Argentinians stage nationwide strike against Javier Milei's far-right agenda – The Guardian


Tens of thousands of demonstrators are taking to the streets as schools and businesses close to protest the president's extreme legislation

Wed 24 Jan 2024 7.15pm GMT

Argentine protesters have shown their biggest resistance yet to Javier Milei's radical attempt to transform the South American country with a nationwide strike that closed schools and businesses, banned hundreds of flights and took tens of thousands of demonstrators to the streets.

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Milei, a boisterous celebrity economist nicknamed “El Loco” (the crazy one), became president in December and promised to use his libertarian ideas to free Argentina from decades of “decadence and decline.” Since then, the far-right politician has quickly implemented what former Ukip leader Nigel Farage recently described as “Thatcherism on steroids” – first with a sweeping emergency decree; then with a mega-reform bill known as the “omnibus bill.”

Taken together, Milei's decree and the bill propose hundreds of highly controversial innovations, including a wave of privatizations, drastic spending cuts, a significant expansion of presidential powers, and restrictions on workers' rights and the right to protest. Nine of the government's 18 ministries were closed, including those responsible for education, the environment and women, gender and diversity. Argentina's currency, the peso, was devalued by more than 50% against the dollar.

Milei claims such moves will save Argentina from the “economic hell” he attributes to his Peronist predecessors. But the torment has only increased since his inauguration. Monthly inflation reached 25.5% last month, compared with 12.8% in November. The annual inflation rate has reached its highest level in three decades at 211.4% – even higher than in Venezuela, a country suffering from a decades-long economic collapse.

People gather to protest during a general strike called by the General Confederation of Trade Unions (CGT) on January 24, 2024 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo: Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA

On Wednesday afternoon, thousands of objectors marched through the capital Buenos Aires and other major cities to express their anger over Milei's actions.

“We are fighting against the way the far right fundamentally seeks to eliminate our rights to exist at every level, from healthcare to work,” said Federica Baeza, an LGBTIQ+ activist and art curator, addressing Congress The crowd found the 12-hour strike beginning.

“What the ultra-right does not understand is that we live in an unequal world and that the state must take action to reverse this situation,” Baeza, 45, added.

Another protester, Ivana Uez, had brought her daughter with her, hoping to stop Milei from stripping her five-year-old of her rights. “It’s not just about posting pictures and comments on Instagram or Twitter. You have to come, you have to be there, you have to meet others [and] Look what other realities there are,” said Uez, 38, fearing that Milei’s “catastrophic” deregulation of the housing market would cause rents to skyrocket.

Nearby, an older man held a placard that read: “I am retired. I earn 106,000 pesos [about $84 a month]. I am starving. Milei [you’re a] Son of a bitch.” Union leader Hugo Yasky told local radio that the strike was directed against the “complete social insensitivity” of a government that has cut energy and transport subsidies.

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Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center's Latin America program, called the strike an early “shot across the bow” for the Milei government and bet it would be the first of many such mobilizations.

“This could be the start of a very turbulent period in Argentina as the government pushes forward with a radical reform program,” Gedan predicted. “The [economic] The pain we have seen is extraordinary… prices are rising rapidly. This is real pain with real social and political consequences.”

Lara Goyburu, a political scientist from the Red de Politólogas network, predicted that March and April could prove to be “very turbulent months” as costs for electricity bills, private health insurance and education rose and children went back to school, putting pressure on families elevated.

Milei's ministers showed defiance as workers laid down their weapons at the request of Argentina's largest union, the General Confederation of Labor.

“[The strike] confirms we are on the right track,” Foreign Minister Diana Mondino tweeted, claiming it was organized by millionaire oligarchs “with bulletproof cars and chauffeurs.”

Milei's hardline security minister Patricia Bullrich blamed “mafia trade unionists” for the strike. “No strike will stop us,” promised Bullrich, who had threatened to cut the wages of participating public sector workers.

Beyond his attempt to transform Argentina, Milei has in recent weeks cultivated his image as the darling of the global populist right, with considerable success.

Protesters in front of the Argentine Congress during a nationwide strike against Javier Milei's government in Buenos Aires on January 24, 2024. Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

During a viral speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Milei criticized the “harmful ideas” of “neo-Marxists” who were pushing the “bloodthirsty abortion agenda.”

Elon Musk tweeted a suggestive photo montage expressing his approval, while former US President Donald Trump claimed Milei was making progress in “making Argentina great again” despite inheriting “total chaos”.

Speaking to conservative news outlet Voz Media, Farage compared Milei's “exciting” plans to Margaret Thatcher's attempt to revive the British economy in the 1980s.

“Britain was in a state of terrible decline. The unions rule the country, high inflation, high unemployment, low growth. “We had become the sick man of Europe,” Farage claimed, praising the “extraordinary successes” that Thatcher’s “very painful medicine” had brought.

Milei was now doing exactly the same thing, Farage believed. “But he does it on a scale that few people can believe… This is Thatcherism on steroids.”

Polls suggest a majority of Argentines still support Milei's government. But as he addressed thousands of protesters at Congress on Wednesday afternoon, Pablo Moyano, the general secretary of Argentina's truck drivers' union, claimed that many were waking up.

“This is historic. “It is a huge mobilization just 45 days after the new government came to power,” Moyano said. “People are already making their voices heard.”


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