Latest Headlines and Breaking News from Around the World
Fresh news
for 2023

Who is Argentina's controversial chainsaw presidential candidate, Javier Milei?

Javier Milei.

Batman and the Joker, a man decked out in a full-body lion costume, and another whose head and arms have been replaced by chainsaws. This isn’t Carnival or Comic-Con, but rather an outlandish campaign rally for Argentine presidential candidate Javier Milei.

In just a few short years, the right-wing populist Milei went from being a television talking head who garnered high ratings with his unrestrained outbursts against a “political caste” he blamed for Argentina’s perennial economic woes to a frontrunner for the presidency.

The ultra liberal economist has managed to achieve what others have not: to break into the dominant space between the Peronism of the 'Frente de Todos' party and the followers of former president Mauricio Macri, represented by the 'Juntos por el Cambio' party.

Hence, his motto: “I did not come to guide lambs, I came to awaken lions.”

A supporter of Javier Milei, Liberty Advances coalition presidential candidate, takes part in his closing campaign rally in Cordoba, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. Nicolas Aguilera/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

His appeal seems to lie in his ability to channel anger that Argentines feel against the ruling class amid red-hot triple-digit inflation and rising poverty. Year-on-year inflation in the country stands at 140%, while more than 40% of the population struggles to make it to the end of the month.

"He speaks like somebody from the street, like one of us, that's why he is so popular", says Rodrigo Agüera, an Argentinian waiter based in Barcelona.

"I am in favour of a change," he says, but "we'll have to see what happens after this, because in the end, politicians will always be politicians, they tell you one thing and then do another."

From TV talking head to presidential candidate

Once seen as a sideshow in Argentine politics, Milei managed to parlay his success as a talking head into a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, Argentina’s lower house of Congress, in 2021. 

He then launched what looked like a long-shot presidential bid, but rocked Argentina’s political establishment when he received the most votes in the country’s August primaries, a national contest seen as a massive poll of voter preferences.

"He is a person who does not understand the political system. Neither electoral nor executive. He has no experience governing a city or a municipality. How do we expect him to govern a country?" says cultural management student Candela Kantor.

"He is surrounded by people he wants to put in charge of ministries, people who are closely linked to the worst crisis in Argentina," she adds.

Javier Milei, Liberty Advances coalition presidential candidate, center, greets supporters during his closing campaign rally in Cordoba, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. Nicolas Aguilera/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Argentinians searching for an alternative

Milei was predicted to have an edge for the October vote, but finished second, with 30% of the vote, almost seven points below Economy Minister Sergio Massa.

Researcher Alan Ríos seems to think that the part of the population who vote for Milei "do not see themselves reflected in the current narrative, neither in Kirchnerism nor in Macrism."

"They have lived though experiences with both types of government and nothing changed. In fact, it got worse," he explains.

Milei and Massa are facing off in a run-off this weekend, and pre-election polls show a virtual tie with a large number of undecideds who will be key in deciding the race.

'Yes' to bodily autonomy, 'No' to abortion

Often called Argentina’s Donald Trump, Milei adopts a mixture of love for the ideals of capitalism with socially conservative policies, including an opposition to abortion, which Argentina legalised in 2020.

On the other hand, he is in favour of the free sale of firearms and human organs. "Why does everything have to be regulated by the state? My first property is my body," he says.

Introducing the US dollar and shutting down the Central Bank are two of the measures he promises along with privatisation of state-owned public enterprises.

Some followers also use props to mimic the chainsaw that Milei has often held up at rallies to symbolise what he wants to do with state spending. The economist and dog-lover has been clear that there will be cuts on main social issues such as health, education and social development.

According to history teacher Luis Klejzer, "he is a danger to democratic freedom and human rights."

Presidential hopeful of the Liberty Advances coalition Javier Milei brandishes a chainsaw during a campaign event in La Plata, Argentina, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. Natacha Pisarenko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Historical memory in danger

Another point that has generated public debate is vice-presidential candidate Victoria Villarruel.

Daughter of military officers, Villarruel has been criticised for questioning crimes committed during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, which include the torture and disappearance of thousands of people by security forces.

"There is a large sector of society, the military families, people from military circles, people who are more right-wing, who are all involved in politics in Argentina and who until now have not had their place of representation," explains Ríos. 

"So Milei, by coming here and vindicating all these things, is also openly giving a place to all these people," he adds.

Agustin Salem holds an oversized US dollar bill with the face of presidential hopeful Javier Milei at a campaign rally in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. Rodrigo Abd/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

According to Klejzer, the figure of Javier Milei "is able to channel all the discontent that this society carries. Especially among young people," which he says the economic crisis is hitting very hard.

"They don't see a future. So they are trying to get out of this situation via the extreme right."

The history teacher from Buenos Aires says he is worried if Milei were to be elected as president, because "we are already one step away from losing the constitutional freedoms of our beloved Argentina."

Posted on 18 Nov 2023 09:00 link