The enmity and the ecstasy of Javier Milei’s inauguration

Supporters of the far-right libertarian were eager to cheer the new president — and jeer at the outgoing administration

Gone were the placards of the different unions, political parties, and social movements that have celebrated Peronist victories in elections past. In their place were Gadsden flags with their coiled snakes, declaring “Don’t tread on me,” and yellow banners emblazoned with black lions and the name of Argentina’s newest president, Javier Milei.

On Sunday, as the nation commemorated 40 years of democracy, thousands of the radical libertarian’s supporters crowded into Plaza del Congreso downtown — first to watch him be sworn in via simulcast, then to hear him address the nation from the steps of Congress. Only later would they learn that his presidential baton had been engraved with the five dogs that Milei cloned from his dead English mastiff: Conan, after the original, along with Murray, Milton, Robert, and Lucas, who are each named for libertarian economists.

The mood at the intersection of Montevideo and 9 de Julio was by turns ebullient and vindictive, with attendants as eager to cheer their new president as they were to jeer the outgoing administration. When Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appeared on the big screen, the crowd erupted in a chant of “hija de puta” (“daughter of a whore”); President Alberto Fernández, for his part, provoked calls of “chorro de mierda” (“fucking crook”).

“Make sure you get the insults,” said Patricia Gianderetti with a laugh.

Although she had voted for Juntos por el Cambio’s Patricia Bullrich in the October 22 election, Gianderetti, 50, was exuberant about the defeat of Kirchnerismo  — a center-left political movement spearheaded by Fernández de Kirchner and her husband and former president, Nestor, before her.

“Milei was the only person who told it how it is, simply and easily,” she told the Herald. “The state is spending much more than it brings in. There’s been a party that’s benefited a few at everyone else’s expense. It’s killed us. The state has killed us.”

Asked what she made of Milei’s proposal to create a marketplace for human organs, Gianderetti waved her hands. “I don’t know why he said that, but I don’t think he’s going to do it,” she said.

Natalia Cancro, a 45-year-old attorney from Buenos Aires who specializes in retirement law, could barely contain her disgust with Alberto Fernández and his administration, accusing it of crimes ranging from theft to fraud.

“Kirchnerism has been a cancer on this country,” Cancro told the Herald. “People don’t work. They live off the teat of the state. Everything wrong with Argentina began with [Juan Domingo] Perón.”

Roberto Caricato just wanted to see Fernández de Kirchner’s removal from office. A 51-year-old factory worker and father of three, he blamed the vice president’s political movement for ruining a country of “gente de bien” (“good people”).

“Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is the most corrupt and murderous thief in the history of Argentina,” he said, his 10-year-old daughter sitting atop his shoulders. “I’m here to see her go.”

“Milei has inspired the youth of Argentina,” Caricato added. “There wasn’t any hope in the country, and now there is.”

Others, like 24-year-old Micaela Rosso, were there to cheer the left’s demise and the election of Latin America’s first self-styled “anarcho-capitalist” president.

A street vendor sells T-shirts with Milei’s new catchphrase, “There’s no money.” Photo: Jacob Sugarman (Buenos Aires Herald)

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“I’m very happy to finally be done with socialism in this country,” she told the Herald. Rosso, a 24-year-old chef from San Isidro, admitted that she’s most excited about the social change she believes that Milei will usher in.

“There’s a lot of insecurity,” she went on. “It’s been even more damaging than the inflation.”

A new social contract

Shortly after 1 p.m., Milei emerged from the congressional building in his presidential sash. The applause was deafening, the crowd alternating between cheers of “Pre-si-dente” and “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Milei, Milei.” 

Hola a todos (hello everyone),” he began with a growl and a mischievous smile.

Over the next 30 some-odd minutes, Milei would play all of the hits from his campaign, condemning “collectivism” for Argentina’s steep decline, blaming social plans for worsening its poverty, and, like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, insisting that there is no alternative to austerity and economic shock therapy.

“For more than 100 years, politicians have insisted on defending a model that has only generated poverty, stagnation, and misery,” he bellowed. “Today, we begin the reconstruction of a model [that has] destroyed our country. Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of a tragic age, these elections have marked a break with our history.” 

“Perón was a pedophile!” Cancro screamed during a lull in the address.

“Today,” Milei continued. “We once again embrace the ideas of freedom [put forth by] professor Alberto Benegas Lynch Jr., who said that ‘liberalism is the unrestricted respect for the project of life, based on the principle of non-aggression, in the defense of the right to life, liberty, and property, whose fundamental institutions are private property, markets free of state intervention, the division of labor, and social cooperation.’”

Lynch, a libertarian economist and mentor, made headlines during La Libertad Avanza’s (LLA’s) closing campaign rally in October when he called for Argentina to sever ties with the Vatican. His definition of liberalism has become a staple of Milei’s speeches, with members of LLA reciting his words as if in prayer.

“In that phrase is the new social contract that Argentines have chosen,” he added. “This new social contract offers us a different country —  one in which the state does not direct our lives but rather safeguards our rights. A country where people pay for what they’ve done.”

Milei also used his address to liken his fellow travelers to the Maccabees of ancient Judea.

“It’s not a coincidence that this presidential inauguration is occurring during the festival of Hanukkah, the festival of light, since it celebrates the true essence of freedom,” he said, having gifted Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy a menorah earlier that day.

“The war of the Maccabees is a symbol for the triumph of the weak over the powerful, of the few over the many, of light over darkness, and above all else, of truth over lies, because you know that I prefer to tell you an uncomfortable truth than a comfortable lie.”

As he does with every speech, Milei closed by barking, “Viva la libertad, carajo!” (“Long live freedom, dammit!”). The crowd answered him right back: “Viva!” 

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