December 13, 2023


Milei’s Argentina

An interview with Mercedes D’Alessandro

Lea esta entrevista en español aquí.

On December 10, the fortieth anniversary of Argentina’s redemocratization, Javier Milei was sworn in as the country’s new president. Milei—a far-right economist who calls himself an “anarcho-capitalist,” denies the existence of the military dictatorship, and claims to be a fan of both Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro—won the second round of the Argentine elections with almost 56 percent of the vote. Promising to dollarize the economy and cut public spending, he defeated Sergio Massa, current minister of finance and a representative of the Peronist party, Unión por La Patria. 

Three political coalitions were at the core of the campaign trail. Javier Milei was the sole candidate for La Libertad Avanza, a far-right party. Juntos por El Cambio, the liberal right coalition led by former president Mauricio Macri (2015–2019), had two candidates in their primaries—Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, current chief of government of Buenos Aires, and Patricia Bullrich, deputy and former security minister under Macri. In the primaries of Unión por La Patria, headed by current president Alberto Fernández and vice president Cristina Kirchner, Massa defeated Juan Grabois, an activist and political leader representing the party’s left wing. 

After losing in the first round in August, Bullrich, along with Macri, pledged support to Milei.1 Representing Unión por La Patria, Massa focused on consolidating the left and integrating the forces of Peronism and Kirchnerism.2 Milei’s victory and the defeat of the Peronist-Kirchnerist coalition has inaugurated a political transition. Milei appointed Luis Caputo as the minister of finance, a position he also held during Macri’s center-right administration. This perhaps surprising decision has made dollarization—Milei’s main proposal during the campaign trail—significantly less likely. Nonetheless, the economic and political fate of the country remains uncertain. 

Mercedes D’Alessandro holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Buenos Aires and is a feminist activist in Latin America. As the first national director of finance, equality, and gender of the Ministry of Finance of Argentina (2020–2022), D’Alessandro led the implementation of the first national gender-based budget in the country.3 She also helped implement unprecedented economic policies that worked to reduce the pandemic’s effects for the working classes.4

In the following interview, D’Alessandro discusses the current economic and political crisis, possibilities for the forthcoming Milei administration, and the future of Peronism.

An interview with Mercedes D’Alessandro

maria fernanda sikorski: Javier Milei won by over 11 percent in the second round, while the voter turnout was the second lowest it had been in the last four decades, at 76 percent. The Peronist candidate, Sergio Massa, won in only three of the twenty-four jurisdictions of the country; even in Buenos Aires, the bastion of Peronism, Massa won by a very narrow margin: 50.73 percent against 49.26 percent. The results demonstrate a profound dissatisfaction with the current government, particularly in regards to the economy.

How has the current situation led to such a deep level of disaffection? And how do you view the economic policies of Alberto Fernández’s government? 

Mercedes D’Alessandro: It’s clear that Fernández’s policies did not have the expected outcomes. There was a series of external shocks during his administration—the pandemic, the war between the Ukraine and Russia (and its impact on international prices), and an unprecedented drought in Argentina which reduced the export balance and GDP to new levels. While we can’t analyze the economy without considering these events, justifying the response isn’t useful either: the government did not take the necessary measures to contain the effects of this situation. When there is a crisis and the state fails to engage in redistributive measures, inequality and social unrest will rise. I believe that the economic team did not meet the needs of Argentina, and its political handling of the situation was poor. These two aspects were closely linked. 

There were many conflicts in the Fernández government. At least three groups form the Frente de Todos (Unión por la Patria): Kirchnerism and La Cámpora; Massa with the Frente Renovador and the support he gathered during the last campaign; and President Fernández and his supporters. These groups failed to reach an agreement during long periods of governance—arguments and stalled actions partially led to the current social unrest. 

MFS: How do you assess the domestic policy of the Fernández-Cristina-Massa coalition?

MDA: We are in a crisis of political leadership. Over the last few months, as Massa emerged as the party’s candidate, it seemed that he wanted to lead the process. In the previous period, Frente de Todos (Unión por la Patria) had an open domestic crisis. From the midterms two years ago until now, the party has seen considerable disagreement, including periods when the president and the vice president did not talk to one another, when ministers resigned in quick succession, and there was no clear political horizon.

Under Fernández, the nation was coming out of four years of Macrism with a struggling economy and a record amount of debt owed to the IMF. For a long time, the Argentine people have been unable to make ends meet, plan for the future, and work towards a better quality of life. The youth in particular are frustrated. This is an economic problem, a political problem, and represents the absence of a political horizon.

MFS: How has Milei’s candidacy responded to this moment of crisis?

MDA: I think Milei was able to build that horizon and propose a solution—though that solution may not be ideal from our point of view. For instance, the promise to dollarize the economy indulges in the fantasy of solving day-to-day problems: we don’t have any money, we can’t make ends meet and inflation is really high—over 140 percent this year. Milei also represents the rejection of the elite—wealthy politicians who are isolated from the real world, throwing parties while people confined at home are suffering from the pandemic. It’s the president’s wife who, while your grandma was dying, had a VIP vaccine station for her friends. While you’re packed like sardines in a train on your way to work at 6 am, they have helicopters and chauffeurs. 

I have said such an elite demeanor bothers me, not simply as a moral issue, but also because it shows the elite don’t consider the problems of the majority. Instead, the politicians are tangled in palace intrigue and unwise policies. Milei took advantage of two major issues: the fantasy of an economy that works, and the resentment towards politicians and the elite classes. 

MFS: The Milei government is now in power. In the week prior to the elections, Argentines woke up to a 25 percent increase in food prices and a 30 percent increase in cleaning products in wholesale commerce. How will Argentines be affected by the proposals of dollarization, public spending cuts, and the role of the state in social welfare? 

MDA: On November 22, Milei gave two interviews in which he said there is a high risk of hyperinflation, and preventing it would require deep and quick adjustments to the state. 

These adjustments mean halting more than 2,000 public works in the country. Milei also stated that he would privatize certain companies with state participation, such as public media; enact spending cuts to high-ranking positions; and fire all chauffeurs and security employees for those who do not explicitly need them. But he has also said that if he is not allowed to implement these policies, the country will experience hyperinflation, and the majority will fall into poverty.

In my view, even if Milei does accomplish each of these these proposals, we are nevertheless headed for a very deep crisis. With the measures he is proposing, there is no way that we don’t enter a deep recession, one which, for now, does not have foreseeable containment measures, particularly for the poorest sectors. A recession will only increase poverty.

From all the measures Milei is proposing, not a single one explains how he’ll contain the effects of firing workers from public works, the government, or manage the prices which have already increased. So I ask: will Milei have the adequate governance to tackle these issues? Will he receive support from the provinces, the municipalities, and Congress? 

MFS: In the House of Representatives, Massa’s party, Unión por La Patria, has 109 seats; Macri and Bullrich’s party, Juntos por El Cambio, has ninety-three seats; and Milei’s party, La Libertad Avanza, only has thirty-eight seats. This means that the liberals—Juntos por El Cambio and La Libertad Avanza—have the majority in the House. In the Senate, Unión por La Patria has thirty-four representatives, while Juntos por El Cambio has twenty-four and La Libertad Avana has eight. Peronists have a tight majority of seats, barely two more than the liberals. What does this power distribution entail? 

MDA: Put like that, the liberals are currently the majority, but we don’t know how long they’ll remain so because Juntos por El Cambio is in crisis. The coalition had several groups, but currently just a portion of Propuesta Republicana (PRO) supported Milei, so I don’t know whether they will continue as a homogeneous bloc. Within Peronism, Florencio Randazzo, minister during Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government, now seems to support Milei. This is the yellow and blue composition we are currently seeing, and I would wait to see how it settles. This will depend on the government’s first moves and what progress is being made. Obviously, the most extreme Kirchnerists will oppose and defend their historic banner, and not give in as easily.

MFS: Can any other political forces offer resistance?

MDA: There’s also the streets. On the one hand, we have institutional issues, on the other, the people’s reactions. Many people simply voted because they could not stand inflation any longer, because of their life situation, because they are concerned about not making ends meet. The summer in Argentina will be very hot, and there will be power outages. The mood will change, and we’ll see more unemployment and poverty. 

We’ll see if the streets resist. Benegas Lynch, who hopes to be included in Milei’s administration, said he would revoke the right to abortion.5 Is Milei ready to have 500,000 women protesting in the streets to defend abortion rights? Are they going to continue with the trial against Cristina? How many battles will he spark? It will probably benefit Milei to distract us and scatter us between different struggles, so that we’re not paying attention when he privatizes the YPF (Argentina’s majority state-owned energy company), for instance.

I have doubts about Milei’s team. Macri wants his own people, but Milei and Macri don’t share the same ideas. Will Milei insist on his campaign promises, or will he become more moderate? The question is whether he’ll even have the ability to implement these promises. Halting public works is not an easy thing to do—such a policy would need to be passed by Congress. 

Carrying out these policies may generate an unprecedented crisis. The prospects are dim in general. I realize that hearing this from me, an economist against Milei’s agenda, does not sound reliable. I don’t mean to be apocalyptic, but historical experiences in our country, and in Latin America in general, have proven that these economic models have not yielded any positive results. They have made us go backwards on so many levels, from the productive to the symbolic to the cultural.

MFS: Peronism was tragically defeated in these elections. What does Milei’s victory suggest for social struggle and party politics in Argentina? What does this mean for the future of Peronism?

MDA: Yes, Peronism suffered a great defeat, but so did Juntos por El Cambio, so I think the issue is broader than the fall of Peronism. Both parties failed to provide answers and were rejected at the polls. The only reason that they didn’t lose by an even greater margin is because many voters who otherwise would have submitted a blank vote, such as those in the more traditional left, went with Massa. Milei, and especially Villarruel, represented a risk to democracy for them.6 

While the leadership problem already existed within Peronism, the polls ultimately demonstrated that there is a total leadership crisis. Cristina was unable to manage working with the President and with other factions of Frente de Todos, even when many of her political allies were appointed to important roles in the National Administration for Social Security (ANSES), the National Institute of Social Services for Pensioners and Retirees (PAMI), the YPF, the Ministry of the Interior. These were all pivotal places for decision-making, and she herself was in the Senate. But the attempted assassination against her last year transformed the political landscape, ultimately hurting her leadership.

We’ll need to see how the new leadership is configured. Massa is a young man with a long and very intense political career, but the same can be said of Axel Kicillof.7 Juan Grabois waged an important fight during the primaries of Unión por la Patria, expressing the bloc that was dissatisfied with Massa. We also need to see the consolidation of leadership in the provinces. Hopefully we’ll process this moment in an intelligent and creative manner.

MFS: Could you elaborate on the internal crisis of the government and its relation to the election results?

MDA: The Fernández government had no epic narrative. Milei could establish a political horizon because Peronism lacked one. Peronists tried to maintain their classic bastions, but those bastions were void of content. When, for example, schools couldn’t open during the pandemic, they offered no narrative argument for that decision. Kids, mothers, and teachers alike suffered a lot, and we failed to explain the reasons for closing the schools. We lost the banner of education during that time.

We talk a lot about democracy. This year, the tenth of December marks the fortieth anniversary of Argentina as a democracy. On this same day, Milei and Villaruel take office, a duo who deny that 30,000 of us disappeared during the military dictatorship. But in considering this, I think that democracy in Argentina has lost representation. It has become an elitist democracy where there are no women, there are no popular sectors. In the Fernández government, women had roles we achieved ourselves, such as gender parity to be eligible candidates, as well as to have more representation in Congress. But men dominate many positions of power, especially in the executive cabinet and in the Supreme Court. So this is not a democracy that welcomes all. There are very few young people in politics.

MFS: Does Milei have a solid electoral base? Or is his victory a rather desperate alternative to the current government or “traditional politics”?

MDA: There are of course right-wing radicals among Milei’s voters who hate the state, support more control and repression, deny the military dictatorship in Argentina, and oppose the rights of women and of minorities. But I don’t think they represent the majority of those who voted for him. I rather see his victory as an demonstration of the desire to reject the elite political class and the fantasy to improve quality of life.

This is Milei’s second election, and his voter base almost doubled. Meanwhile, the two ruling parties of the last eight years lost. Milei does not have much support in the provinces, but he had a stronger strategy in social networks. Youth voted massively for Milei; they know him through Tik Tok. This man who does not have a political structure, or at least in the classic sense, now has the opportunity to establish a force to strengthen. But this will depend on the extent to which he’ll be able to govern. 

MFS: How can the left organize from here onwards?

MDA: Argentina is headed towards a very tough crisis. The state will weaken, society’s social fabric will become more and more frayed, and our ability to regroup will be dependent on what we can project for the future. If our project is to go back twenty years, I don’t know whether the past will appeal to people. The great challenge to Peronism today is making a proposal to understand the present and build the future. This does not mean starting from scratch—we certainly must learn from the past, undeniably—but we also need to consider that the great majority of Milei’s voters are young people, and we are not responding to young people because we are not even listening to them. We need to start establishing a conversation with them. 

I don’t think Argentine society is shifting towards the right, but I do think the right is expressing itself more loudly. I think the hard core of Milei’s voters is formed by many things, not only by the right. Latin America is full of these right-wing expressions—we had a coup in Bolivia, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Kast in Chile, and Rodolfo Hernández in Colombia. I think the right is capitalizing on the frustration with governments that have been unable to satisfy people’s needs and generate a change towards the future. To me, it is not only the right or the left, because otherwise we couldn’t explain the existence of Petro, Lula and Boric, for example. We also must consider the pandemic, which discarded the majority of state norms, the need for change, and the pursuit of an outsider who represents something different.

MFS: Although the result is still very fresh, what does Milei’s victory mean for regional integration? How will his offensive statements towards progressive leaders affect foreign and commercial relations with Argentina?

MDA: One thing is what you say and another is what you do. We’ll need to wait and see what happens to international trade. Argentina had good diplomatic relations with Brazil under the Bolsonaro administration—there are some things in diplomacy which go beyond a gushing commentary. Now, I do think there is a realignment; Milei is much more empathetic to the United States than to any other country deemed progressive, so we’ll see how those relations evolve. But it’s not easy to break commercial relations with China or with Brazil, because these are very important commercial partners for Argentina.

I am concerned about feminist struggles. Some colleagues in Peronism think we are losing the battle because we are far too progressive, but I think there is a more structural problem. These agendas are popular amongst the youth, and the youth bring lots of votes and supporters.

Feminism has been pivotal for Peronism with Alberto Fernández and Cristina. Alberto had an openly feminist campaign; the women’s vote in the first round tilted the leadership of Sergio Massa. Both Milei and his vice president, Villarruel, espoused very antifeminist, misogynistic discourse. They oppose legal abortion and gay marriage, inciting more hate speech around these issues. I think we, feminists, are going to need a lot of support from the international networks we’ve worked with. 

Argentina is the country of the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) movement8, it is the country of the green wave. These may be at risk, and women are going to be very exposed, even on a day-to-day basis. The gender institutions and the gender policies we have built are going to be halted, and any work we may have achieved at the national level will be reversed. They will close the national directorate for the economy and gender equality which I helped create. They will also close the Ministry for Women, as well as gender offices in every level of the national government.

We know that economic crises affect women more, due to their poor position in the labor market. As a result, I believe that future projects need to involve women, climate activists, the youth, and the popular sectors. Right now, this whole axis is being displaced by a right-wing agenda that has begun to dominate the public debate. 

This interview was translated from Spanish for Phenomenal World by Angela Forero.

  1. Argentina’s presidential elections consist of three phases: the primaries, the first round, and if necessary, the second round. The primaries determine who will be the candidates in the first round, and the two with the highest number of votes in the first round compete in the second round, unless a candidate wins 45 percent of the vote, or more than 40 percent of the total vote with a difference of 10 percent.

  2. Peronism is a historic political movement born in the forties in Argentina with the government of Juan Domingo Perón. It is characterized by unionism, anti-imperialism and the integration of Latin America; Peronism also revolves around Eva Perón, a bastion of the feminist struggle in the country. Kirchnerism is a movement linked to Peronism and founded around the figures of Néstor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina Kirchner, who led the country between 2003 and 2015, when Cristina was defeated by Mauricio Macri. Cristina returned to power in 2019 as the vice president of Alberto Fernández. Kirchnerism is characterized by the reinstatement of the Peronist ideals, through recovering the role of the state and defending human rights. Both currents have been a target of criticism from the Argentine left and right, but both have a solid political base, particularly among the working class.

  3. In broad terms, this implied incorporating gender issues in the development of impact indicators for public policy, disaggregating data between men and women, and so on, to account for disparate impacts.

  4. D’Alessandro currently leads the Program of Economics at Universidad Metropolitana de la Educación y el Trabajo (UMET). She designed and teaches the PhD Seminar on Economics and Gender at the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, and the subject Feminist Economics at Universidad Nacional de Avellaneda.

  5. After decades of feminist struggle and after fifteen years of protests of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, abortion was legalized in Argentina on December 30, 2020, through Act 27.610, submitted to the Senate of Alberto Fernández’s government.

  6. Victoria Villarruel is the vice president elect. Like Javier Milei; she is an ultraconservative politician whose speeches during the campaign trail denied the military dictatorship. She opposes the right to abortion.

  7. Axel Kicillof was the Minister of Finance during Cristina Kirchner’s second term and the governor of the province of Buenos Aires.

  8. Ni Una Menos was a mass feminist protest movement in Argentina that gained popularity in 2015, in condemnation of violence against women.

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