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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 01-06-2024 05:59

Milei’s punctuated pragmatism and Karina, the hidden genius

Karina Milei has emerged as a sort of Machivellian genius, pulling the strings of the government and the political ecosystem with the apparent dexterity of a pro.

There should be few doubts, at this point, that the Javier Milei administration is methodical and strategic in their method. 

Even before Milei won last year's PASO primaries, there were serious doubts as to the organisational and emotional capacities of La Libertad Avanza, the newly formed, libertarian coalition. Whatever one may think of how they conduct their affairs, their ideology, and their aesthetic, they shouldn’t be accused of constant improvisation, even if they are, generally speaking, amateurs. 

The initial consensus reached over the ‘Ley de Bases’ law at commission level in the Senate, together with the ejection of Milei’s all-important Cabinet Chief, and the president’s constant international travels are all parts of a thought-out plan that is supposedly crafted by President Milei, his sister Karina, and star political adviser Santiago Caputo (the inner circle having shrunk after Nicolás Posse was thrown out). While the newly minted Cabinet chief, Guillermo Francos (who still holds on to the Interior Ministry), has been brought closer in, he still remains outside of the circle of trust. His predisposition to the traditional elements of political negotiations could be partially to blame for this and could, in the future, explain another departure if he becomes obsolete in their eyes. 

Milei’s libertarian experiment marches on. The roles of sister Karina and strategist Caputo are amongst the most interesting to analyse, especially because their voices have rarely been heard. There’s always been a fascination with these mysterious political actors whose work is cloaked in secrecy. Their power is always seen as substantial and, to some extent, obscure. Interestingly, Karina has emerged as a sort of Machivellian genius, pulling the strings of the government and the general political ecosystem with the apparent dexterity of a pro, despite having zero knowledge in the matter. Before emerging to the Olympus of Argentine politics, she sold homemade cakes via Instagram, went on primetime TV game shows in order to win a smart TV, and read tarot cards. She learned the art of communicating with her brother’s diseased dog Conan in order to help him with his immense grief, eventually becoming his personal medium. And now, from the influential role of presidential chief-off, she has become the political mastermind of this government. There is something odd, though, about how a common person without experience in public service has all of sudden proved a genius of political strategy, as if society had overlooked her massive talents, hidden in plain sight.

Karina’s counterpart is Caputo, the self-proclaimed “political commissar” of this government. Trained in the skills of political strategy by one of the best, Ecuadorean spin doctor Jaime Durán Barba, Caputo combines the tricks of the trade with a strong ideological tilt. Together with Karina, they are said to have been the first to believe in the crazy idea that Javier, the wild-haired and irascible late night TV panellist, could win the Presidency. 

La Libertad Avanza’s competitive advantage is clearly in the digital realm, where they’ve built “synthetic power” that allowed them to outmanoeuvre the traditional communications juggernauts of the incumbent pan-Peronist coalition, and the expected contender, Juntos por el Cambio, which everyone thought would take the election. Caputo clearly knew of the power of these tools, along with the value of counting on a genuine outsider who was a perfect fit for the culture wars of the second decade of the 21st century.

Posse, who was a dear friend of Javier and shared time with him at Corporación América alongside Francos, was the fourth leg of the ‘mesa chica’ (which translates directly to “small table” and refers to the inner circle of trust). His exit had been long rumoured, just like Francos. He was incredibly media-shy, given the importance of his role as the Cabinet chief of a disjointed government that sought to revolutionise the state’s political structure. It is said that Milei lost confidence in his friend given limited results in key areas. It’s also noted that he had several skirmishes with Karina and Santiago, who are tight with each other. There are also reports related to the handling of the AFI intelligence agency, which responded hierarchically to the Cabinet chief and will now be controlled by a Caputo proxy. Whatever the reasons, his exit has pulled the circle of trust even closer in.

Even before taking office, Milei exhibited a strategy of “punctuated pragmatism,” where he would go on full attack mode against his political adversaries, only before stepping back and allowing his henchmen to tone the conversation down and negotiate. He sat down with former president Alberto Fernández and built a cabinet of politically correct appointees, before dropping a political hydrogen bomb in the form of the DNU emergency mega-decree and the ‘Ley de Bases’/’Omnibus’ bill. When his negotiators had watered the proposed legislation down to the point where it would pass the Chamber of Deputies, Milei and Economy Minister Luis ‘Toto’ Caputo pulled the bill and went on the offensive digitally, lynching all of the politicians who voted against him. It’s a tried and tested pattern: Milei goes “full loco” and scares his opponents and both sides ultimately end up backing down from confrontation. Another feature of the Milei method is the ends justifying the means, particularly when it comes to human resources, who are used and then quickly discarded. There is no loyalty to anyone other than the cause. And Conan.

Posse was the latest victim, and now the “libertarian experiment,” as it is pejoratively called, will continue to push its massive deregulation bills through Congress. Former Central Bank governor Federico Sturzenegger is said to be taking charge of a possible ministry dedicated to deregulation, while Francos and the Caputos accumulate more power. With the budget surplus as their dogmatic obsession and inflation on a downward trajectory, there’s optimism in the Casa Rosada that the plan is working. Yet, even friendly economists indicate that the peso is artificially overvalued, that currency controls should be lifted, and that the recession is more extreme than it should be. 

When told that people can’t make it to the end of the month, while he enjoyed his visit abroad to San Francisco, the libertarian struck back, noting: “If people are starving to death, then they will figure out a way not to die.” ​

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Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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