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Javier Milei and his party “La Libertad Avanza” was the big surprise of Argentina’s September 12 primary elections. They placed third in Buenos Aires city with an astonishing 13.9% of the votes, and they increased that percentage to 17% in the general legislative elections on November 14. They will have two seats in the National Congress for the first time. Milei’s coalition only registered as a political party in July but the movement he leads has been growing among teenagers and young people through Twitter and other Internet platforms; they have developed their own language and become an online subculture idolizing him.

Javier Milei is an ultra-liberal economist who became well-known among the Argentinian public because of his many TV appearances. With a provocative style and eccentric haircut, his main concern is state intervention in the economy. He declared himself a follower of the economic Austrian School and an enemy of socialism and Keynesianism. Philosophically, he defines himself as an anarcho-capitalist. Some of his proposals are to eliminate almost every existent tax, shut down the Argentinian Central Bank, and cut the size of the Argentinian public services in half. In a country that has lived in economic recession for almost 20 of the 30 thirty years, his demeanor caught the attention of those disappointed with and angered by the two main political coalitions. And surprisingly, for a politician who repeatedly claimed to want to dismantle welfare institutions, cut social benefits, and abolish free university, he had significant gains in marginal and poor neighborhoods.

However, what appeared to be mainly an economic platform unfolded a variety of political and social statements that remind some of the ideological values of the European and U.S. populist radical right agendas. First, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Milei was one of the most ferocious critics of lockdowns and restrictions imposed by the government. He openly states he is not vaccinated and that he won’t take the shot because the vaccines are not proven to be fully effective. That statement made him the idol of the marginal but noisy anti-vaccine movement in the country. Secondly, in a recent debate, he denied climate change because he considers it a “socialist lie with no scientific background.” Additionally, his number two on the ballot, Victoria Villarruel, is an infamous denier of the human rights violations committed by the military right-wing dictatorship that ruled the country from 1976–1983, responsible for torturing and “disappearing” thousands of people.[1] Recently, she also became one of the most prominent anti-abortion and anti-sex-education advocates. So, ideologically, “La Libertad Avanza” platform is now a mix of extreme neoliberal economic doctrines with social conservatism.

As one can guess, Milei and his followers declared themselves sympathetic to Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. They also have had several meetings with the Spanish populist radical right party VOX. Milei claims that he shares with them the common fight against socialism and communism. One of his and his followers’ core features is their McCarthyism: they insult and label every politician or public figure a communist, even the most prominent center-right figures. Their most salient motto is “Communism or Freedom.”

Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser defined populism as “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups: the pure people—and—the corrupt elite.” Milei’s narrative dissociates “the people” from the “political caste.” He claims that politicians of traditional parties have exceptional benefits that normal people do not have, and he will hunt them down, one by one. So, it would be accurate to label him a populist because of his anti-elite or anti-establishment rhetoric. However, these new so-called “libertarians” do not challenge (at least not openly) pluralism and the constitutional limitations to popular sovereignty. Also, there is no evidence of nativism, nationalism, or hate against immigrants in their narratives (those are not central issues in current Argentinian public discussion). Because of that, it would be hard to label Milei and his party as populist radical right in the way it is understood in Europe and the US. But undoubtedly, they have shared values and more similarities than differences.

The strength of Milei’s electoral base will be determined in the upcoming elections, but right now, it is hard to believe that they would have a significant performance in the 2023 presidential elections because of the extremely polarized context between the governing Peronists and the “Juntos por el Cambio” coalition. As The Economist’s article states, “third parties have done well before in the capital, especially in times of crisis, only to implode soon after.” But certainly, by moving the political and economic public discussion to the right, Milei is having a global impact on Argentinian politics.

[1] The actual number of victims is disputed. In the notorious trial that took place in 1985 against the military, the prosecutors estimated 9000 victims. But human rights Argentinian organizations claim the victims were around 30000.

Leandro Gonzalez is a graduate exchange student at GW from Torcuato Di Tella University, where he is due to complete his MA in International Affairs. He has a Law Degree from University of Buenos Aires, where he has been working as an assistant teacher of Introductory Argentinian History and State Politics since 2019.