Fuelled by fear

Massa goes all-in on an anti-Milei campaign

The electoral dust is settling, and with it are endorsements and final-stretch campaign narratives. To that end, Unión por la Patria (UxP) candidate Sergio Massa and La Libertad Avanza candidate Javier Milei had very different weeks. 

Massa went into the weekend somewhat on the backfoot, having to answer for an unexpected fuel shortage that kept drivers in hours-long queues. He quickly shifted the attention to oil companies, which he accused of engaging in market speculation at the cost of Argentine consumers. By Wednesday, he declared the problem solved, but not before postponing fuel tax hikes through February of next year, an effort to mitigate the impact of rising gas prices.

All the while, he worked not only to build his support base but, more importantly, to secure high-profile public opposition to Javier Milei’s candidacy.

Massa already has the support of Argentina’s 19 Peronist (and allied) provincial governors soundly at his back. In Argentina’s federalized system, gubernatorial support is crucial for any president looking to get things done. 

Adding to that, a group of well-known members of the country’s intelligentsia released a letter endorsing the current economy minister. But the tone of the letter is striking. It expresses a deep concern for the state of Argentine democracy, and the endorsement reads less as an active show of support for Massa and more of a repudiation of Milei and his denialist claims regarding Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship. More than 800 Argentine cultural figures signed onto a separate statement, also urging voters to choose Massa.

Joining the anti-Milei bandwagon was the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), a founding member of opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio. Argentina’s oldest surviving political party, the UCR, led at the time by President Raúl Alfonsín, was the first party to assume the presidency after Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship. The UCR has long billed itself as the champion of Argentine democracy. 

Despite the UCR governor of Jujuy Gerardo Morales’ announcement last week that the UCR would remain neutral, the party leader came out swinging this week against Milei. He described the libertarian as “a risk for democracy,” vowing: “I will do everything in my power so that Milei doesn’t win.” He added that any radical voter who backs Milei would be “betraying Alfonsín’s legacy.”

Even members of Argentina’s business community more vocally expressed their concerns with Milei. One prominent businessman from Argentina’s critical agricultural sector described Milei as a “dangerous leap into the void” when asked about his decision to back Massa.

An unlikely bunkmate for those business leaders: Argentina’s Socialist Party. Holding just two seats in the country’s 257-seat Chamber of Deputies, the party endorsed Massa despite its “profound differences” with the current Peronist government. In its letter of support for the economy minister, the party called on its voters to “defend democracy” against Milei. 

This could be UxP’s winning narrative: vote not for Massa, but for democracy and against chaos. As a yanqui, this dynamic — votes won not out enthusiasm but out of concern for the alternative — feels all-too-familiar.

While Massa and his allies made the rounds building opposition to Milei and touting a proposed “national unity government,” the libertarian’s week was marked by media missteps, internal division, and unforced errors by his fellow LLA coalition members. 

Last week, the libertarian economist gave an erratic TV interview. His seemingly unsettled behavior and ranting, which at times verged on incoherence, was fodder for internet commentators and memers alike.

Instead of starting this week strong, Milei spent a good deal of his time reiterating that the sale of human organs is not part of his policy platform…What?

Diana Mondino, an LLA deputy and Milei’s would-be foreign minister, said during a radio interview that an organ market would be “something fantastic.” Though she later accused the media of “twisting” her words, the damage was already done. Massa tersely responded on X: “I don’t believe in the sale of organs, it’s not just another market. Life doesn’t have a price.” Milei’s own team, it seems, has become a key player in Massa’s fear campaign.

Milei’s decision to add Macri and Bullrich to his team — originally seeking to capture more moderate voters — has so far failed to gain him much in the way of high-profile support from mainstream actors. 

While, granted, a handful of Macri and Bullrich allies have backed the libertarian, the choice to incorporate the Propuesta Republicana party’s leaders seems to have done more to fracture LLA than expand its base. A number of La Libertad Avanza’s deputies-elect have rejected Milei’s pact with Macri, whom they’ve described as their “moral ideological limit.” One of LLA’s constituent parties, Partido Fe, has gone so far as to break from the coalition in protest. 

It remains to be seen whether Milei’s gamble on Macri and Bullrich will pay off — it certainly hasn’t yet. But one thing is clear: the elections are now just over two weeks away, and Massa is running the tighter of the two ships. 

As Milei works to build support among moderates, Massa will likely continue to foment fear of, and opposition to, the libertarian. As economy minister, Massa also needs to keep the peso afloat, despite potential attempts by Milei’s camp to sow deeper distrust of the currency in markets.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald