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Javier Milei brandishing a chainsaw during a rally in La Plata, Argentina in September. Alamy Stock Photo
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Profile: Who is Javier Milei, the chainsaw-wielding outsider who is Argentina's new president?

Milei has vowed to ditch the peso for the US dollar, “dynamite” the central bank and cited Ireland as a country he would like to model Argentina on.

THE LIBERTARIAN OUTSIDER Javier Milei has upended Argentine politics in a meteoric rise from obscurity to the presidency, riding a wave of fury over decades of economic decline and rampant inflation.

With his powered-up chainsaw and rockstar persona, Milei has vowed to ditch the ailing peso for the US dollar, “dynamite” the central bank and slash public spending, listing Ireland as a country he would like to model Argentina on. 

“It is the Celtic miracle,” he told The Economist in September. “It was one of the most miserable countries in Europe and today it is one of the best countries in Europe. It has a GDP per capita of $120,000.”

Milei first made a name for himself with angry tirades blasting what he calls the “political caste” on television, gaining support from Argentines struggling to make ends meet amid annual inflation of 140% and a rapidly depreciating currency.

“Long live freedom, damn it!” was his rallying cry throughout a campaign in which he railed against a “thieving and corrupt political class,” notably on TikTok and YouTube where he fired up the youth.

Journalist Juan Gonzalez called him “a man with dozens of faces” in the unauthorised biography ‘El Loco’ (‘The Madman’).

His anti-establishment rants, pro-gun stance and abrasive style have seen comparisons drawn between him and former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

However, unlike those two leaders, “Milei came from nowhere… and his popularity came from the disaster of the bad performance of the economy in the last 12 years,” said economist Andres Borenstein, with the Econviews think tank.

presidential-candidate-of-the-liberty-advances-coalition-javier-milei-votes-during-the-presidential-runoff-election-in-buenos-aires-argentina-sunday-nov-19-2023-ap-photonatacha-pisarenko Presidential candidate of the Liberty Advances coalition Javier Milei voting during the presidential runoff election in Buenos Aires. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

While there are those who are fervent supporters, many who backed him were merely expressing disgust with the long-dominant Peronist coalition and its inability to halt Argentina’s cycle of deficit, borrowing, money-printing and inflation.

“They’re not right-wing people, they are angry people and disenchanted people,” Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank in Washington said of Milei’s voters.

“This kind of anti-incumbent sentiment has really been everywhere… it’s really just been remarkable that Argentina has managed to avoid it until now,” said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Argentina Project at the Washington-based Wilson Center think-tank.

“What exists now doesn’t work for me,” said Milei supporter Matias Esoukourian, a 19-year-old economics student.

‘Anarcho-capitalist’

The 53-year-old economist with a rock-star persona blindsided experts when he first emerged as a serious contender by winning an August primary election with 30%.

While described alternately as libertarian, far right, or anti-establishment, Milei’s political views are hard to pin down.

He describes himself as an “anarcho-capitalist” who is “above all for freedom.”

He is opposed to abortion and sex education, does not believe humans are responsible for climate change, and thinks human organs should be sold freely.

After he placed second behind his rival Massa in the first-round vote, and allied with the center-right opposition, he toned down much of his more divisive rhetoric.

presidential-hopeful-of-the-liberty-advances-coalition-javier-milei-brandishes-a-chainsaw-during-a-campaign-event-in-la-plata-argentina-tuesday-sept-12-2023-milei-has-used-the-chainsaw-throughou Javier Milei brandishing a chainsaw during a campaign event in La Plata, Argentina in September. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

This includes insulting Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine, and vowing to ditch or privatise key government ministries.

His famed chainsaw – a symbol of cuts he wanted to make to public spending – was nowhere to be seen.

Milei has since said his dollarisation program would be incremental, but he insists he will shut the central bank and end the “cancer of inflation.”

Most analysts are stumped as to what he will actually do next, saying most of his proposals are unlikely given his lack of power on Congress, even with his allies.

Political analyst Virginia Oliveros, speaking during an online webinar on the election, said that if Milei won, the transition would be “absolute chaos.”

“He has no team, no plan. It’s not clear what he’s going to do. I think that people are not going to have any patience with him, that the honeymoon is not going to last 15 minutes.”

Cloned dogs

Milei was born in Buenos Aires to a middle-class family with whom he admits a “complicated” relationship.

buenos-aires-argentina-22nd-oct-2023-javier-milei-m-presidential-candidate-of-the-la-libertad-avanza-party-is-cheered-by-supporters-after-the-announcement-of-the-election-results-credit-igor Javier Milei being cheered by supporters in October. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He is very close to his sister Karina, however.

The libertarian’s rock-star persona is no pose – he played in a Rolling Stones cover band in his youth and was also a keen footballer.

Milei began appearing on television shows in 2015, where his red-faced rants against the government gained traction on social media.

His party Libertad Avanza was only formed before 2021 elections when he became a lawmaker for Buenos Aires.

Unmarried and childless, he is known for his love of dogs, and owns four large mastiffs named after liberal economists. He has recently been dating actress and comedian Fatima Florez.

According to “Madman,” the unauthorised biography from journalist Juan Luis Gonzalez, Milei never accepted the death of his first dog, Conan, and all his other pooches are clones he had made in the United States.

When asked about being dubbed crazy, he says: “The difference between a genius and a madman is success.”

© AFP 2023 with reporting from Jane Moore

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