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Argentina: The Milei Moment Has Arrived

Above photo: Milei’s inauguration. Bernardino Avila.

Yesterday, Javier Milei’s intense life as a panelist came to an end and his new life as president of the nation begins. Now his words and diagnoses will have to become government actions. For this reason, his first speech in front of the Legislative Assembly, at the very moment this mutation was taking place, aroused so much interest. The first surprise was that he did not address the deputies and senators who were constituted as representatives of the people: the two assembled chambers embody the always heterogeneous preferences of our society. Milei preferred instead the esplanade and to speak to his followers, not to the people as a whole (which would be fairly represented by the members of the Assembly) but to his own close followers. This was his first gesture.

He spoke surrounded by world leaders, some in office, and other former leaders who were specially invited. He spoke without his vice president and without his cabinet. He was accompanied by his sister Karina, who served as the head of the Libertarian party, head of his campaign, and as the orderly of the new cabinet appointments. She was also “Chief” of the esplanade at the time of his inaugural speech and the only person who accompanied him in the car that took him to the Congress and then to the Casa Rosada, another indicator of the future architecture of power.

Before his voters, he formulated an interpretation of the vote that brought him to the presidency: “Argentinians chose a new liberal social contract whose fundamental institutions are: private property, markets free from state intervention, free competition, division of labor and social cooperation.” Except for cooperation, everything is almost identical to the discourse with which the country’s civil–military dictatorship initiated the most decadent process of the 20th century. However, the timespan to which Milei referred to  in his speech did not stop at any government of the last 100 years: he said that the decadence began when populism destroyed the great project of the generation of 1880. Hence the references to Julio A. Roca: his great political beacon of the 19th and early 20th centuries, although Milei was forced to cut it back a little since Roca believed much more in the action of the state than in the invisible hand of the market.

But today, that cruel discourse was endorsed at the polls by an overwhelming majority which allows Milei (absolutely consistent with his campaign words) to state, at the beginning of his administration, that “the conclusion is that there is no alternative to adjustment and there is no alternative to shock; naturally, this will have negative repercussions on the level of activity, employment, real wages, [and] the number of poor and indigent people.”

This is what he promised and he is going to stick with it. And he repeated over and over again that the only solution is adjustment and that “there is no money” (another campaign slogan). At the moment he said it, the crowd gave him a standing ovation in the Congress square. It may seem strange to us that the promise of a “new era” begins with great suffering. This was said before he was voted in as president, which transforms the announcement of so much pain as a healing relief.

Javier Milei appeared for the first time as president and showed his character: he is pure will to power. He is alone and determined to start “a new era of prosperity, growth, development, freedom, and progress.” He has neither parliamentary majorities, alliances with other parties, nor political forces to sustain him. He does not even get along at all well with his vice president or with his entire parliamentary bloc. He relies on the overwhelming 55% that voted for him. It is not little to legitimize his presidency, but it is scarce if he wants to respect the republican procedures and balance, unless Milei believes more in plebiscitary democracy than in the Republic of dialogue and parliamentary consensus. We do not know yet, but everything seems to indicate that his fate, of success or failure, will be measured in the short term.

“It will be difficult, but we are going to make it—long fucking live freedom!” This was the sincere and forceful closing of his speech as president. It shows Milei’s conviction about his first steps. However, these words also require interpretation. Judging by the discursive context, we must assume that the promise signals that the difficult thing to achieve (and what Milei will fight for) will be to sustain, with a firm hand, the adjustment, the fall in the level of activity, the low wages, and the increase of the poor and indigent. Will freedom be enough to compensate for this harsh economic and social reality in his first years in office? From today, we will begin to answer so many questions.

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