Saturday evening saw presidential candidate Javier Milei (La Libertad Avanza, LLA) on television doubling down on terrorism accusations against his contender Patricia Bullrich (Juntos por el Cambio, JxC) and denialist claims about state terrorism during the last military dictatorship.
Milei made those statements in an interview alongside his girlfriend Fátima Florez — a comedian known for her impersonation of political figures. The couple made their first television appearance sitting across from each other by Mirtha Legrand, one of the most important and iconic hosts in Argentine television.
During last Sunday’s presidential debate, Milei accused Bullrich of bombing a kindergarten as a member of armed organization Montoneros. She denied both claims and presented a criminal complaint for defamation and libel against him on Wednesday. She has also denied having been part of Montoneros — clarifying that she was part of the youth political group Juventud Peronista (JP).
Nonetheless, Milei said on Saturday evening that her alleged participation in militant operations in 1976 and 1977 “is documented in books”.
“[Bullrich] will have to explain what she did in the 1970s, which was basically being a bomb-throwing terrorist,” Milei told Legrand. “She was a part of the JP and supported Montoneros, and the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP), [which were] armed groups, terrorists that kidnapped and tortured people, put bombs. That’s where she comes from.”
In her criminal complaint, Bullrich had denied Milei’s claims that she bombed kindergartens in the 1970s. “I have never been involved in placing bombs in kindergartens. Furthermore, no incident with these characteristics has ever been registered in Argentina,” Bullrich said.
In the interview with Legrand, Milei clarified why he said that, in an attempt to amend his claims. “[Bullrich] bombed the garden of San Isidro’s de facto mayor’s house and a minor was injured because of that. That’s where the confusion about her bombing kindergartens came from,” Milei said.
“She is still a montonera with blood on her hands,” Milei said, not backing down. “I love that we are going to trial because she will have to explain what she did in the 1970s.”
Doubling down on denialism
The far-right candidate suffered harsh backlash for his denialist statements during last Sunday’s presidential debate, in which he questioned the number of disappeared people during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Despite that, Milei emphasized to Legrand that he thinks what happened during the 1970s in Argentina — a dictatorial government that systematically kidnapped, tortured and murdered thousands of citizens, and armed political groups that functioned mainly in the early 70s, before the coup — was a war. In Argentina, these denialist claims are known as the “two demons” or “dirty war” theories.
“What happened in Argentina during those times was a war,” Milei said during the interview. “The state has the monopoly of violence. That means the state has to play by the rules, even when the ones on the other team play dirty. Therefore, all the excess [violence] committed beyond that are considered crimes against humanity, and have to be punished.”
“That doesn’t mean the ones on the other team were innocents,” Milei said, referring to armed organizations. “They were not idealistic youths. They were murderers who wanted to install communism in Argentina.”
The “dirty war” theory is based on the belief that while the Argentine military committed abuses of power, it was acting to end political violence that left-wing guerrilla groups had initiated. Implicit in this argument is the idea that these were two equal and opposite forces, with the same capacity and willingness to torture, rape, and kill.
Proponents of the “two-demons” theory also contend that the extrajudicial killings of guerrillas were justified because of their political activism and involvement in acts of terror. Except this was not the case for the overwhelming majority of the 30,000 people who disappeared during the dictatorship, who were mostly political activists not involved in armed organizations, or even people who had nothing to do with politics. Furthermore, the biggest militant groups — Montoneros and ERP — were mostly taken down by paramilitary group Triple A in the years before the military dictatorship started in 1976.
Who is Mirtha Legrand
Milei’s interview with Mirtha Legrand aired the night before Sunday’s second presidential debate on one of the most popular TV shows in Argentina. This was the first show Legrand hosted since 2020, having spent the past three years mostly absent from the public eye due to her age and the pandemic. Over one million people watched the interview.
Mirtha Legrand, 96, is arguably the most important and influential TV host in Argentine history. Although she became relevant as an actress in her youth, Legrand started hosting lunch interviews with politicians, celebrities, athletes and other famous people 55 years ago. Almorzando con Mirtha Legrand (“Having lunch with Mirtha Legrand”) was the oldest running TV show in Argentina for over 50 years — until her granddaughter took over in 2020 — and she is one of the oldest TV hosts in the world. Other presidential candidates are set to dine with Legrand in the upcoming weeks: the program is an institution of Argentine television.