Argentina’s new president faces an uphill climb in his battle to reform a rotten economy

The world is curious to know how Argentina’s wildcard president, Javier Milei, has fared after his first 100 days in power. The answer is a B+. If that doesn’t sound impressive, his predecessors should have been ranked D-.

For the first time in over a decade Argentina achieved a budget surplus – at least in January and February. Inflation in February fell by 13 percent – although this is less impressive than it sounds, as last year it was 276 percent, the highest in the world. When he took office on December 10, Argentina owed US$263 billion to foreign creditors, but had no dollars reserves at all. Since then, foreign reserves have grown to $7 billion.

He immediately took his chain-saw to government spending. cutting cabinet in half to nine ministries, slashing 50,000 public service jobs, suspending all new public works contracts and removing fuel and transport subsidies. He shut down the official government news agency and anti-discrimination board, and defunded scientific research and the cinema industry.

Milei’s shock treatment has been painful. Expenditure on social programs fell by almost 60 percent in real terms compared to January 2023. Though this may seem harsh, it exposed abuses. It seems that more than 120,000 beneficiaries of welfare plans travelled abroad between 2020 and 2023.

Another reform that affected the needy was a reduction of 32 percent in real terms in pensions. One of the first to protest was former president Cristina Fernandez Kirchner. In response, Milei told her on social media: “I have just cancelled the salary increases of the entire national cabinet. Since I saw you so worried about your pension, what do you think if I cancel the $14,000,000 pesos (about US$16,000) that you receive as a privilege retirement and assign you a minimum retirement? I suppose you are not going to complain.”

The road ahead will be rocky. Although Milei is fervently pro-business and pro-market, he does not control Congress. But to make his reform agenda work, he needs its support. If the economy fails to improve, voters will turn against him and his political enemies could destroy him. For now, though, his approval ratings are relatively high – between 45 and 50 percent. (US President Joe Biden’s approval rating is about 40 percent.)  


Join Mercator today for free and get our latest news and analysis

Buck internet censorship and get the news you may not get anywhere else, delivered right to your inbox. It's free and your info is safe with us, we will never share or sell your personal data.

As regards the moral aspect of his government, Kirchner’s party tried to weaponize Pope Francis against Milei. However, Pope Francis was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Milei. Though in the past Milei had harsh words for the Pope, he apologized publicly in his campaign.

In February Milei even travelled to Rome to celebrate the canonisation of Argentina’s first female saint, Mama Antula. He travelled with Catholic members of Congress and the minister of religious affairs. The Pope hugged Milei and they laughed together and exchanged gifts.

Argentina’s relationship with Catholicism is complicated. Its constitution declares that it is a Catholic country and Jorge Bergolio was born there. But Argentina has also legalised same-sex marriage and abortion.  

Milei’s relationship is no less complicated. Since he had also visited Israel on his recent trip, a reporter asked him about his faith. “I am Catholic and I also practice a little Judaism,” he responded. It’s hard to know what Milei believes – but he is stridently anti-abortion.

During the World Economic Forum at Davos earlier this year, he charmed Western conservatives. He criticised abortion, socialism, collectivism, globalism, radical feminism, bloated bureaucracies and woke ideas. “Neo-Marxists have managed to co-opt the common sense of the Western world, and this they have achieved by appropriating the media, culture, universities and also international organisations,” he declared. 

Alas! Fine words butter no parsnips. Poverty and hunger continue to grow in Argentina. Nearly 60 percent of Argentinians are poor. Many cannot even buy the medicines they need.

Milei has four years to make Argentina great again with his austerity agenda. The clock is ticking.

How would you rate Millie's chance of success? Leave a comment in the box below.

Mamela Fiallo Flor is a university lecturer, a translator, and a columnist for the PanAm Post. She lives in Ecuador. 

Image credit: Argentinian President Javier Milei / Midia Ninja / Creative Commons


Showing 2 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-03-27 00:05:34 +1100
    The more I learn about the new Argentinian president, the more I like what I learn.

    I would not be surprised if the strongest support for Milei comes from the poor.
  • Mamela Fiallo Flor
    published this page in The Latest 2024-03-26 16:53:13 +1100