BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — It wasn’t the most uplifting inaugural address. On the contrary, the new Argentine president Javier Milei presented figures to lay bare the scale of the country’s economic “emergency” and sought to prepare the public for a shock adjustment with drastic cuts in public spending.
“We have no alternatives and we don’t have time. We have no room for sterile discussions. Our country demands action, and immediate action. The political class has left the country on the brink of the greatest crisis in its history,” he said in his inaugural speech to thousands of supporters in the capital, Buenos Aires. “We do not want the difficult decisions that will have to be made in the coming weeks, but unfortunately they have left us with no options. »
South America’s second-largest economy suffers from annual inflation of 143%, the currency has plunged and four out of ten Argentines are poor. The country has a yawning budget deficit, a trade deficit of $43 billion, plus a colossal $45 billion in debt to the International Monetary Fund, including $10.6 billion due to multilateral and private creditors by April. “There’s no money,” is Milei’s common refrain. He repeated this on Sunday to explain why a phased approach to the situation, which would require funding, was not an option.
But he promised that the adjustment would almost entirely affect the state rather than the private sector, and that it represented the first step toward returning to prosperity.
“We know that in the short term the situation will get worse, but we will soon see the fruits of our efforts, having created the basis for solid and sustainable growth,” he said.
Milei, 53, rose to fame on television with profanity-laced tirades against what he calls the political caste. He leveraged his popularity to win a seat in Congress and then, just as quickly, to run for president. The overwhelming victory of the self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalists” in August primaries caused a shock wave in the political landscape and disrupted the race.
Disillusioned Argentinians With the economic status quo, they were receptive to an outsider’s outlandish ideas to remedy their woes and transform the nation. He won the November 19 elections decisive second round – and ended the Peronist political force that dominated Argentina for decades. Still, he risks facing fierce opposition from lawmakers in the Peronist movement and the unions he controls, whose members have said they refuse to lose their salaries.
Earlier on Sunday, Milei took the oath of office inside the National Congress building and outgoing President Alberto Fernández presented him with the presidential sash. Some of the assembled lawmakers chanted “Freedom!”
Subsequently, he broke with tradition by delivering his inaugural speech not to the assembled lawmakers but to his supporters gathered outside – with his back turned to Parliament. He blamed the outgoing government for putting Argentina on a path to hyperinflation while the economy stagnated, saying the political class “ruined our lives.”
“Over the last 12 years, GDP per capita has fallen by 15% in a context where we have accumulated 5,000% inflation. So, for more than a decade, we have been living in stagflation. This is the last difficult period before we begin the reconstruction of Argentina,” he said. “It won’t be easy; 100 years of failure cannot be undone in a day. But it starts in a day, and today is that day.
Given the overall sadness of Milei’s message, the crowd listened intently and only occasionally clapped. Many waved Argentine flags and, to a lesser extent, the Gadsden yellow flag, often associated with the American libertarian right and which Milei and his supporters have adopted.
“Economically we are like all Argentines, we are trying to get to the end of the month,” said Wenceslao Aguirre, one of Milei’s supporters. “It was a very complicated situation. We hope this will change once and for all.
As Milei takes office, the nation wonders which version of him will govern: the chainsaw-wielding anti-establishment crusader the campaign routeor the more moderate president-elect who has emerged in recent weeks.
As a candidate, Milei pledged to purge the political establishment of corruption, eliminate the Central Bank which he accuses of printing money and fueling inflation, and replace the peso, which depreciates rapidly, by the US dollar.
But after winning, he tapped Luis Caputo, former president of the Central Bank, to replace him. his Minister of the Economy and one of Caputo’s allies at the helm of the bank, appearing to have suspended his vaunted plans for dollarization.
Milei presented himself as a voluntary warrior against the excesses of global socialism, just like former American President Donald Trump, whom he openly admire. But when Milei visited the United States last week, he didn’t visit Mar-a-Lago; instead he had lunch with another former American leader, Bill Clinton.
He also dispatched a diplomat with extensive experience in climate negotiations to the ongoing negotiations. COP28 Conference in Dubai, Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported, although it emphatically rejected humanity’s involvement in global warming. And he returned to his plan to abolish the national Ministry of Health.
And during his inaugural speech, he made some comments to the political class, saying that he had no intention of “persecuting anyone or settling old vendettas” and that any politician or union leader who wanted to support his project would be “received with an open welcome”. arm. »
His moderation may come from pragmatism, given the scale of the immense challenge awaiting him, his political inexperience and the need to forge alliances with other parties to implement his program in Congress, where his party comes a distant third in number of seats held.
He chose Patricia Bullrich, a longtime politician and first-round coalition opponent with the second highest number of seats, as security minister, as well as her running mate, Luis Petri, as defense minister.
Yet there are signs that Milei has not abandoned his radical plans to dismantle the state. He has already announced that he would eliminate several ministries, including those of culture, environment, women, and science and technology. He wants to merge the ministries of social development, labor and education under a single ministry of human capital.
After his inaugural speech, Milei drove to the presidential palace in a convertible. Later on Sunday, he is due to swear in his ministers and meet foreign dignitaries.
Among them, figures from the extreme right: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán; the leader of the Spanish Vox party, Santiago Abascal; former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and lawmakers allied with Bolsonaro, including his son.
Milei reportedly sent a letter inviting the current president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silvaafter last month calling the leftist “obviously” corrupt during a television interview and saying that, if he became president, the two men would not meet.
Lula dispatched his foreign minister to attend Milei’s inauguration.
Also present was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is making his first visit to Latin America as kyiv continues to judicial support among developing countries for his 21-month fight against invading Russian forces. Zelenskyy and Milei had a close exchange just before the inaugural speech.
Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro. AP writer Almudena Calatrava contributed from Buenos Aires.
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