After the primary elections on Sunday 13 with the partial victory of the far-right Javier Milei, Argentina is going through weeks of uncertainty: the electorate’s weariness with politicians seems to bring the country closer to the edge of the precipice. On 22 October it will be known if a step forward is taken or not. There was no social outburst, but there was a desperate cry for change, a cry for no more.
His first declarations after the primary victory shook many, when he stated that his “maximum referents” are the United States and Israel. He affirmed that the plan is not to promote relations with communists: “Neither with Cuba, nor with Venezuela, nor with North Korea, nor with Nicaragua, nor with China”, the pre-candidate assured. “We do not make pacts with communists; we do not accept transactions with communists”.
He said he would break off relations with Brazil and China if he became president. “In China people are not free, they cannot do what they want. And when they do what they want, they are killed,” he said. China is Argentina’s main trading partner, ahead of the US and Brazil. In 2022 it reached a record $17.5 billion in imports from China and $7.9 billion in exports.
And, to the surprise of Uruguayans, Brazilians and Paraguayans, he said that “Mercosur must be eliminated because it is a defective customs union that harms good Argentines”.
Milei and Black Rock
Milei channeled with ultra-right-wing messages, the weariness and frustration with the disaster facing the country. The same trend can be seen in many countries, but Milei is more unpredictable. He was fabricated by the media and came to politics with no track record. He is not grounded in a traditional party like Trump, nor in the ideological-social base of Kast or the evangelical-military underpinning of Bolsonaro. This uniqueness can either erode or catapult him, notes Claudio Katz
He has an ultra-reactionary discourse, but he captured followers with posturing and outbursts. Many of his own voters responded to polls approving public education and rejecting the privatisation of Aerolíneas Argentinas, which he proposed. He has created the illusion of high salaries with the dollarisation adventure, adds the economist.
Milei defends the global institutionality of financial capital, especially when an operation such as the financing of a capital flight against Argentina is at stake. If Adam Smith and Karl Marx upgraded political economy to the status of science, Milei turns it into mysticism and religion and wants to “dissolve” the Central Bank and prohibit the use of deposits in banks for credit purposes.
A monetary regime without Central Bank guarantee and supervision would reinforce the actions of the international funds that almost broke the US banking system in 2000 and that developed extensively after the great crisis of 2008. “Avance Libertad”, is the cry of BlackRock, Templeton and other investment funds, which emptied Argentina under Mauricio Macri’s government.
BlackRock – and its ilk – have profited handsomely from private pension funds, which in Argentina will once again be presented as a complement or alternative to the pension misery. The other pillar is a labour reform, aimed at turning workers into a legion of mono-paid workers with no social benefits, of course.
BlackRock is also one of Argentina’s creditor investment funds. The closeness of its CEO, Larry Fink, to former president Mauricio Macri, during whose government he bought billions of dollars. In Argentina, these brokers are not obliged to declare their holdings (in fact, the government had to hire the international firm Morrow Sodali to find out who the main holders of Argentine debt are).
BlackRock has more than 1.6 billion dollars in twenty different bonds according to a list published by Bloomberg. Other FOUNTAIN sources say more than two billion. There is more: the head of BlackRock was appointed to manage the US Federal Reserve’s (the US central bank) government securities and corporate bonds operations, a market of 20 billion dollars.
With their verbiage Milei and his ‘anarcho-capitalists’ pretend to ignore the serious capitalist crisis, which the central banks can never prevent, but come to the rescue of capital after it erupts. Milei even rejected the “stigmatisation” of tax havens, from where international funds operate and those who have fled, the same ones that emptied Argentina under the Macrista administration.
In an interview with the financial agency Bloomberg, Milei criticised China and Latin American leftist leaders whom he considers “socialists”, said he would try to abandon the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and would move quickly to deregulate commodity markets.
He also pledged to close the Central Bank – “it has no reason to exist”, he said – and dollarise the $640 billion economy. He added that he would do everything possible to avoid a default on the country’s sovereign debt if he wins the October vote, and that his bold fiscal adjustment would improve Argentina’s reputation and credit profile, making a default unnecessary.
His plan includes cutting spending by at least 13 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by mid-2025, slashing public works, the number of ministries, subsidies and capital restrictions that would allow companies to transact in US dollars.
He also promised to quickly end policies that have held back agricultural investment this century; he would unify exchange rates, eliminate export taxes and quotas, and end direct meddling in food prices.
Milei detailed his plan to scrap the Argentine peso for the US dollar as a way to lower inflation and doubled down on his criticism of the Central Bank, “the worst piece of rubbish that exists on this Earth”. He plans to hand over the keys to the Central Bank to economist Emilio Ocampo, his informal adviser on the dollarisation programme, so he can shut it down.
He said he has already developed a plan to dollarise the economy, following the El Salvador model. Once two-thirds of the monetary base is converted, the economy would be fully dollarised, he said. “Nobody wants to have pesos in Argentina, we are not talking about water in the middle of the desert. We are talking about something that nobody wants,” Milei said.
One of the main fears of the markets is that Milei will fail to back up his plans. He said he would call referendums if he could not get legislative consensus to pass his measures.
While the still ruling Peronism is quietly regrouping and the traditional right is rewriting its script, Javier Milei has been received by the main Argentine television channels these days with the airs of a president-elect. “I don’t rule out taking office prematurely,” he directed in an interview.
In another, he said that he has already been contacted by the International Monetary Fund and that he is planning a meeting; and he ruled out joining forces with Patricia Bullrich. “She is less than my second mark,” he said. The third of the voters who elected him celebrate each of his boldness: “Our rights are at stake”, “It’s change everything now or never”, they repeat.
Milei and Juntos por el Cambio (JXC) won 60 per cent of the votes appealing for “change”. Almost 48 per cent (Milei plus Patricia Bullrich) voted for an “all or nothing” change. The PASO -Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Elections- left many questions but one certainty: an era in the country is over, and they were the opportunity for the profound malaise that has accumulated in society to be expressed with all its corrosive force.
There were losers: the ruling party and the neoliberal opposition. An unexpected victory for a supposed political outsider, but not for the establishment media, to which he has been a regular visitor for at least two years, Atilio Borón points out, in charge of pulling the entire political spectrum of Argentina to the right with his rudeness and histrionics.
The strange thing is that some believe that this happened by surprise. And for them, Rubén Blades was right when he sang “life gives you surprises, life gives you surprises”. The evergreen Antonio Gramsci said that “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old dies and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum the most varied morbid phenomena take place”.
The “electoral apathy” has become general and this anaemia is a phenomenon that will surely also be present in the general elections on 22 October. There is no doubt: for the popular and progressive forces this primary election has been a hard blow where the ultra-right extracted its potential from the young voters, the impoverished and hopeless sectors: it manages to represent the rebellion against the existing order.
The truth is that almost a third of the 35 million citizens abstained from voting and another 30 percent opted for a “libertarian” candidate who promised a harsh fiscal adjustment, proposed privatising health and education, dollarising the economy, freeing up the sale of organs, putting an end to social programmes, reducing salaries and closing the Central Bank. In addition, he opposes sex education and abortion, denies climate change, and hopes to solve insecurity with the free carrying of weapons.
The situation is new. In the last 20 years the citizenry has lived divided by the rift between the Peronist Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the neoliberal Mauricio Macri, and the emergence of a far right that has captivated voters who are fed up with politics is now bringing it closer to the precipice. The two-party system of the last forty years has been weakened and a new ultra-liberal force has emerged.
Peronism will be re-founded… or it will disappear diluted in the “intense progressive minority”, or with leaders migrating to Juntos por el Cambio, where they may feel comfortable. The task will be to revise its programmatic bases, draw up a new development plan, get rid of leaders who have been the burden of these elections and win back the love of the people, as Juan Domingo Perón did in 1945. But there is neither Perón nor the working people any more…
The situation of the ruling Peronism was dramatic: it went from 12 million 200 thousand votes in 2019 (47.79%) to 7,058,830 (32.43%) in 2021, to hit rock bottom now with less than six and a half million followers (27.27%), with a fall of almost half of the electorate in just four years. And, to make matters worse, while in power.
Without a doubt, Peronism is going through the worst crisis in its history: it has lost San Luis, San Juan, Chubut and Santa Cruz and is likely to lose Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Chaco and Buenos Aires. With these figures, it would seem that the only real guarantee of the ruling party’s victory is the division of the opposition and not its own electoral and political strength.
But the emergence of La Libertad Avanza also left the traditional opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) in intensive care; despite coming second, its place in an eventual run-off in November is still under threat. Within JxC there were also winners and losers. Among the former, former president Mauricio Macri, who managed to ensure that his cousin triumphed in the capital and that the closest presidential candidate, Patricia Bullrich, won the presidential election.
Bullrich’s triumph against the electoral machinery of her opponent, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, made her one of the most promising figures on the upcoming political scene, but without having paved the way to the presidency: she may end up becoming an ally of Milei in the task of demolishing what remains of the Peronist government. Rodríguez Larreta, who most analysts thought was almost certain to be the next president, removed it with just 11 per cent of the vote.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador commented: “The crisis helps the right, it’s a bit like what’s happening in Argentina. Hitler was consolidated after the inflation we suffered. I’m not comparing Milei to Hitler, it’s a historical reference,” he said. The response came from Argentinian actress, ex-model, host and businesswoman Susana Giménez: “López Obrador is a fucking lefty”. If she deleted the tweet, users captured her “analysis” and shared it on social networks.
One of the preoccupations of the Argentine political system was fragmentation, and for this reason it tried to generate greater stability by concentrating the political offer in just a few options, and invented the PASO, which locks the electorate into a fold from which they cannot escape in the run-up to the national elections.
Argentine politicians are faced with the choice of either silencing the popular cry for change in their attempt to control or reduce the damage, or – for once and for all – trying to understand the message that terrifies, horrifies them. There is panic: many see their own self-interests being overturned. Is it true that the people are never wrong?
We can speak of apathy, of disinterest, but citizen disaffection goes far beyond discontent, beyond a vote to punish the government or a vote of rage because of dissatisfaction with everyone and the system. This is when politicians once again talk about defending democracy, which they believe is limited to the citizens’ action of voting to keep them in power.
How can it be explained that in barely two years the libertarian, far-right force has become the most voted? The establishment can’t explain it, because it is a discourse that promises a different future that can inspire hope in a country where more than 40 per cent of the population suffers from hunger.
Some speak of the feat of the government of Alberto Fernández and Sergio Massa in having managed to kill Peronism, which four years ago still had only half the votes and now barely 20 percent. Since 1945, when it was born, it had never come third in an election. In any case, its defeat is inevitable. The right wing is jubilant: thank you Alberto, thank you Massa for your services.
Given the crisis of representation and the negative image of the candidates who have been in government for the last 12 years, the three main leaders and political figures were unable to stand in the elections. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández withdrew (or were withdrawn) from the competition. The first one, haunted by the lawfare and the assassination attempt. Macri defeated his internal adversary, Rodríguez Larreta, and retained the capital city government. Alberto Fernández’s present is not promising and it is better not to speculate about his future.
If JxC reduced its national electoral volume, it maintained with a significant number of votes the provinces administered by the Radical Civic Union (Corrientes, Jujuy and Mendoza) and Macri’s PRO (Autonomous City of Buenos Aires). It also added several more provinces, which augurs well for the prominence of this force in the coming years.
Two months on
Argentina is a splintered society, battered by the economic crisis and the pandemic, which is angry but also expresses a desire for a profound reset, a need for shock, says José Natanson.
The only certainty, meanwhile, is that Argentines are all a little poorer than they were on Sunday: the Central Bank devalued the peso by 18.3% on Monday, the parallel dollar climbed to 800 pesos compared to 350 pesos for the official dollar, and the consumer price index rose another 6%, to 113% year-on-year inflation. The 22 October elections are two months away.
The social drama of structural poverty, which today has become marginalisation, violence, and ambit for the development of drug trafficking, requires new and energetic action. Undoubtedly, the trend of declining voter turnout and the growth of the blank vote as a foreseeable consequence of the generalised discontent with economic problems and dissatisfaction with other unsatisfied demands over the last decade are some of the reasons for this electoral anemia.
The blank vote was the fourth most popular option. Alejandro Kaufman says it is presented as a magic solution to what is alleged to be discontent, immorality or injustice, it serves as an anti-panic button. That is the vote for Milei, a panic button, a decoy that opens a lethal trap, but for the voter it is a saving exit.
For the popular and progressive forces, this election has been a hard blow. The worst fears have been confirmed: the far right draws its potential from young voters, also among the impoverished, even in the peripheral territories, because it manages to represent rebellion against the existing order, which is clearly unjust.
This time they are going for everything and will try to liquidate Mercosur, collective bargaining agreements, compensation, pardons for the military and the abolition of abortion. There is something that preoccupies me more; is it possible to impose the plans of Milei and the ultra-right without strong repression, without the use of force, and without the military? It is not in their scripts, perhaps, but they will have to deal with social resistance.
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