Argentine citizens have organized their largest display of protest against Javier Milei’s extreme efforts to transform the South American nation. This nationwide strike resulted in the closure of schools and businesses, the cancellation of hundreds of flights, and the participation of tens of thousands of demonstrators on the streets.
In December, a well-known economist known as “El Loco” (the Madman) and often seen in the spotlight, Milei, took on the role of president. He promised to liberate Argentina from years of “deterioration and decline” with his libertarian beliefs. Since then, this far-right politician has acted quickly to put in place what Nigel Farage, former leader of Ukip, has referred to as “extreme Thatcherism”. This has included an emergency decree and a large-scale reform known as the “omnibus law”.
Milei’s decree and the draft legislation put forth numerous contentious changes, such as widespread privatization, drastic budget reductions, a significant increase in presidential authority, and limitations on workers’ rights and freedom of protest. Nine out of eighteen government departments have been shut down, including those in charge of education, the environment, and issues related to women, gender, and diversity. The Argentine peso has also experienced a devaluation of over 50% compared to the US dollar.
Milei claims such moves will rescue Argentina from the “economic hell” he blames on his Peronist predecessors. But the agony has intensified since his inauguration. Monthly inflation hit 25.5% last month compared to 12.8% in November. Annual inflation has reached a three-decade high of 211.4% – even higher than in Venezuela, a country reeling from a decade-long economic collapse.
On Wednesday at noon, numerous protesters paraded through the capital city of Buenos Aires, as well as other large cities, in order to express their frustration towards Milei’s actions.
Federica Baeza, an activist for the LGBTIQ+ community and an art curator, stated that the far right is attempting to eradicate our fundamental rights in all aspects of life, including healthcare and work. Baeza was present with the crowd outside of congress at the start of the 12-hour strike.
Baeza, aged 45, stated that the extreme right fails to comprehend the existence of inequality in our world and the need for the government to take action in correcting this imbalance.
Ivana Uez, a participant in the march, had brought her daughter with her in an effort to prevent Milei from taking away her five-year-old’s rights. Uez, 38, expressed the importance of taking physical action and meeting with others to understand different perspectives, rather than just sharing posts on social media. She also expressed concern over Milei’s proposed deregulation of the housing market, fearing it would lead to a sharp increase in rent prices.
A nearby elderly gentleman displayed a sign that said: “I am retired. I receive 106,000 pesos per month [equivalent to about $84]. I am starving to death. Milei [you are] a despicable person.” Union leader Hugo Yasky stated on a local radio station that the strike was a protest against the government’s lack of consideration for the needs of the people, as they have cut subsidies for energy and transportation.
According to Benjamin Gedan, who leads the Latin America Program at the Wilson Center, the walkout can be seen as a preemptive warning to Milei’s administration and he predicted it would be the first of many similar protests.
“This could be the beginning of a very tumultuous period in Argentina as the government charges ahead with a radical reform program,” Gedan predicted. “The [economic] pain we have seen is extraordinary … prices are increasing at a head-spinningly fast rate. That’s real pain with real social and political consequences.”
According to Lara Goyburu, a political scientist from the Red de Politólogas network, the upcoming months of March and April may bring significant turbulence. This is due to the increasing costs of utility bills, private health insurance, and education, as well as the return of children to school. These factors are expected to place additional strain on families.
Milei’s ministers voiced defiance as workers downed tools at the request of Argentina’s biggest trade union, the General Confederation of Labor.
“The strike validates our course of action,” stated Diana Mondino, the foreign minister, in a tweet. She alleged that the strike was orchestrated by affluent oligarchs who have “bulletproof cars and personal drivers.”
Patricia Bullrich, the tough security minister of Milei, attributed the strike to “mafioso union leaders.” She declared that no strike would impede their progress, despite her earlier warning to withhold pay from government employees who participated.
Milei has focused on changing Argentina and has also worked to increase his popularity among the global populist right, which has been quite effective in recent weeks.
At the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Milei strongly criticized the “harmful ideologies” of “neo-Marxists” who advocate for a “violent pro-abortion stance”.
Elon Musk tweeted a salacious photomontage indicating his approval while the former US president, Donald Trump, claimed Milei was making progress in “making Argentina great again” despite inheriting “a total mess”.
In an interview with the conservative media source Voz Media, Farage drew parallels between Milei’s ambitious proposals and Margaret Thatcher’s efforts to revive the British economy in the 1980s.
Farage stated that Britain was experiencing a severe decline. The country was being controlled by trade unions, and there were issues of high inflation, high unemployment, and low growth. He referred to Britain as the “sick man of Europe” and praised the positive effects that Thatcher’s tough measures had brought about.
Farage believed that Milei was currently engaging in the same actions, but on a much larger level that exceeded anyone’s expectations. He described it as “Thatcherism on steroids.”
According to polls, the majority of Argentinians continue to back Milei’s government. However, during a speech to a crowd of thousands outside the congress on Wednesday afternoon, Pablo Moyano, the general secretary of Argentina’s truck drivers’ union, asserted that many were starting to change their minds.
“This is a momentous occasion. It is a significant effort only 45 days since the new administration has taken control,” stated Moyano. “The voices of the people are already being heard.”