The Atlas Network and the Building of Argentina’s Donald Trump

Lambert here: If Javier Milei becomes President, I’m not sure what view he would take on entering BRICS. And vice versa.

By Lucas Araldi, a Brazilian journalist and a PhD Candidate in Political Science at the University of Kassel, Germany. He studies the struggles between right wing and progressive networks of intellectuals on environmental and labor policies in Latin America. Originally published at DeSmog.

Ask Argentine politician, economist, and presidential candidate Javier Milei what he thinks of climate change, and he might tell you that it’s “another lie of socialism” and “part of the agenda of Cultural Marxism.” 

The right-wing politician is part of coalition Libertad Avanza and this August won the most votes in Argentina’s primary election, enabling him to run for president on October 23. 

He gained prominence through his talk show appearances, making his debut on the political talk show Animales Sueltos (Stray Animals) in 2016. In addition, he hosted his own radio program called Demoliendo Mitos (Debunking Myths).

In 2021, Milei was elected as a national deputy for Buenos Aires. Prior to this, he had built an extensive career in both the public and private sectors as an economist, even holding the position of Chief Economist at HSBC.

Milei has been compared to right-wing populist leaders Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro due to his direct and aggressive way of speaking and his radical proposals. Milei would likely be flattered by the comparison — he is a huge fan of these right-wing populists that have emerged in recent years.

Milei won 30 percent of the vote in the August primary — nearly 10 percent more than the next-most-popular candidate — with a political platform that combines radical neoliberal policy proposals with a conservative populist moral agenda. His economic proposals include reducing the number of government ministries, cutting public spending, dollarizing the economy, and “exploding” the Central Bank, in Milei’s own words. 

Milei didn’t arrive at these proposals on his own; his views, particularly in regards to the economy, have been shaped by the Atlas Network, a U.S. nonprofit that works to spread free-market think tanks all over the world. 

Based in Washington, D.C., the Atlas Network supports more than 500 free-market organizations. Some of these groups, such as the Heartland Institute, are also involved in climate science denial and in campaigns against legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Around 100 think tanks in Latin America — 10 of which are in Argentina — are part of Atlas’s web. Between 2010 and 2021, Atlas gave approximately $12 million USD to think tanks in the region, mostly for “economic education,” according to U.S. tax filings analyzed by DeSmog. Across the world, including in Latin America, Atlas think tanks collaborate beyond national borders, sharing strategies and ideology. It is common, for example, for Atlas think tanks to share board members or even create their own networks, such as Red Liberal de America Latina (RELIAL).

Alberto Benegas Lynch, who serves as an adviser for Milei and also is a director at Mont Pelerin Society, is an example of transnational ties within the network. He is part of several Atlas Network groups in Latin America, such as Fundación Federalismo y Libertad and Instituto Libertad y Progreso, both in Argentina, Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala, and Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo in Uruguay.  

Lynch is also known for making denialist statements about climate change. In an opinion article published in 2018 in the Argentinian online newspaper Infobae, for example, he argued that climate change is a fraud based on distortion of statistics. He built his argument from alleged studies of John Coleman, Ivar Giaever, and Patrick Moore.

The Argentine newspaper La Nación describes the relationship between Milei and Lynch as one of admiration, as Milei frequently cites Lynch. Beyond that, Lynch wrote several times on the Instituto Libertad y Progreso’s website about his relationship with Milei, as well as his proposals, and how Milei means a miracle for Argentine politics.

Milei benefits from the whole infrastructure of ideas boosted by the Atlas Network to project himself as presidential. While the other traditional candidates do not have a platform of think tanks that can help them, Milei manages to move between these institutes and use them as hubs for disseminating his ideas and as a safe arena for advancing the debate on his agenda.

For instance, Milei has connections to other Latin American think tanks in the Atlas Network. He has attended conferences and participated in events promoted by the Fundación Libertad y Progreso, Federalismo y Libertad, and Fundación Atlas, all based in Argentina. He also participated in Instituto de Estudos Empresariais’s Liberty Forum 2022 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Articles in Fundación Atlas’s blog praise him, with Axel Kaiser, executive director at Fundación para El Progreso in Chile, writing that Milei is helping restore Argentina’s Libertarian legacy by setting up a “cultural and political movement which became the third way.” In 2018, Fundación Atlas awarded Milei the Liberty Prize.

Milei sat on the advisory board of Fundación Libre (FL), an Argentine far-right think tank that was part of Atlas. FL promoted “individual freedom and republicanism” in the face of “hegemonic progressive ideology and the empire of politically correctness.” Although FL did not focus primarily on denying climate change, it did feature climate-related content, like a YouTube video criticizing Greta Thunberg, that has since been removed. 

Milei, however, is known for denying climate change, claiming that the planet’s temperature is currently at its lowest level in the past 15,000 years. His source for this belief is a graph from a 2008 study by the geologist Don J. Easterbrook — who is known for erroneously predicting “global cooling.” However, this graph is based on data only from Greenland and is not a reliable indicator of climate change, according to fact-checking groups in Argentina.

Although Milei uses climate denialism to ignite his followers, climate change was barely discussed in the Argentine primaries, even though the occurrence of extreme weather events has increased twofold since 1980 and could become even worse in the coming decades. Instead, candidates focused on the country’s current food crisis: Argentina faces one of the biggest food inflations in the world and more than 4 million people in the country are food insecure. This scenario also could become worse due to climate change’s impacts on Argentine agriculture. 

Milei’s significant result at the polls shows that the free-market, neoliberal ideals the Atlas Network is promoting have a huge organizational strength in Argentina that can be converted into votes. Even if Milei doesn’t win the October presidential election, his rise to this level of politics means a victory for the Atlas Network.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Chas

    “Free market think tanks.” What’s this Araldi guy talking about? Where are these free markets to be thinking about? There aren’t any free markets are there? They are all seller-controlled markets. I need a cup of coffee.

    1. Kouros

      Not if you are a coffee maker in west coast Africa, or Uranium producer like Niger, it is not your market…

      1. Piotr Berman

        West Africa (Ivory Coast, Ghana) is a major cocoa producers, coffee, in spite of its African origin (southern Ethiopia) is grown mostly in (1) South and Central America (2) Asia (3) East Africa.

    2. Will G-R

      The label “free-market” here should be interpreted a bit like the label “trinitarian”: both refer to an entity whose alleged existence is central to the belief system, but in neither case should the label necessarily imply that the entity actually exists (or could ever possibly exist) in the real world outside the minds of the faithful.

  2. Mikel

    In general, such biographical material should be considered about officials from all BRICS and proposed BRICS members. Especially the grooming they all go through to better serve the elite.

    1. Yves Smith

      I wonder what happens with BRICS if Milei wins with enough of a margin that he can form a coalition with the other US-leaning party. I though it was Alex Christaforu, but I can’t find it on some minutes of poking around, who reported that a BRICS member official said BRICS members would not be allowed to participate in sanctions against any BRICS member. I can’t see how Argentina could dollarize, whatever that means, and not participate in the anti-Russia sanctions.

      1. The Rev Kev

        There was an RT article about a day or so ago where it was said-

        ‘Only nations that do not enforce sanctions against the group’s members can be admitted, Russian Deputy FM Sergey Ryabkov has said.

        Western countries don’t have a chance of joining BRICS as long as they pursue hostile policies against any of its members, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Friday.

        Speaking at a press conference following the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ryabkov recalled that one of the key conditions for admittance to the group is “non-application of illegal sanctions against any of the members of the association.” ‘

        My takeaway from that was that if Argentina went to sanction Russia, then probably it would be immediately suspended from BRICS pending future actions.

  3. JonnyJames

    The trendy buzzwords like “cultural Marxism” and “socialist lie”: No matter what we think about Marx or so-called socialism, the buzzwords thrown around are (tragically) comical. I would guess that 95% or more of the people who use these terms have never read Marx and have no clue what they are talking about. Milei is a so-called economist, but I bet even he has barely read any Marx.

    Milei is a skilled politician and demagogue though. He uses classic bait-and-switch tactics and plays on people’s ignorance and fear. Politics is not about logic or facts, it is about perception and emotional manipulation. The trick is to get masses of people to vote against their interests. (Just like Biden/Trump, although loathed by millions, still have millions of supporters. This even after showing time again how corrupt and mendacious they are)

    I have no information, but Milei sounds like a perfect CIA asset. I also bet he is connected with Argentine oligarchy types who have a vested interest in keeping Argentina deeply in debt and maintaining the status-quo – it’s in their financial interests to do so.

    It would be naive to think that the US will just sit by and do nothing.

    1. Ignacio

      Your second paragraph nails It. Then in the third you go for a hypothesis that is, IMO, incorrect even if Milei might do things in ways that Washington would approve Milei is surely best Milei’s asset and his agenda will mostly fit his own interests well above anyone’s else. He could easily turn a loose cannon to US’s eyes.

    2. digi_owl

      Yeah the whole “cultural marxism” is red care reheated.

      As best i can tell, the connection to marxism is spurious at best via the Frankfurt school that basically tossed any material basis for Marx’s dialectic. Then out of that came critical theory, that after crossing the Atlantic gets turned into intersectionality by US “thinkers”.

      As in it is all a massive game of telephone, with the end result having very little to do with Marx, communism, or the cold war.

      In the end it is all tribalism, cargo cults and kayfabe. In particular for the younger people in the audience that will say and do virtually anything to retain an in group.

      1. JonnyJames

        Good points. We (they) don’t want folks to understand too much about economics and the financial system. Mainstream discourse is all about divide-and-rule “cultural” and emotional issues.

        And it’s not just Marx, Adam Smith has been turned on his head. Very few people that I have spoken to actually read Wealth of Nations, let alone Theory of Moral Sentiments. All they know is “invisible hand” and so-called free market. I have talked to many people who throw around names like Marx or Smith, yet have not read them. Armchair experts saw something on TV or YT and don’t need to crack open any books.

  4. Ignacio

    If you read the Globalist El País they will tell you that Milei is “son of VOX” the extreme populist party in Spain which Indeed sympathises with Milei. Milei, frequently talks about the political caste so here we find the same line of attack that was used, for instance, by PODEMOS for a very different endgame. Libertarian vs progressive wokeism. According to some outlets Milei finds support within the very young and the marginalised.

    These guys disguised as anti-system can possibly the most rabid pro-system wanting to benefit from the discontent to take us from the neoliberal babble to the libertarian shite.

    He has positioned himself as Putin-hater anti-Russian (he called Biden as “weak” in relation to Ukraine before the war started. Would be like another Bolsonaro in the BRICS.

    As a libertarian i find that people like Milei reaching power make our world more anarchic/chaotic. Third law of thermodinamics taking central stage.

    1. Paul P

      ” As a libertarian I find that people like Milei reaching power make our world more anarchic/ chaotic.”

      He could perhaps garner a few (rare) Anarchist votes with a slogan ” Freedom thro’ Absurdity”

  5. Jeremy Grimm

    How many years has it been since the Atlas Network has received so much mention? The characterization of the Atlas Network as “a U.S. nonprofit that works to spread free-market think tanks all over the world” seems a little weak. I find it difficult to avoid feeling a sense of conspiracy when considering the Atlas Network’s world-wide gathering of 500 “free-market” organizations. I am also surprised that anyone in Argentina would consider voting for a politician advised by a director at the Mont Pelerin Society. Did Argentina learn nothing from Chile’s experience with Pinochet?

    I am unsure how much to credit the suggestion implicit in the title of this post which seems to tie Donald Trump to the Atlas Network. I believe both political parties in the u.s. have strong inclinations toward Neoliberalism. I am not sure how to characterize Trump’s “policies”. I think Biden has the deepest Neoliberal roots. The description of Milei as comparable to Trump and Bolsonaro because of his “direct and aggressive way of speaking and his radical proposals” inadvertently suggests a sharp criticism of the Milei-Trump-Bolsonaro political opponents. What contrasts with a direct and aggressive way of speaking about radical proposals? [Mealy- mouthed comes to my mind.]

  6. Commander McBragg

    Has Argentina’s Donald Trump ever worked for or any property of, Mr Singer the Vulture Fund guy? His position on paying IMF debt from decades ago tells you all you need to know.

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