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ARGENTINA | 10-12-2023 08:37

Javier Milei: from chainsaw to fickle pragmatism

Three weeks after his landslide election victory, Javier Milei – the outspoken economist who calls himself "the lion" – seems to have been tamed by the hard reality of politics.

With his wild hair and powered-up chainsaw, the libertarian Javier Milei upended Argentine politics in a meteoric rise to the Presidency, riding a wave of fury over decades of economic decline and rampant inflation.

"Long live freedom, damn it!" was his rallying cry throughout a campaign in which he railed against the "thieving and corrupt political caste." 

Voters lapped up his rock-star persona and made-for-TikTok rants in which he insulted world leaders, vowed to "dynamite" the Central Bank and ditch the ailing peso for the US dollar. 

However, as he takes office Sunday, three weeks after his landslide election victory, the man who calls himself "the lion" has been tamed by the hard reality of politics.

Dollarisation and getting rid of the Central Bank are no longer top priorities and he has allied with politicians he once insulted to make up for his lack of power in Congress.

He has also admitted it could take up to 24 months to tackle inflation, which stands at 140 percent year-on-year, and softened his approach to slashing welfare.

Milei has sought to warm ties with Pope Francis, who he once called "the representative of evil on earth," and Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who he previously slammed as "corrupt" and a "communist."

"Milei the firebrand, surrounded only by his loyalists and playing to his aggrieved base, would not have lasted a month in office," said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Argentina Project at the Washington-based Wilson Center. 

"Milei 2.0 will still face an uphill climb, but he appears to have adopted a more pragmatic agenda and sought the advice of more experienced political figures."

The 53-year-old economist blindsided experts when he first emerged as a serious contender by winning an August primary election with 30 percent.

Analysts say many who backed him were merely expressing disgust with the long-dominant Peronist coalition and its inability to halt Argentina's cycle of deficit spending, borrowing, money-printing and inflation.

While described alternately as libertarian, far-right, or anti-establishment, Milei's political views are hard to pin down.

He describes himself as an "anarcho-capitalist" who is "above all for freedom."

He is opposed to abortion and sex education, does not believe humans are responsible for climate change, and has said he believes human organs should be sold freely.


Cloned dogs

Milei was born in Buenos Aires to a middle-class family with whom he admits a "complicated" relationship. 

"All those beatings that I received when I was a child mean that today I am not afraid of anything," he once said on television.

He is very close to his sister Karina, whom he calls "the boss," his right-hand woman, strategist and emotional pillar. 

"Without her there would be none of this. I am a great communicator, she is the one who has managed to carry all this forward," he has said of his sister, a low-profile public relations specialist. 

Born a Catholic he also has a rabbi, studies the Torah, and has said he believes God is a libertarian just like him.

Milei's rock-star persona is no pose – he played in a Rolling Stones cover band in his youth and was also a keen footballer.

He began appearing on television shows in 2015, where his red-faced rants against the government gained traction on social media.

His party Libertad Avanza was only formed before 2021 elections when he became a lawmaker for Buenos Aires.

Unmarried and childless, he is known for his love of dogs, and owns five large mastiffs named after liberal economists. He has recently been dating actress and comedian Fátima Flórez.

According to El Loco, the unauthorised biography by journalist Juan Luis Gonzalez, Milei never accepted the death of his first dog, Conan, and all his other pooches are clones he had made in the United States.

"I have had very, very bad moments in my life and the only ones who stood by me were my sister and Conan," Milei recently said on the subject.

by Fran Blandy, AFP


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