Paul Tuns:

On Nov. 19, in the second round of presidential voting in Argentina, the second largest country in South America, the eccentric, pro-life libertarian, Javier Milei, was elected president. During his victory speech, Milei declared, “Today begins the reconstruction of Argentina. Today begins the end of Argentina’s decline. The model of decadence has come to an end.”

Milei is a populist who ran against the political establishment and vowed to slash government spending, replace the Argentine peso with the American dollar, and reverse course on a number of social policies of his predecessors. He also regularly criticized legal abortion and political correctness.

In October, Melei, leader of La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advance), finished second with just over 8 million votes and 30 per cent of the vote, well ahead of third-place finisher Patricia Bullrich, the former security minister and leader of the centre-right Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) who garnered nearly 6.4 million votes. The winner of the first round was Sergio Massa, the sitting Finance Minister and leader of the centre-left Unión por la Patria (Union of the Homeland), who earned 9.85 million votes or 36.8 per cent of the vote. With no candidate for president winning a majority, the top two finishers would compete in a run-off.

Some observers thought Melei would moderate his image in the run-off to win more of Bullrich’s supporters, but he did not, and he ended up winning 14.48 million votes compared to Massa’s 11.52 million, a ten-point victory (55.7 per cent to 44.3).

Milei is often compared to former U.S. president Donald Trump because of his bombastic statements and wild flurry of hair – which he claims to never brush — and Trump congratulated Milei on his victory: “I am very proud of you. You will turn your country around and truly Make Argentina Great Again!”

Melei is opposed to abortion, calling it murder and confirming that “life begins at conception.” He told Tucker Carlson on the latter’s X (formerly Twitter) show in September, “Philosophically speaking, I am in favor of the right to life.”

In 2020, Argentina became the fourth Latin American country to legalize abortion on demand when the National Congress passed the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Bill permitting abortion up to 14 weeks gestation. Polls at the time showed the majority of Argentinians were opposed to the legalization of abortion and Melei ran on a vow to have a referendum to recriminalize abortion. Unlike many libertarians, Melei is opposed to abortion: “While it’s true that women have the right to their own bodies, the child in a woman’s womb is not her body” and because the child in the womb is a separate being, “that makes abortion murder.”

In August, the Buenos Aries Times reported Melei saying, “As a liberal, I believe in the unrestricted right to life based on the defence of life, liberty and property. I defend life, biology says that life begins with conception.”

He has also criticized the global push for abortion through the United Nations and other non-government organizations, calling it a “bloodthirsty policy, in which some humans believe they should decide who should live and who should not. It is the utmost expression of hubris.”

Melei defies easy categorization. Though he is a libertarian, he is opposed to decriminalizing drugs, saying illicit drug use is “suicide.” He calls himself Catholic but has indicated a willingness to convert to Judaism. He favours same-sex “marriage” and champions “free love” yet is opposed to sex-education which he called “a post-Marxist program” designed to bring about the ““destruction of the most important social nucleus, the family.” Yet, about homosexuality, Melei said: “If you decide to be homosexual, how does that affect my life? Not at all. My liberty? Not at all. My property? Not at all. Therefore, I have nothing to say.”

Milei owns five English Mastiffs, all cloned from his former dog, Conan, that died in 2017. He named four of his new dogs after libertarian economists and claims to be counseled by Conan who serves as an intermediary between God and himself and whom he thanked after winning the presidency. Milei also says he first met Conan 2000 years ago when the creature was a lion and he was a Roman gladiator. Melei also says he regularly talks with dead libertarian writers Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand.

Although a Catholic, he has been critical of Pope Francis, a fellow Argentinian, whom he says “promotes communism” and calls an “f–king communist,” “communist turd” and “a piece of s—t.” Melei dismisses the Catholic social teaching of the preferential option for the poor as socialism because it relies on taxation which he considers theft.

As a radical believer in free markets – he calls himself an “anarcho-capitalist — a key campaign promise was to legalize the selling of organs. He also wants to abolish the central bank and hopes that dollarization will help curb inflation which exceeded 140 per cent in October.

Melei will have difficulty implementing his agenda as his new party, La Libertad Avanza, a coalition of libertarian and right-wing groups, only has eight seats in the 72-seat Senate and 35 seats out of 257 in the Chamber of Deputies; none of the country’s 23 provinces has a La Libertad Avanza governor. It is unclear if other conservative or centrist parties would cooperate with Melei in implementing his agenda, including holding a referendum on the country’s abortion law.