Argentine demonstrators have staged their biggest-yet show of opposition to Javier Milei’s radical attempt to reshape the South American country with a nationwide strike that shuttered schools and businesses, grounded hundreds of flights, and saw tens of thousands of marchers hit the streets.
In December, Milei, a lively economist who is known as “El Loco” (the Madman), took over as president with a promise to liberate Argentina from years of stagnation and deterioration using his libertarian beliefs. Since then, this far-right politician has quickly taken action to put into effect what Nigel Farage, the former leader of Ukip, has referred to as “Thatcherism on steroids”. This has been done through an emergency decree and a large-scale reform bill known as the “omnibus law”.
Milei’s decree and the proposed legislation suggest numerous contentious changes, such as privatizations, significant budget reductions, increased presidential authority, and decreased protections for workers and protesters. Additionally, nine out of 18 government ministries have been shut down, including those in charge of education, the environment, and promoting equality. The country’s currency, the peso, has also experienced a devaluation of over 50% compared to the dollar.
According to Milei, these actions will save Argentina from the economic crisis he attributes to past Peronist leaders. However, the suffering has worsened since he took office. Inflation in the past month reached 25.5%, a significant increase from 12.8% in November. The annual inflation rate has now reached 211.4%, the highest it has been in thirty years – even surpassing that of Venezuela, a country currently experiencing a decade of economic downfall.
On Wednesday afternoon, a large number of protestors gathered in the capital city of Buenos Aires and other major cities to express their frustration with Milei’s actions.
Federica Baeza, an activist and art curator for the LGBTIQ+ community, stated that they are currently in a battle against the far right’s attempts to strip us of our fundamental rights, including access to healthcare and employment. She was present along with other protesters outside congress as the 12-hour strike commenced.
Baeza, 45, stated that the far-right fails to grasp the reality of our unequal society and the necessity for government intervention to address this issue.
Another marcher, Ivana Uez, had brought her daughter hoping to stop Milei stripping away her five-year-old’s rights. “It’s not just about posting images and comments on Instagram or Twitter. You have to come, you have to show up, you have to meet with others [and] see what other realities there are,” said Uez, 38, fretting that Milei’s “catastrophic” deregulation of the housing market would send rents soaring.
An older gentleman nearby displayed a sign that said: “I am retired. I make 106,000 pesos [equivalent to $84 per month]. I am starving to death. Milei [you are a] son of a bitch.” The leader of the union, Hugo Yasky, stated in a radio interview that the strike was a protest against the government’s “complete lack of social sensitivity,” as they have significantly reduced subsidies for energy and transportation.
The director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program, Benjamin Gedan, described the walkout as a warning sign for Milei’s administration and predicted that it would be followed by numerous other similar protests.
Gedan forecasts that this may mark the start of a chaotic time in Argentina as the government moves forward with a drastic restructuring plan. The immense suffering that has been witnessed is unprecedented, with prices soaring at an alarming pace. This results in tangible distress and has significant impact on society and politics.
According to Lara Goyburu, a political scientist in the Red de Politólogas network, the months of March and April could be particularly turbulent due to an increase in utility costs, private health insurance, and education expenses, as well as the return of children to school. This could put added strain on families.
The ministers of Milei expressed resistance while employees stopped working at the prompting of Argentina’s largest labor union, the General Confederation of Labor.
“[The strike] confirms we’re on the right path,” tweeted the foreign minister, Diana Mondino, claiming it had been organized by millionaire oligarchs “with bullet-proof cars and chauffeurs”.
Patricia Bullrich, the tough security minister, accused the strike of being organized by “mafia-like union leaders”. She declared that their efforts would not hinder their progress and had previously warned that salaries of public employees who joined the strike would be cut.
Milei has been focusing on changing Argentina and has also been working on building his reputation as a favored figure among the global populist right, which has been quite successful.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Milei delivered a passionate speech denouncing the harmful ideas of neo-Marxists and their promotion of a violent abortion agenda.
Elon Musk shared an eye-catching photo montage that showed his support, while former US president Donald Trump praised Milei for making strides in “making Argentina great again” despite facing a difficult situation upon taking over.
In an interview with Voz Media, Farage drew parallels between Milei’s proposals and Margaret Thatcher’s efforts to revive the British economy in the 1980s, noting their similar levels of excitement.
According to Farage, Britain was experiencing a severe decline due to factors such as trade unions controlling the country, high inflation, high unemployment, and low growth. He praised Thatcher’s “very painful medicine” for bringing about significant improvements.
Farage believed that Milei was currently engaged in the same actions, but on a much larger scale that exceeded anyone’s imagination. He described it as “Thatcherism on steroids.”
According to polls, most Argentinians continue to back Milei’s leadership. However, during his speech to a large crowd outside the congress on Wednesday afternoon, Pablo Moyano, the head of Argentina’s truck drivers’ union, stated that many were beginning to change their views.
Moyano stated that this is a significant event, with a large number of people taking action only 45 days into the new government’s term. The public is already actively expressing their opinions.