Argentina:  Milei’s Triumph Was a Neatly Planned Media Construction

By Atilio Boron on November 20, 2023

Atilio Boron

As usual in terms of political or electoral analysis in Latin America and the Caribbean, a few hours after Javier Milei’s victory in the Argentine presidential elections, we conducted an exclusive interview for Correo del Alba, with Atilio Boron, the renowned political scientist and intellectual with whom we reflected on the triumph of the extreme right.

Milei is what is known today in the political field as an outsider, what happened to this controversial figure, supported by young people, mostly men, who rose like foam? Did the old Peronist guard not see it coming? Is it responsible for the results of this November 19?

Let’s go by parts. First, Milei was an outsider in the political field, but not in the media. Mariana Moyano, the journalist who unfortunately disappeared a few weeks ago, verified that he was the most consulted economist by radio and TV programs in 2018. According to this source, in that year he was interviewed 235 times and had 193 thousand 547 seconds of air time. No character in political life even comes close to these figures, and the same happened in subsequent years. In other words, it was a neatly planned media construction.

Second, the role of youth, the main victim of the process of informalization, “desalarization” and labor precariousness. The segment between 18 and 29 years of age, a total of eight million 337 thousand 914 people, represent 24.29% of the national electoral roll. To the above, it is necessary to add one million 163 thousand 477 young people between 16 and 17 years of age who are eligible to vote. At the national level, this age group represents only 3.3% of the total electoral roll, a proportion almost equal to that of the province of Entre Ríos. Therefore, we are talking about a little more than 27% of the electorate formed by young people who found little or no incentive to vote in favor of the pro-government candidate, or who had little to no  memories of the events of December 19 and 20, 2001 and even of the golden age of Kirchnerism. They were not enamored by the official proposal, something that was evident even to a blind man just by comparing the youthful fervor of Milei’s events -carefully staged, no doubt; but suitable to arouse the enthusiasm of young people-, with the packaging and the lack of enthusiasm that prevailed in almost all the events organized for Massa by the Frente de Todos apparatus.

To conclude with this question, it is obvious that the old Peronist guard, self-absorbed and entrenched in the defense of its corporate and sectorial interests, has not seen what is coming for a long time, nor does it show the least understanding of what contemporary society is and how it works today.

How much of what Milei promised in his campaign is possible to achieve in Argentina today?

It is difficult to make a forecast. There are areas in which social resistance, spontaneous, from below, will be very strong. I am thinking of the case of the attempt to advance in the privatization of social security, given the catastrophic experience of the AFJP around the world.   In others, perhaps not so much, for example, if the object of such policy were Aerolíneas Argentinas; but there could also be surprises there. With YPF, the matter will be much more complicated, because the provinces are the owners of the subsoil wealth, and this would imply opening a debate of difficult prognosis for the Government given the composition of both chambers of the Congress. In short: it will be necessary to see case by case and measure in each instance the prevailing correlation of forces.

There are many factors that influence this disparity of reactions. One, the fact that a good part of the social organizations and party forces are very weakened and delegitimized. Two, the decomposition of the popular universe, fragmented in a myriad of labor situations marked by absolute precariousness, the lack of union representation and the total absence of protective legislation that benefits an increasingly minority sector of the economically active population. Three, the struggle within the heterogeneous dominant bloc where the fractions linked to financial speculation have a greater gravitation than those anchored in industrial production and even in agribusiness. The variable results of this dispute between fractions of the ruling classes will be very important when it comes to facilitating or hindering the fulfillment of the new president’s campaign promises.

 Is Milei a paradigm shift that represents more the youth that has been forming accompanied by social networks that circumscribe reality to their interests nothing more?

Millei has promised to dollarize the economy.

He is an emergent of that situation of extreme vulnerability of a youth brutally hit by the pandemic and quarantine and, moreover, by an economic policy that deepened economic and social exclusion and increased poverty to unprecedented levels, except for the brief hyper inflationary episodes of May-July 1989 and January-March 1990. For this social category, the experience of the government of Alberto Fernández and his Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, was an unmitigated disaster. For these young people there were neither economic policies for the repositioning of wages (except for a minority, and thus insufficient), nor an epic that would allow them to conceive themselves as militants of a national cause, and much less a communicational apparatus that would strengthen their claims while making the voice of the rulers heard. The result: an almost massive rush towards someone who, astutely, was presented by the dominant powers as fresh, youthful, novel, despite being a 53 year old man. Surprising? Not for those of us who study the role of social networks, algorithms and the new techniques of political neuromarketing. Or for those of us who, like me, have been preaching in the desert the need to wage the battle of ideas to which we had been summoned by Fidel since the end of the last century and which the left in general as well as the national-popular movement irresponsibly underestimated. The result: triumph of “anti-politics”; identification of the “caste” and the State as predatory agents while hiding the role of the bourgeoisie and the ruling classes as agents of collective exploitation; exaltation of hyper-individualism and its correlate, abandonment if not repudiation of collective action strategies and class, territorial or labor organizations, trusting in individual “salvation” and condemning those who participated in collective protests, all for the benefit of the irrational exaltation of a skillful demagogue sponsored by the most concentrated capitals.

In view of this cultural configuration, it was almost impossible, especially with inflation hovering around 13% or 15% per month, that a Minister of Economy responsible for this situation could win in the elections. In view of this background, the vote that Massa did acheive is truly astonishing.

Will he be able to put an end to the Welfare State that has characterized Argentina since the middle of the last century with Perón and Evita?

It is partly answered in the first question. But we must add to the Argentina of Perón and Evita the important economic and social advances during the years of Kirchnerism, although it is evident that however praiseworthy these may have been, they were insufficient to successfully confront the ravages that capitalist accumulation produces throughout the world and most especially in a country with a State as weak and inefficient as Argentina.

Note that, as assured by a report of the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA), between 2016 and 2022 the transfer of income from labor to capital amounted to 87 billion dollars, of which 48 billion dollars were transferred in 2021 and 2022, years in which a “national and popular” coalition governed. The result: a very serious deterioration of wages, which, in the formal economy, are even below the poverty line. Could anything else than the frustration and anger of broad sectors of the electorate in the face of this painful economic reality have been expected? What antibodies did they have to avoid being seduced by a nonsensical discourse, full of absurd myths (such as, for example, that Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century was the richest country in the world, among many other nonsense!), but which vociferated the need to put an end to an intolerable situation, leaving aside everything old and execrating a supposed “caste” that, for its own benefit, had condemned them to poverty and destitution?

How does he visualize the opposition to Milei, will there be a movement to watch over his program?

It will depend on the reorganization and rearticulation of the popular camp, on its concrete proposals of struggle, on the character of its defensive strategy before the foreseeable attacks of a government obsessed with cutting labor and social rights and provoking a maxi-adjustment of the economy. It also depends on the emergence of credible leaderships endowed with great convening power, capable of attracting the millions of people plunged into misery and insecurity by the unlimited voracity of capital.

The party system has collapsed and, even worse, the political forces and identities that marked a large part of Argentine political life since the middle of the last century and up to a few years ago -radicalism and Peronism- have entered into a crisis of unprecedented proportions. They will probably reappear, in a neoliberal key and under mutant and, probably, aberrant forms that will have little or nothing to do with the DNA that constituted them.

The organic radicalism faded away and its voters threw themselves with all their strength to vote for someone who had grossly insulted the two most important leaders of that political force: Yrigoyen and Alfonsín. And the Peronism apparatus, and the voters of that current, only in a minority supported Massa’s candidacy. It is enough to see what happened in the provinces usually bastions of the Peronist vote (La Rioja, Salta, Tucumán, Chaco, Catamarca, Santa Cruz and, to a lesser extent, others) to prove that this electorate is already available for any demagogue or any copular arrangement decided by the groups that in each province took over that seal. Neither the Radicals nor the Peronists are today political forces with an organization, leadership and strategies of political struggle of national scope. They have fragmented into 24 parties, one for each province, and willing to negotiate their vote according to the circumstances.

“Neither the Radicals nor the Peronists are today political forces with an organization, leadership and strategies of political struggle of national scope.”

How is and how will be Milei’s relationship with the Armed Forces?

I think it will be very good. Vice President Victoria Villarruel is an unabashed apologist of the genocidal dictatorship, admirer of the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and his cronies in the violation of Human Rights; she will be Minister of Defense and Security.

The reactionary political socialization of the Armed Forces, a task for which the Southern Command and the various treaties of military collaboration between the United States and Argentina play a very important role, will surely open the way for them to take charge of the repression that Milei’s ultraneoliberal policies will necessarily demand.

In line with what Patricia Bullrich said and did as Minister of Security of the Macri government, Milei will give the green light to the Armed Forces and the police to unload their repressive potential against the “enemy within” with total impunity. The “Chocobar Doctrine” was a protocol that enabled the federal forces to shoot without raising the alarm against any suspect, which implies a very serious setback in terms of respect for individual guarantees and the rule of law. It was left without effect by one of the first initiatives of the government of Alberto Fernandez, but unfortunately it seems that this doctrine will be back with the new government.

However, we will have to see how the security forces react when they have to face thousands of young people, women and children demanding justice, even though the lessons of Latin America’s contemporary history show that the confusion between internal security and external defense is usually the mother of very serious violations to Human Rights, as it happened in Mexico in the years prior to the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In the United States or in European countries both functions are clearly delimited. The new Argentine government seems willing to take a gamble with more than obvious disastrous consequences. But, in this as in other issues, such as policies of cuts or annulment of rights, it would be a mistake to underestimate the reaction of Argentine society, which on several occasions has shown signs of opposing fierce dictatorships or savage economic adjustment plans. Argentine history offers numerous examples of resistance and although society has changed a lot in recent times, it would not be strange that this rebelliousness would reappear once again with volcanic force, even in the absence of appropriate organizational structures. The “Cordobazo” of 1969 and the popular insurgency of December 19 and 20, 2001 are specters that will undoubtedly disturb the dreams of those who seek to destroy the economic, social and cultural conquests that the Argentine people won through great struggles.

How could Milei’s triumph, geopolitically speaking, affect the Region?

Sorry, abuelas Videla’s friends won

First of all, it will harm Argentina, because, in line with Washington’s demands, it will turn this country into a battering ram to reduce China’s presence in the Region, even at the cost of harming Argentina’s national interests, its exporting sectors and the labor force linked to them. Milei’s is probably a “dream” victory for the North American establishment. because it finds in the south of the continent a fanatic willing to execute without question the slightest suggestions coming from Washington: staunchly anti-communist (in a definition of such vagueness that goes from Lula to Pope Francis, passing through China, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua); unconditionally aligned with the Empire, justifier of the ongoing genocide in Gaza, admirer of the Israeli terrorist State and of the North American society, Milei from the Casa Rosada will encourage with his example similar behaviors among the leaders of the right wing of neighboring countries.

Perhaps, and again we must take into account the cleavages within the dominant bloc, he could go so far as to not only exclude Argentina from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), but even reject or postpone sine die the decisive incorporation of our country to the BRICS plus, which should take place on January 1st of next year.

In short, the crusade against the “Chinese enemy”, according to the documents of the National Security Council of the United States, has found its prophet in these distant and turbulent lands of the South.  And, from the geopolitical point of view, with Milei in the presidency of Argentina, the gravitation in the international chessboard of Latin America and the Caribbean suffers.

Source: Correo del Alba, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English