Milei: president or alt-right influencer?

The recent diplomatic crisis with Spain shows that he is much more interested in culture wars than in advancing Argentine interests

Last week, President Javier Milei embarked on a trip to Spain. But he didn’t bring home any investments. Instead, he brought a diplomatic spat that saw the country permanently recall its ambassador to Argentina amid a bitter war of words whose consequences are still unfolding.

The exact capacity in which Milei was visiting has been the subject of controversy. The trip was bankrolled by the public purse, but it was not an official state visit. The president met with Spanish business leaders, but not with the King of Spain, nor — unsurprisingly — with Pedro Sánchez. Instead, he attended a rally by the far-right party Vox, where he called First Lady Begoña Gómez “corrupt”. Presidential spokesperson Manuel Adorni later stated that Milei was speaking in a personal capacity — although he maintained that the trip was an official visit.

Spanish newspaper El País published a letter from the Argentine embassy in Spain to the Spanish foreign minister, stating that Milei’s trip was a private visit. The revelation sparked controversy. Three UCR party deputies have filed a lawsuit against Milei, accusing him of defrauding the state by using public funds for a private trip. Adorni hedged, claiming that this was an issue of diplomatic jargon, that the embassy was correct but it made sense that neither he nor other government members called it a “private trip” because they “don’t use Foreign Ministry terminology, it’s not colloquially used.”

Colloquialisms aside, Milei’s presence at the Vox event aligns with one of his core interests: culture wars. Under the guise of defending “freedom,” he has spoken at length about his support for unchecked capitalism and stringent opposition to progressive causes, from legal abortion and feminism to socialism and social justice. Appearances and statements that are more reminiscent of an alt-right influencer than an actual head of state. 

Furthermore, surveys in Argentina show that the economy is the overwhelming concern of the majority. Inflation, unemployment, tariff prices, and the effects of the recession all appear as issues people ponder daily. And while Milei has made lowering inflation a key economic goal of his administration — perhaps the only one — his efforts addressing other aspects of the country’s problems pale in comparison to the amount of time he devotes to culture wars. 

This is not to say that a president is not allowed personal views, but rather that these issues must take a back seat to advance the country’s agenda. An example of the problems this creates can be seen in the current difficulty Milei is having to renew the currency swap with China, a lifeline for Argentina’s financial woes that is now in jeopardy due to the president seemingly going out of his way to constantly antagonize Beijing.  

On the campaign trail, Milei said that he would not do business with China because they were “communist.” And although his rhetoric has softened somewhat since coming into office, he has continued to emphasize that his only alliances are with the United States and Israel, insofar as they are “free” countries. If the swap is not renewed, Argentina will have to pay China US$6 billion in June, further weakening the country’s reserves. 

Milei’s international trips have been more akin to a tour to establish himself as the new face of the far-right: informal meetings with established right-wing leaders and speaking at conservative conferences. The only heads of state he has officially met with are Pope Francis and Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the constant bid to be in the spotlight, Milei seems to forget that for the politics of bread and circuses to work, there has to be bread. And the “entertainment” isn’t worth the cost of Argentines going hungry while the economy is tanking and international revenue streams are endangered. It’s time to behave less like an influencer and more like a president.

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