It is Thursday October 26 and Javier Milei is sitting on a television set of the A24 news channel. He is uncomfortable.
The La Libertad Avanza leader is sat in the same chair he occupied earlier this year when he starred in an event now internationally known. In January, he had a lapse of concentration when the producers of the network put on, with no warning, a photo of his late English mastiff god. “That’s Conan,” repeated Milei, as though locked in a sort of trance.
Last month, British-American comedian John Oliver reproduced the scene with renowned presenter and fellow comedian Conan O'Brien on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, turning it into a sketch which went around the world.
Ten months have gone by since then. And a few things changed: against all the odds, Milei – an outspoken libertarian lawmaker – got 30 percent of the votes in the primaries, sending the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition into third place in the general election. Today, the 53-year-old economist is one of two left in the running to rule Argentina starting on December 10.
But despite this, Milei has not arrived to the A24 interview with journalist Esteban Trebucq Milei at the best of times. Quite the contrary, in fact. In an event which is hard to explain with political logic, the libertarian has forged an alliance with Mauricio Macri, as though he had been defeated rather than the opposition. Within hours, behind the scenes of La Libertad Avanza, the presence of the former president became an uncomfortable ghost.
And what’s more, after ‘talking to God’ – by whom he claims to have been chosen – Milei was absolutely convinced that on Sunday, October 22, he would win the Presidency in the first round. His headiness, therefore, is not just strategic, but also personal and mystical.
Milei looks overwhelmed in the interview with Trebucq, which takes just four days after that first round. First he complains about “whispering” on set, but there is more: he has lost perspective, he is off-centre. His gestures are not adjusted, and every once in a while, he moves his lips in a strange way.
The interview is quickly commented on social networks, but by the end comes the cherry on top. Trebucq asks him about his unexpected alliance with Juntos por el Cambio’s unsuccessful presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich, whom a short while ago, on the campaign trail, he claimed had once been a “terrorist” and “child murderer.”
“After the Bullrich announcement I posted a meme. Has anyone seen the metrics? It has over 250,000 likes,” responds Milei.
“But those aren’t votes, Javier,” retorts the journalist.
Milei takes a breath and speaks again: “But what I mean is: there are three idiots commenting from a computer… you know? While they’re watching this lady online, I’m in her bedsheets.”
The answer – a comparison between a sexual act and a political alliance – is striking, not only because of the choice of words, but also because of Milei’s way of speaking: he rolls his eyes around, he twists his fingers, his voice gets deep.
This scene goes around the world within hours. Milei’s emotional stability, which has been covered for years by Noticias, is great enigma. Can an unstable leader rule a country as unstable as Argentina?
It is a question which can only snowball. What was seen on A24 is merely the tip of the iceberg.
The impenetrable labyrinth
Milei’s head is a labyrinth, perhaps even impenetrable by himself. Where was such instability born? How? Why? Although these are questions that may seem more fitting for a mental health specialist, a journalistic outlook can provide a few answers.
The libertarian had a deeply difficult life. Norberto, his father – a bus-driver who boasted about travelling with a truncheon by his seat to deal with difficult passengers – made his childhood a living hell. He beat Milei for years, and when the beatings were not physical, he would torment him with humiliations. “You’re rubbish, useless, you’ll never amount to anything,” were the types of phrases more often heard at the family home in Villa Devoto.
An anecdote illustrates those years perfectly. It is April 2, 1982, the day the Malvinas War was announced. Milei, watching the television, comments that the row would probably turn out badly for Argentina, with all the certainty a 12-year-old boy can have. Norberto is said to have exploded into a kind of patriotic rage and beat his son all over the house. Karina, his sister, two years his junior, suffered such a terrible shock that she ended up in hospital. From the institution, Alicia, their mother, called her son, whom had been left alone and beaten in the house. “Your sister is going to die, Javier. And it’s your fault,” she told him.
The correlative of this torment is not hard to imagine. At the Cardenal Copello School, where he attended primary and secondary school, Milei was a lonely child, with no friends. He was nicknamed ‘El Loco’ (“the crazy one”) there, where he was regularly bullied.
Was Milei’s instability born from this complex childhood? Or did it come later? It is another enigma that is hard to answer accurately, but at least one key year can be marked: 2017. There would be a before and after.
“My four-legged son.” That is how Milei referred to his late dog. The economist adopted him in 2004, in Córdoba, and in his words, the pet became “his true and greatest love.” With Conan, Milei spent 13 Christmases and 13 New Year’s Eves, in absolute loneliness. One glass of champagne for him and another one for the dog.
According to Milei, Conan was “literally his son.” Previously, he talked about him not only in nearly all his interviews, but even during campaign rallies.
“How old is he?” Trebucq asked Milei in January this year, when the libertarian became enthralled looking at the dog on the huge television screen. “So old I’ve lost count,” he answered peculiarly. Was the comment a mistake, a lie? Or can Milei genuinely not distinguish reality from what goes on in his head?
The truth is the animal died in October 2017, after suffering in agony for a long time. Milei went through that process with a parapsychologist and a telepathist, who told him that they could read the dog’s mind and allow his owner to “communicate” with them.
The first one who came in aid of Milei at that difficult time was Gustavo, an anarcho-capitalist witchdoctor who “worked” for eight months with the economist and his convalescent dog. He served as the animal’s “protector” and an “interpreter” between him and his owner.
In mid August this year, Gustavo broke his silence over his involvement with Milei. “From an esoteric point of view, both he and I are very important people from the Roman Empire, we’re very used to fighting. He’s a great person”, said the witchdoctor on a live chat broadcast on X (the social network formerly known as Twitter).
After Gustavo came another key person for Milei, another who would greatly influence his head. Celia Melamed defines herself as an “interspecies communicator,” although in interviews she accepts being called simply a “telepathist.” She finished off the libertarian’s introduction to the supernatural, communicating Milei with his dog in the afterlife. And what’s more, Melamed would later train Karina in this field. Today Milei’s sister can talk to live and dead animals with the same ease as her mentor, and based on these chats she makes important decisions.
But such was the hole left by the absence of his dog-child Conan that Milei went one step further, also encouraged by witchdoctor Gustavo. “I programmed him to have five. Those animals are five animals of power, they sustain him energetically,” he said.
He meant the five clones of Conan that Milei ordered that arrived from the United States in early 2018. The La Libertad Avanza paid US$50,000 to a firm called PerPETuate for the animals. The company today remembers him – after he won the PASO primaries, the US company run an advertising campaign saying that Milei, “one of our clients,” had come first in the Argentine election.
What Milei presents as “my grandchildren” are actually Conan’s clones. With the witchdoctor’s help, the libertarian convinced himself that the animals have “powers,” and today he has them divided as a sort of cabinet in the shadows, each of them advising him in a specific area.
The clones filled the void left by Conan, although they caused an unexpected problem. English mastiffs grow to be 100 kilos and 1.80 metres when standing. The clones lived in the 100-square-metre apartment owned by the libertarian in Abasto. As soon as the pups started growing, it became a huge pig sty, and Milei stopped inviting people over. “It’s Kosovo,” he would say as a jest, only he wasn't joking. In March 2019, when they were almost a year old, Milei had an accident: one of the clones attacked him and bit him. The economist ended up in hospital with several stitches.
The live chat in which the witchdoctor broke his silence was set up by Claudia Oviedo. She was previously a friend of Milei’s and in 2018, the libertarian entrusted her with a sensitive task: to create and manage an account for Conan on social networks, even though the dog was already dead, a fiction they kept up during this adventure.
“I knew that Conan wasn’t alive, but what could I say?” said Oviedo. To see some of the messages Milei exchanged with his dead dog’s account is borderline chilling. “Thank you so much LOVE OF MY LIFE, no-one’s greater than you CONAN, let’s hope it’s no so humid anymore so we can go for a long walk,” he commented on July 29, 2018, on Twitter, more than eight months after the dog had died.
Visions and missions
With time, the situation did not improve. In mid 2018, Milei told his inner circle a striking fact. He said he was in a bookshop in the centre of Buenos Aires when philosopher Ayn Rand – who died in 1982 – “appeared” before him to have a chat. These apparitions and chats with dead people – Milei claims to have frequent dialogues with Murray Rothbard, the founder of libertarianism – continued until they reached their high point in 2020. That year was special for Milei: he had a fight with the only personal friend he ever had, Diego Giacomini, and his therapist died of Covid-19, a turn of events that would lead him to stop going to therapy. In fact, he was doing so badly that his sister Karina took him to live with their parents in Vicente López, confirming that the relationship was rebuilt.
On those days of the pandemic, Milei said he received several visits from God himself. And that the Lord convinced him to do something he had never wanted to do (which in fact he had been offered in 2019, but had rejected): to go into politics. “The One told me I have a mission”, he repeated to anyone who would listen.
In September earlier this year, one of his friends from back then broke his silence to Noticias. Economist and professor Mariano Fernández, in an article for the publication, wrote the following: “Many analysts believe Milei’s behaviour is an act, but the reality is much more complex and dangerous. On repeated occasions he has stated that his actions are illuminated by providence and that his ‘mission’ has been inspired by God.”
Thus, the instability seen in Milei on television is not new: it is simply exacerbated, at a time when so many eyes are on him. And it makes sense: the libertarian did not just suffer the shock of the election he did not win, but the added fact of having to negotiate hand-in-hand with Macri. That’s a novelty in Milei’s life: up to now he was not really doing politics, he freely managed an ultra-vertical and chaotic party but refused to get involved in topics such as lists or alliances. He was never interested in politics, or the “caste” he denounces so much, which is why now he is entering new ground and a slippery slope. The weeks prior to the run-off offered the potential of quicksand.
Yet regardless of his pact with Macri, Bullrich and PRO or his dollarisation proposals, the big question is the one that started this article. Can a person convinced he is chosen by God really govern Argentina? Can somebody who thinks his cloned dogs give him political advice help such a complex country move forward? Is someone like Milei – someone who believes he has the capacity to talk to a dead dog in the afterlife and trusts them in making decisions – qualified to improve the lives of 46 million people?
The answer will be up to every reader, but simple questions are often frightening.