On Sunday, Javier Milei will become president of Argentina. His meteoric rise feels almost unreal: two years ago, he took office as a congressman, his first-ever political role.
Yet in two days, Milei will parade from his unofficial HQ, Libertador Hotel, to his inauguration in Congress, and then down Avenida de Mayo to the Casa Rosada. The proceedings will also include an interreligious mass (perhaps a nod to his pending conversion to Judaism) and a reception for visiting foreign dignitaries.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou, and Paraguayan President Santiago Peña will all attend. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, however, will be absent.
Lula’s snub, despite Milei’s invitation, was entirely predictable. Throughout the campaign, Milei denounced Lula as a “communist” and vowed to cut ties with Brazil, a threat he has since walked back. The Brazilian president’s absence highlights a glaring power dynamic between the two states: economically, Brazil is far more important to Argentina than Argentina is to Brazil.
Recognizing this, Milei has made some overtures to his Brazilian counterpart — critically, reaffirming his support for Mercosur and keeping Argentine Ambassador to Brazil Daniel Scioli (a Lula favorite) in his post. Still, that animosity could jeopardize Brasília’s willingness to collaborate with Buenos Aires down the line, potentially posing a problem for Milei’s administration given that Brazil is Argentina’s biggest trade partner.
One prominent Brazilian will be present, though: former President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula’s right-wing nemesis.
After the foreign dignitaries’ reception, Milei’s cabinet will be sworn in. The libertarian’s ministers reflect his marked post-election shift from radicalism to realism.
Milei’s appointments betray his political debts. He owes those who helped him win the November 19 runoff. First among them are former President Mauricio Macri and Juntos por el Cambio presidential nominee Patricia Bullrich, whose backing brought many JxC voters to Milei’s camp.
Macri’s influence is most visible in Milei’s economic appointments. Luis Caputo, a finance minister and central bank chief during Macri’s 2015-2019 administration, will lead Milei’s Economy Ministry. Santiago Bausili, another Macri acolyte, will run the Central Bank. The presence of those two mainstream figures suggests that dollarization, Milei’s flagship policy proposal, will be on the backburner for the time being.
Patricia Bullrich will return as security minister, a post she held during Macri’s government. Her running mate, Luis Petri, will serve as defense minister. Those appointments were predictable. Macri and Bullrich’s endorsement of Milei came at a cost — the unity of Juntos por el Cambio. But Bullrich’s appointment has brought its own costs — an alleged dispute with former President Macri, who reportedly opposed any semblance of an endorsement-for-job dynamic.
Similarly interesting to watch have been the positions doled out to Peronists. Allies of anti-Kirchnerist Córdoba governor and former presidential candidate Juan Schiarretti, whose voters blew some wind into Milei’s electoral sail during the second round, were prime beneficiaries. Argentina’s social security agency, ANSES, and the transportation secretariat will be run by Schiaretti allies.
Some of Milei’s other appointments seem to pay tribute to former President Carlos Menem, whose Convertibility scheme —which pegged the peso to the dollar one to one in the 1990s — was the closest Argentina ever came to dollarizing its economy. Menem’s nephew, Martín, was tapped to preside over the Chamber of Deputies (putting him third-in-line to the presidency). Rodolfo Barra, the former Peronist president’s justice minister, will run the National Treasury Attorney’s Office. Barra was forced to resign as justice minister in 1996 after it came out that he was in a group that expressed admiration for Nazism during his youth.
The day ends with a showing of the Puccini opera, Madame Butterfly, at Buenos Aires’ historic Teatro Colón. The opera tells the tragic story of a young Japanese woman whose life-long faith to her absent American husband ultimately becomes her undoing.
If Milei does eventually wed Argentina’s economy to America’s, let’s hope it meets a different fate.