have tried emigrating to Spain and Italy since 2001 and now that’s a much less attractive option.

    A lot of the talk about Europe was frankly racist and Argentineans below a certain age tend to be embarrassed by it.

    1. Pavel

      Chile is not a stable country with long-term real growth. Its main export model has been stagnant since 1997 and only the “copper supercycle” allowed it to survive until 2011-16. It had a brutal revolt in 2019 (“Estallido social” in Spanish). Social unrest is gigantic and continues to grow.

      A new progressive constitution was rejected last year and polls show that a far-right led constitution will be rejected in December. Is that stability?

      President Boric, center-left, is hated by almost the majority of the population (including many people who voted for him in 2021). He promised social reforms, but with a chaotic political system and fanatical businessmen he has not even been able to negotiate.

      Argentines like messianic leaders. Caudillismo and populism is part of their culture.

      Argentines who want to be like Chile are either rich (and have a lot to gain) or they are idiots.

      1. Joe Well

        I wrote that Uruguay was stable, not Chile. Please read before commenting.

        Also, at least officially, Argentina has much more poverty right now than Chile.

        >>Argentines like messianic leaders. Caudillismo and populism is part of their culture.

        Wow. Overgeneralize about tens of millions of people much?

        1. Pavel

          >I wrote that Uruguay was stable, not Chile. Please read before commenting.

          It is not stable nor does it have real long-term growth.

          >>>Wow. Overgeneralize about tens of millions of people much?

          Yes. I know the area well enough.

          And please… Peru is a chaotic country. Pedro Castillo attempted a coup a few months ago (under very strange conditions). There are violent regional protests every month and today they have a de facto government without popular support. No normal Argentine wants to be in his situation. They don’t even think about it.

          Paraguay: Literally a lawless jungle. Millions of Paraguayans emigrate to Argentina. They prefer to stay in the poor neighborhoods of Buenos Aires than return to their country.

          Brazil has its own very serious internal problems. Or do I have to explain about Jair Bolsonaro?

          About Uruguay. It is a very small country to make comparisons. Buenos Aires has more population than all of Uruguay. It is a game in easy mode. Especially if it acts as a kind of copy of a tax haven for rich Argentines (or did you not know that?)

          1. Joe Well

            This is some amazing strawmanning, not to mention some ugly national stereotyping and plain ignorance that the vast majority of Argentineans I have met would not want to be associated with.

            At least it has reminded me to write in short, simple sentences since this partly seems to be a reading comprehension issue.

            >>millions of Paraguayans emigrate to Argentina

            Really? The country has fewer than 7 million inhabitants to begin with.

            >>About Uruguay. It is a very small country to make comparisons. Buenos Aires has more population than all of Uruguay.

            So? California has more population than all of Canada and yet US-Canada international comparisons are commonplace. At any rate, it was the author of the article who made the initial comparison, not me.

            For my own sake and the sake of anyone who might actually be interested, I took 2 minutes to Google your claims about the relative economic growth of other countries to see if they had any merit, and no, they don’t.

            You can see charts of year-over-year economic growth at the following website, conveniently plotted in green (positive) or red (negative), and in the 30 years leading up to 2019, Argentina has indeed had many more red bars than any of its neighbors.




Comments are closed.