Far right-wing populist Javier Milei won a stunning victory in Sunday’s presidential runoff election in Argentina. The libertarian economist and congressman defeated the ruling Peronist coalition candidate, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, by 12 points — and his landslide was even more decisive, if not near-unanimous, among Argentine expats in South Florida.
Milei took 56% of the vote to Massa’s 44%. Editors at the newspaper Semanario Argentino Miami, quoting Argentine consulate officials, told WLRN that 94% of the more than 4,500 expats who voted in South Florida went for Milei.
Most expats are here because they wanted to escape Argentina’s chronic economic crises. Argentines, in fact, have long been among the top foreign buyers of South Florida real estate as a means of rescuing their savings from runaway inflation at home. And Argentina experts cite the country’s current and deep economic shambles — including an annual inflation rate of more than 150% — as the key reason voters threw out the center-left Peronists.
That political movement has been the dominant political force in Argentina since democracy was restored there 40 years ago, but critics say it’s also been most responsible for the country’s boom-and-bust economic calamities.
“Inflation really, really harms poor people,” said University of Miami political science professor and Argentina native Laura Gómez-Mera, whose elderly parents still live there and have wrestled with the crisis themselves.
“I think [Sunday’s result] shows a lot of frustration and exhaustion and anger,” Gómez-Mera added.
“People really wanting change. People believing that Milei may be bad — but [that] nothing can be worse than this” economic situation.
Milei, head of Argentina’s ultra-conservative Liberty Advances coalition, is an admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he was “very proud” of the victory and said Milei will “Make Argentian great again!”
Milei brandished a chainsaw at campaign rallies and pledged to tear down many Argentina’s government ministries, including public health and education, as well as its Central Bank.
That agenda, as well as his assertions that Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship committed no atrocities — when in fact it was responsible for some 30,000 murders and disappearances of civilians — has many critics worried he’ll be a threat to Argentina’s democracy, the fourth largest in Latin America.
In his victory speech Sunday night, Milei softened the often vulgar and menacing rhetoric he hurled on the campaign trail. That has included referring to Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine, as a “filthy lefty” who promotes “shit.” But he repeated his plans to dollarize the Argentine economy — a move many economists say may not actually be a bad move at this point (while others call it a false, illusional fix) — and privatize the country’s pension system.
“The model of decadence has ended,” Milei told supporters in Buenos Aires. “There is no going back.”
Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.. His work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.