Argentina’s five main presidential candidates took to the stage for the second and final presidential debate ahead of the October 22 general elections. Presidential candidates sparred over security, corruption, economic inclusion, workers’ rights, and environmental protections.
Frontrunners Javier Milei (La Libertad Avanza, LLA), Economy Minister Sergio Massa (Unión por la Patria, UxP) and Patricia Bullrich (Juntos por el Cambio, JxC) were joined by Juan Schiaretti (Hacemos por Nuestro País, NHP) and Myriam Bregman (Frente de Izquierda-Unidad, FIT-U) at the University of Buenos Aires Law School.
The debate’s three topic sections were security, work and production, and human development, housing, and the environment.
In their starting speeches, nearly all candidates, save Bregman, condemned Hamas’ attack against Israel over the weekend. Acknowledging the assault on Israel but not denouncing it, Bregman, who is Jewish, expressed her remorse at the civilian casualties that she claimed ultimately “result from a conflict that is based in the state of Israel’s policies of occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people.”
In response to the attack, Sergio Massa pledged to add Hamas to Argentina’s list of recognized terrorist organizations.
Taking a hardline approach on crime, Bullrich pledged to employ the armed forces to combat drug trafficking organizations and implement prison reform, referencing a spike in violent crime in Rosario, Argentina’s third-largest city. She committed to reforming the penal code and doubled down on her defense of Luis Chocobar, a police officer convicted of murdering a teenager who had mugged and stabbed a tourist in La Boca.
Bullrich also took aim at Milei’s past remarks that he supports the right to bear arms, saying it would put more guns in the hands of criminals. Milei retorted that he favored enforcing Argentina’s current gun ownership laws.
The JxC candidate also vowed to lower the age of prosecution of minors to 14 years old. Bregman hit back at Bullrich’s security policies, describing them as “mano dura” (hard-hand) policies that were destined to fail.
Massa based his security policy on three pillars: prevention, law enforcement, and judicial transparency. Describing an “Argentine FBI,” Massa pledged to create a national law enforcement agency to combat corruption, drug trafficking, and human trafficking.
Work and Production
Kicking off his speech on work and production, Massa said he believed in “just one class of people: those who work.” He pledged to end the gender pay gap, simplify Argentina’s tax regime, and help people with disabilities to enter the workforce, and added that he would bolster key export industries, including mining, energy, and agriculture.
“I don’t want owners of small and medium enterprises to have to do a course because they’re paying 150 taxes,” he said.
He accused Milei of promoting a labor market that disadvantages women and jeopardizes workers’ rights, while fielding criticism from his fellow candidates over the current state of Argentina’s economy.
Bregman denounced state pensions as insufficient, adding that the debt payment scheme agreed with the IMF would result in “lower salaries, higher prices, and reduced pensions.”
In response to the criticisms about Argentina’s present economic situation, Massa cited the country’s historic drought as well as debt obligations to the IMF. On December 10 (the date on which the president-elect will take office), Argentina will begin a new chapter, he said.
Milei noted that GDP per formal, private-sector employee has remained stagnant since 2011. He blasted professional politicians, whom he terms the “political caste”, for generating market distortions –– primarily money printing and debt accumulation –– that he claims exclude people from participating in the formal work force. Without elaborating, he referenced the need to “modernize” the labor system and reduce penalties imposed on investors.
“Argentina has everything, but Argentines have nothing,” claimed Patricia Bullrich, who accused Kirchnerism of pilfering the country’s resources. She hailed the promotion of small and medium-sized businesses and agricultural producers in all of Argentina’s regions as key to increasing economic production. She added that she would create a new law to include informal workers in the labor force.
Development, housing, environment
“The capitalist system is destroying the planet,” said Bregman in her opening remarks on the issue of environmental protection. All of the candidates, she claimed, promote harmful extractivist policies.
Milei tied human development to economic liberalism, saying countries in which people are “freer” enjoy longer lifespans. He stated his commitment to promoting education and universal access to healthcare as cornerstones of his approach to human development.
When Schiaretti asked whether he would abide by the Paris Agreement on climate change and the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, Milei said: “We will not adhere to the 2030 agenda, we will not adhere to cultural Marxism, we do not adhere to decadence.”
Massa pledged to improve access to housing by making mortgages more affordable and by investing in more than “two million housing lots”, ensuring they have basic utilities. The economy minister pledged to increase penalties for polluters and championed Argentina as a potential world leader in hydrogen production.
Bitterly accusing Massa and his Peronist allies of “theft”, Bullrich pinned human development on combating corruption. “Money needs to go to the people, not state bureaucrats” said Bullrich, without elaborating on policy specifics.
Should no candidate win outright in the first round, an additional debate will take place between the two qualifying candidates ahead of the runoff.