A Milestone for Milei

The reform program, despite mobs in the street, makes it through the Senate and moves to the House.

AP/Gustavo Garello
A car burns during clashes between police and anti-government protesters outside Argentina's Congress at Buenos Aires, June 12, 2024. AP/Gustavo Garello

The chainsaw-wielding libertarian president of Argentina, Javier Milei, appears to be on the verge of getting his reform program through the legislature. This is not to discount the challenges ahead. The chance for a win, though, comes despite a wave of violent protest that erupted on the streets of Buenos Aires — a reflection of what Mr. Milei calls a bid by a corrupt political “caste” to thwart his mandate to revive Argentina’s economy. 

A “triumph for the Argentine people and the first step toward the recovery of our greatness” is how Mr. Milei describes the passage in the Senate — with a tie-breaking vote from the vice president — of legislation to overhaul the economy. The bills have already been watered down somewhat from Mr. Milei’s initial proposals. The measures now move to the lower house, where support for Mr. Millet is broader and the Argentine press sees a chance of success. 

Exempted from the president’s proposed privatization drive are the post office, public radio, and the state-run airline. The compromise, Bloomberg News reports, salvages the rest of a measure that enables numerous other firms to return to private ownership. It calls to mind President Reagan’s maxim when negotiating with Democrats in Congress. “A half a loaf is better than none,” the Gipper said, conceding “you’re not going to always get everything you want.”

In Mr. Milei’s case, the elements of his reform program, at first glance, appear to amount to more than half of the barra de pan. In broad strokes, that agenda is to “break the shackles of the oppressive state,” he says. To do that, in his telling, requires defeating the “caste” that has until now ruled the nation. A “network of corrupt politicians, business cronies, media lapdogs and, most important, powerful trade unionists,” is how the Economist has described it.

The tenacity with which this “caste” intends to cling to power was underscored by the intensity of the protests at Buenos Aires as the Senate was weighing Mr. Milei’s legislation. Overnight, protesters numbering in the thousands “poured into the streets,” the AP reported. They set fire to cars and hurled Molotov cocktails. It required hundreds of police deploying tear gas and water cannons to push back the mob. 

The disorder illustrates that these entrenched interests are willing to use violence and threats to stop Mr. Milei’s reforms — and to defy the will of the voters who hoisted him to office in a landslide. One of the country’s top union chiefs had already called for “a massive show of force” to thwart Mr. Milei’s program, while another leader on the left threatened that the new president’s administration “will find itself facing a nation of mobilized people.”

The people, though, already spoke — at the ballot box. They elected Mr. Milei to reverse the Perónist policies, a mix of statism and nationalism, that drove Argentina’s economy off a cliff. They are the ones who are weary of Perónism’s high taxes, overregulation, and inflation. The interests of these voters are moving toward vindication with legislation granting Mr. Milei emergency powers for a year and broader economic authority through 2027. 

Vindicated, too, is Mr. Milei’s choice of an establishment figure, Guillermo Francos, to turn around his administration. The career politician is “calm, diplomatic” and has “friends across the political spectrum,” the Financial Times says. Prior to Mr. Francos’s selection as “super minister,” Mr. Milei’s legislative agenda was stalled, with no progress in six months. Now, there is movement on what these columns have hailed as a “New Deal in reverse.”

Seen through that lens, getting Mr. Milei’s reform through Congress is just the beginning. His ambitious campaign promises — so far on hold — include calls to close the country’s central bank and to link the peso to America’s fiat dollar. Real monetary reform, though, would mean restoring a currency that is convertible into silver or gold — an apt move for a country that was once among the world’s richest and whose very name means money.

The New York Sun

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