by Andrea Cegna
On 22 October many people in Argentina, and not only there, breathed a sigh of relief. The fear that Javier Milei would be President of the Country of Maradona was palpable, so much so that some social movements with no institutional ties had called for a boycott of his election. Milei called the Argentine feminist movement the “enemy”, as well as advocating ultra-liberal economic policies that went far beyond those of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that have been imposed on Argentina for decades. However, the spectre of Milei has not disappeared: he did not become President, but with around 30% of the vote he will face the current Economy Minister, the conservative Peronist Sergio Massa, in the run-off.
A few months ago, the Massa-Milei run-off was unthinkable, as the overwhelming favourite was Patricia Bullrich, the centre-right candidate of the Juntos Por el Cambio alliance (which includes the Radicals and the Republican Proposal). Former President Macri’s coalition could only save face by keeping the Government in Buenos Aires. The surprise winner (despite some recent polls giving him the lead) is certainly Massa and the coalition supporting him. In some ways, the result is surprising given the performance of the current Government and the sharp rise in inflation in recent months. Unlike four years ago, Kirchnerism did not enjoy the support of many social movements, which at the same time called for a boycott of the vote for Bullrich and Milei.
Massa’s lead was important despite the fact that his campaign was based on responding to pressure from the right, reassuring the financial markets and, only in the end, winking at the popular economy. On the other hand, of course, both Milei and Bullrich were in the business of privatising health and education and accelerating the neoliberal process beyond the limits set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In short, a very complex situation for Argentina’s poor. On the one hand, there is Milei’s denialist right wing, which questions the 30,000 desaparecidos of the civil-military dictatorship and defends ultra-liberalism. Then there is Patricia Bullrich’s Order and Discipline, which fights against the popular economy. Finally, there is the Massa option, which could be described as the IMF man in the Fernandez Government. He is also the one who does not attack the rights won by the feminist movement, with well-known and painful economic recipes. This is probably the reason for the abstention rate of over 25% that marked the result on Sunday 22 October.
Both Massa and Milei reached out to the Bullrich electorate in their nightly speeches, but in different ways. While the former called on Argentina to recognise differences and celebrate them in the name of democracy, 40 years after the end of the Videla dictatorship, the latter focused his speech on hatred of Kirchnerism. The path that separates Massa and Milei from the Casa Rosada is a complex one for both: on 19 November there will be a run-off in a not easy election. A Milei victory would plunge the Country into the abyss of denial of the desaparecidos and violence, bringing a hateful anti-politics to the Government of one of the most important Countries on the South American continent and risking undermining Argentina’s social and human rights. In this scenario, the left did not win, as the Trotskyist candidate Myriam Bregman failed to reach 3%, showing that some very real options on the streets of Argentina do not translate into a consensus. For Bregman, yesterday’s vote was “against the ghost train mentioned by Javier Milei or Patricia Bullrich, who said all the right-wing things that could be said”.
Feminist activist Luci Cavallero, highlighting the active role of the movement against Milei and Bullrich and their hate speech, wrote on social media: “Today we fought another battle, one that doesn’t start or end today, but is one of the most important since 1983. We voted with our hearts, for all that we are, for our friends, for our grandmothers, for the girls, for the children. Thousands of organisations and debates have been launched, thousands of campaigns have been activated, and it has become clear that in order to combat atrocities, feminist and trans-feminist vocabularies and battles have been created. The result on 19 November is not a foregone conclusion. Fear will not be enough to defeat Milei, and Massa will have to strike a balance between seeking the right-wing vote and the progressive, left-wing vote.
On the cover photo, Javier Milei © Facundo Florit/Shutterstock.com