By Amy Booth and Martina Jaureguy
Libertarian economist Javier Milei became president of Argentina at 11.57 a.m. on Sunday morning, at a ceremony in a packed congress.
Milei’s inauguration, 40 years to the day since Argentina’s return to democracy, ushers an era of right-wing economic liberalism that marks a sharp contrast with both the statist, redistributive policies of Peronism under outgoing President Alberto Fernández and the center-right gradualism of Mauricio Macri, who preceded him.
To chants of “Libertad! Libertad!” Milei swore the presidential oath at three minutes to midday. Alberto Fernández placed the presidential sash over his shoulders and presented him with the presidential staff, clapping him on the shoulder and speaking a few brief words to him as Milei’s supporters chanted “Presidente! Presidente!”
After Milei was sworn in, Victoria Villarruel swore the oath of office as Vice President. “In the name of Javier Gerardo Milei, president of the nation, and in my name, I wish to thank every one of you for your presence and for accompanying us on this historic day,” Villarruel said in a brief address to congress after the oaths.
Milei broke with tradition by delivering his inaugural address on the steps of Argentina’s Congress, rather than in the chamber. In a speech that mixed references to history and economic theory with his characteristic hoarse shouts, he said that Argentina had embraced the ideas of liberty and was preparing for a change.
“Today we end a long and sad era of decline and begin the long path of rebuilding our country,” he said in opening remarks, later saying his election marked a breaking point in Argentine history that was comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
He went on to tell Argentines to brace for the impact of his economic shock policies. “The outgoing government has left us with hyperinflation and it’s our maximum priority to do everything possible to avoid such a catastrophe, which would leave poverty above 90% and destitution above 50%,” he said. “For that reason, there’s no alternative to austerity.”
“We’ve been living in stagflation for 15 years. This is the last bitter pill to swallow before we start with the reconstruction of Argentina.” Continuing to print money, he said, would put Argentina on a footing “with the darkness of the Venezuela of Chávez and Maduro.”
“God bless Argentines, and may the forces of heaven accompany us in this challenge,” he concluded. “It will be difficult, but we can do it. Long live freedom, dammit!” he shouted, punching the air.
At quarter to twelve, Milei arrived at Argentina’s congress in a heavily guarded motorcade. Flanked by incoming Vice President Victoria Villarruel, he walked up the steps of Congress. Outgoing Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kircher ushered him up the stairs, visibly forcing a smile. With his supporters applauding and cheering, Milei and Villarruel signed the congressional Books of Honor.
Beneath his signature, Milei wrote “Long live freedom, dammit,” his main slogan throughout the campaign.
Along the streets of Buenos Aires, supporters whooped and cheered, waving Argentine flags, yellow flags with Milei’s lion symbol, and parasols to shade themselves from the intense December sun. Ranks of guards on horseback lined the streets of congress.
Outside Congress, Gladys, 62, said she had shown up to support Milei because “we older people feel that young people will have a future with him.” Raising her voice to be heard over groups of La Libertad Avanza supporters cheering, she added that she felt “Communism, socialism, don’t work,” adding that Argentina was about to enter an era of “respect for work.”