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ARGENTINA | 22-04-2024 22:08

'The last stretch': Milei praises 'heroic' effort in prime-time address

President uses prime-time broadcast to highlight first quarterly budget surplus since 2008. "This is the last stretch of a heroic effort," Milei tells nationwide.

President Javier Milei used a prime-time nationwide address on Monday to hail his government’s first four months in office and tell Argentines that the nation is “in the last stretch” of a painful economic reboot.

“It is the last stretch of a heroic effort,” Milei stressed in a 9pm speech aired via the ‘Cadena Nacional’ broadcast system across television and radio channels.

“We have already travelled more than half of the way,” claimed the La Libertad Avanza leader.

Milei, 53, praised the “heroic” effort made by citizens and government officials alike as he revealed that Argentina posted a fiscal surplus in the first quarter of the year. 

In his customary style, the head of state also let rip at his enemies, slamming the “festival of corruption” inflicted by former administrations and a host of political opponents.

“Contrary to the predictions of most political leaders, professional economists, television and petardist grandstanders, specialised journalists and a good part of the Argentine establishment, I want to announce that the national public sector recorded a financial surplus of more than US$2.75 billion pesos in March,” said Milei.

“This is 0.2 percent of GDP. It is the first [quarterly surplus] since 2008. It is no more and no less than the only starting point to end the inflationary hell. It is quite simply a world-class feat,” he added.

Acknowledging that Argentines are suffering amid high inflation and falling purchasing power, Milei promised them that “we have already gone more than halfway.”

 

No time for ‘gradualism’

Flanked by members of this Economic Cabinet on either side of a desk, Milei praised the “economic miracle” delivered by those gathered around him: Economy Minister Luis Caputo, Finance Secretary Pablo Quirno, Central Bank Governor Santiago Bausili and BRCA Deputy-Governor, Vladimir Werning.

The self-described “anarcho-capitalist” argued that his government’s plan was “not magic,” but rather a tried and trusted approach implemented by nation-states across the globe. Put simply, the state must not spend more than it brings in, he argued.

“The economic miracle responds to the chainsaw,” he added, referring to the nickname he has given his austerity plan.

Still, Milei warned that cuts would continue. This is no time for “gradualism,” he said – a reference to the economic approach adopted by conservative leader Mauricio Macri in his 2015-2019 government.

“We moved forward with a shock stabilisation programme. This is how we achieved it in one month of government. Despite the opposition of the economic and political establishment, and they want to trumpet our failure, our plan is working,” claimed the President.

Milei’s confidence is not reflected across the board. Some experts have warned that his approach – which have included a steep devaluation of the peso, heavy cuts to public spending and the trimming of state aid – is flattening consumption and runs the risk of pushing the economy (which will contract by 2.8 percent this year according to the IMF) into an even deeper recession.

 

Hitting hard

Milei, vowing to halt Argentina’s economic decline and high inflation exceeding 250 percent per annum, has slashed public spending since taking office. 

He has halted subsidies for fuel and transport, stopped discretionary transfers to provinces and is in the process of cutting tens of thousands of public service jobs. He has also blocked all public works and infrastructure projects that do not have multilateral funding.

Milei’s efforts have hit Argentines hard, with the price of bus tickets almost tripling and aid cut to thousands of soup kitchens. Around half of the population now lives in poverty (though Milei said in his speech Monday that the figure was 60 percent), with child poverty reaching concerning levels.

Nevertheless, a survey released over the weekend indicated that Milei retains public support.

The poll, produced by the Opina Argentina consultancy firm, showed 49 percent of respondents supported the President’s management, a drop of just one point from March.

Nevertheless, there were specific complaints about recent government policy.

The Milei administration scored poorly on a number of hot-topic issues – such as its budget-slashing approach to education and response to the dengue fever outbreak.

 

– TIMES/NA/PERFIL

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