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Argentina's Turning Point: The Election and Early Presidency of Javier Milei

When one thinks of Argentina the first things that come to mind may be the Patagonia, fernet, tango or Lionel Messi. But today, Argentina has undergone a seismic shift in its political culture largely due to the campaign and victory of Javier Milei. Similar to other nations in Latin America, such as Brazil and El Salvador, Argentina has elected a right-wing populist who promises to interrupt the status quo and whose policies differ drastically from leaders of the past. 

Since independence from Spain in 1816, Argentina has flip-flopped between democratic and military rule for over a hundred years. In 1943, army officer Juan Perón took power in a coup, and his political philosophy, Peronism, became the dominant thought throughout Argentina. Perón was later ousted by a coup in 1955 but regained the presidency in 1973. However, his second reign lasted only a year as he would pass away in 1974. His wife, Isabel, would become president however the military would regain power in 1976. From 1976 to 1983, Jorge Rafael Videla and other high-ranking military officials would lead Argentina. These seven years would become infamous for severe human rights abuses throughout the nation. Torture and wrongful imprisonment were prevalent but the dictatorship would become most notorious for their practice of enforced disappearance. In its “Nunca Más” (“Never Again”) Report, the National Commission on Disappeared Persons (Comisión Nacional Sobre la Desaparición de Personas, CONADEP) listed nearly 9,000 victims of disappearance. These people became known as “Los Desaparecidos” (“The Missing Ones” or “The Disappeared”). Despite this history, Peronism lives on and has continued to be the dominant political thought until recently. 

Economic struggles seem to be turning many Argentines away from Peronism. Record-level inflation, public debt and lack of jobs have become chronic issues. For the first eight months of 2023, inflation rates reached greater than 100%. Those working in the service industry have been affected the worst. These struggles have caused many Argentines to move abroad, particularly to Spain where Barcelona has become known as “Buenos Aires on the Mediterranean.”

Back in Argentina, Javier Milei, whose background consists of being a radical libertarian economics professor with no prior government experience, promised to “take a chainsaw to Argentina’s crippled economy.” Milei’s agenda includes dollarizing the economy, eliminating the central bank and reducing the number of government ministries from 18 to 8. This message of change resonated with many Argentines as Milei won convincingly with 56% of the vote in this past fall’s election. 

But has Milei’s agenda changed Argentina for the better? It is still too early to say. Argentine markets have shown signs of improvement as bonds have been boosted with some reaching their highest levels in four years. However, prices continue to spiral and on January 24 a general strike was called which even included some of Argentina’s more conservative unions. This has brought the nation to a standstill and its future is still very much up in the air.

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