In Argentina—a country where 1 out of every 4 people work for the state and more than half of the population receives some form of government welfare—14 million of its citizens have just voted for less government.
They voted to slash the state. A true free-market reformer, Javier Milei is the first libertarian president in the world and received the most votes for president in the history of Argentina.
Supported by his former political rival and a formidable pick for vice president, Milei was able to do what has seemed impossible in Latin America in recent years; namely, unite a broad spectrum of conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals to save Argentina from the creeping regional rot of socialism.
Sunday’s second-round elections in Argentina were supposed to end in a nail-biter as polls showed a difference of 1 to 2 points between Milei and his establishment opponent, Economy Minister Sergio Massa. But the results were not even close. Winning 20 of 23 provinces, Milei swept the presidential election in defeating Massa by a 12-point margin.
This was not your ordinary Latin American election. Argentina is a member of the Group of 20, a regional leader in the South American trade bloc Mercosur, part of the “lithium triangle” and a recent partner in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Globalist forces—from the International Monetary Fund’s $7.5 billion loan to Argentina this summer to communist China’s $6.5 billion yuan-based currency swap one month before the election—engaged in a failed effort to pump up Argentina’s economy to favor Massa.
Brazil’s leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, sent political advisers to Argentina. Socialist Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez voiced public support for Massa in the run-up to the election, as did Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who threw a temper tantrum on X after it was confirmed that Milei would be Argentina’s next president.
Milei’s victory thus wasn’t only against Massa. It was against elites worldwide who want to keep Argentina poor and on the path to socialism. The key to Milei’s victory should be a lesson for many conservative and classical liberal political leaders in the West, especially in America.
Milei had an underwhelming first round on Oct. 22 after a brutal competition with the other right-of-center presidential candidate, former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. Milei managed to eke out 30% of the vote in the first round, the same percentage he received in the August primary, but enough to surpass Bullrich, who received 23%.
That’s when Bullrich did what other center-right presidential candidates have failed to do in recent Latin American elections: She united with her political rival.
Bullrich wasn’t just making a statement of support for Milei, she was joining a full-court blitz by the robust political infrastructure of the center-right PRO political party led by Mauricio Macri, a former president of Argentina.
Leading figures in PRO took to the streets, social media, and the airwaves to rally around Milei and call out members of their own political coalition, namely in the Radical Civic Union, who put their political self-interest above the most important goal of any election—winning. Bullrich’s vice-presidential candidate and member of the Radical Civic Union, Luis Petri, was essential in clinching the support from the broader base of the Juntos por el Cambio (“Together for Change”) political coalition, despite opposition from his own political party.
It paid off, especially in Greater Buenos Aires, which is the most populous region of Argentina with about 28% of the voting electorate. In the first round, Massa won in 38 of the 40 municipalities that make up Greater Buenos Aires, and Milei did not win any. On Sunday, however, Massa won in just 24 municipalities, and Milei picked up 16 while gaining almost three times as many additional voters for the second round as Massa in Greater Buenos Aires.
A month ago, Milei did not win any of those municipalities in the first round, but Bullrich did, thus her support was critical to close the gap on Massa in the once-Peronist stronghold and key region for Massa’s electoral strategy.
In recent years, many radical leftist presidents in Latin America have risen to power by fracturing their political opponents, polarizing the political environment, and dividing the right-of-center political movements. Fortunately, Argentina was smart enough to learn this historical lesson from failed efforts by other conservative leaders in Latin America.
In Colombia, during the 2022 presidential election, the leading right-of-center political party Centro Democratico opted for more of the same with Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a failed presidential contender, rather than go with a rising star, Sen. Maria Fernanda Cabal. The year prior, in Chile’s 2021 presidential election, prominent libertarian-leaning figures fell into the trap of blaming populism or 1970s-era strongman Augusto Pinochet as the main enemies of freedom, instead of focusing on the Marxist candidate knocking on the door.
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro couldn’t get an ounce of political support from other so-called conservative presidents in South America, which allowed the Brazilian and international press to falsely label the now-former president as an autocrat.
The results are devastating. All these countries now face economic downturn and political turmoil while the leftist leaders in charge are aligning with the region’s worst criminalized, authoritarian regimes in Havana, Caracas, La Paz, and Managua.
Milei and Bullrich knew better. Despite criticisms from various corners of the libertarian community in Argentina, not to mention the international media, Milei knew that aligning with nationalist, populist forces from Spain, Brazil, and elsewhere would be essential to achieve victory.
As Milei put it in several interviews “If you are against socialism, then you are with me.” He signed the Madrid Charter sponsored by the Vox political party in Spain and the taxpayer pledge promoted by Americans for Tax Reform in the U.S. He spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference Mexico and Foro Madrid in Bogota, Colombia, while Vice President-elect Victoria Villarruel undertook a multitude of international events and trips.
Villarruel was another key to victory because she complements the new president-elect in areas that are not Milei’s strong suit; namely, national security. Villarruel is an alumna of U.S. Department of Defense programs at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington, D.C.; has studied how to counter transnational threats with security scholars from the Center for a Secure Free Society, which I head; and has a lengthy resume covering counterterrorism issues. Most importantly, she has built credibility with the country’s most coveted security institutions, the Argentine Armed Forces and the Federal Police.
Milei has a saying he often repeated throughout his campaign: “I’m here to wake up lions, not to shepherd sheep.” After Sunday, Argentina is full of lions who are ready to take their country back from the failed Peronist policies and crony-corruption of “Kirchnerismo” (so named for spouses Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who served consecutively as president of Argentina), which have destroyed their great country.
Milei has broken the socialists’ backs and just inserted a new political paradigm in Latin America: “¡Libertad!”
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