By Sigurd Neubauer
Dedicated to Eva Perón (1919-1952), also known as Evita, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina has been immortalized by the-one-and-only Madonna as the ballad is naturally associated with the South American country.
Evita was, of course, the first lady of Argentina whose husband, Juan Perón (1895-1974), served as President from 1946-1955 and again from October 1973 to his death in 1974. In 1955, his government was overthrown by the country’s military.
Perón is the founder of Argentina’s political movement Perónism, which remains the country’s de-facto ruling ideology to this day. The two main pillars of Perónism are Social Justice and the Social Welfare. While critics of this ideology have charged that it has bankrupted what was once one of the world’s wealthiest countries – which enjoyed an abundance of natural resources combined with a highly-educated population – it remains a resilient movement whose popularity within Argentina’s permanent bureaucracy is apparent.
On October 22, Argentinians will go to the polls to choose their next president. The election is a de-facto referendum on Perónism as Javier Milei, a member of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, has staked out his bid for the Casa Rosada by challenging its very legitimacy.
Milei, a self-styled Libertarian, has also gotten some traction in the United States after granting the American conservative commentator Tucker Carlson a wide-ranging interview on X (formerly Twitter) where he decried socialism and his country’s economic malaise. The interview has generated a staggering 421 million views. Milei has also been criticized by a large segment of America’s traditional news media, including by The Washington Post.
Milei faces off against Patricia Bullrich of the center-right/right PRO party – who previously served as Security Minister during the administration of Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) – and against Sergio Massa who represents the country’s ruling Justicialist Party, which promotes Perónism. Massa is presently serving as the country’s economy minister and is close to Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She previously served as President from 2007-2015, and before that as First Lady during the administration of her late-husband, Néstor Kirchner (1950-2010). He governed from 2003-2007.
Official portrait of Juan and Evita Perón by Numa Ayrinhac (1881-1951) in 1948
The election is a de-facto referendum on Perónism
“Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is Argentina’s most powerful politician even though she’s not on the ballot,” explains Adriana Camisar, a political analyst and attorney based in Salta, Argentina. Camisar has been B’nai B’rith International’s Special Advisor on Latin American and U.N. Affairs since 2008.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Who is he?
Milei is an economist, with a somewhat “eccentric” personality, and a politician. He is currently a member of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, and is also the presidential candidate who is leading the polls only weeks prior to the elections.
Milei defines himself as a “libertarian,” very much in the American sense of the term. He is against any government intervention in economic affairs, and advocates for the expansion of individual liberties. On social issues though, he is quite conservative.
He has aggressively campaigned against what he calls “the corrupt political class” and considers himself an “outsider,” even though some Argentinians challenge that claim.
Milei is strongly against the notion of “Social Justice,” an idea that has deep roots in Argentina’s Perónista tradition, and according to which people have certain economic and social rights that the state is obligated to meet, with public funds.
It’s quite unusual for a candidate with this type of ideology to become popular in Argentina. But he has been able to speak to a population that has grown tired of populist and corrupt politicians, and who worry about the deep economic crisis the country has submerged into.
Is it true that Javier Milei wants to convert to Orthodox Judaism?
Milei has repeatedly stated that he is an admirer of Jews and Judaism, and that he enjoys Torah study, even though he was raised Roman-Catholic. It was made public that he studies regularly with Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish, who heads an Orthodox Argentine-Moroccan Jewish congregation in Buenos Aires.
Milei said he would like to convert to Judaism, but explained that he cannot do it now because of his political aspirations. Some people in the Jewish community welcome his stated affinity towards Judaism while others have expressed concern.
Why is Milei controversial and who are his voters?
The candidate is controversial because of his personal style and views. It is not uncommon for him to make aggressive comments towards people who he disagrees with, including using language many consider to be unbecoming. Milei has, for example, referred to socialists as the “garbage” of society. Some Argentinians also believe that he is too far to the right; that he does not support the rights of minorities; and that his party is not fully respectful of democratic institutions.
When it comes to his voters, a big segment of them are young people from different economic and social backgrounds who have not experienced the country’s dictatorships. Consequently, they are not so worried about the health of the democratic institutions. They care more about the lack of opportunities and identify with Milei’s rage against the system.
What are the key issues facing Argentina today and what do people care about?
It is safe to say that the main issue Argentinians care about is the economy. Unfortunately, Argentinians are used to having a very unstable economy and chronic economic crises, accompanied by numerous currency devaluations. But the country’s current economic crisis has become extremely serious. Poverty has grown exponentially; the Argentine currency, the Argentine Peso, is losing value every day; the inflation rate is extremely high; and most Argentinians are having trouble making ends meet.
The second issue Argentines care the most about is security. In recent years, the crime rate has grown substantially, especially in the most densely populated areas where people no longer feel safe in their own homes; in their businesses; or going to school or work.
The third issue people strongly care about is corruption, which is of course related to the other two other topics. The average Argentinian has grown tired of seeing politicians becoming extremely wealthy from one day to another because they simply “steal” public money. People just want to restore moral values and the rule of law across the board.
Who is President Alberto Fernández and what does he stand for?
Alberto Fernandez is a very weak president. His vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was Argentina’s president from 2007-2015, always had more power than him. She selected him as the presidential candidate for her party in 2019; she’s remained the power behind-the-scenes ever since. Kirchner and Finance Minister Sergio Massa, who she groomed as her successor, are the two with the most power in the Fernandez-administration.
The Vice President considers herself a fateful representative of the Perónism ideology which is intertwined with social justice; nationalism; and economic protectionism: Camisar
Alberto Nisman scandal
Who is President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and what does she stand for?
Cristina Kirchner is a very powerful and skillful politician. And she is a highly divisive leader who inspires love from a sector of society and hate from another.
She considers herself a faithful representative of the Perónism ideology, which is intertwined with social justice; nationalism; and economic protectionism. She consistently highlights her commitment to protecting human rights. But her political career has been marred with corruption scandals as there are innumerable open judicial cases against her; and she has even been convicted of fraud and sentenced to six years in prison, in one of them. She has not served any prison time though.
One of the cases against Kirchner involves the highly controversial agreement that her administration signed with the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2013 to jointly “investigate” the 1994 bombing against the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires. This agreement was interpreted by many, including the late Federal Prosecutor Alberto Nisman (1963-2015) as an attempt to get impunity for the perpetrators of the terrorist attack in exchange for economic benefits. Let me note that Nisman was found dead in his apartment, a few days after accusing Kirchner of signing the agreement with Iran in order to favor the Iranians and at the expense of the victims.
Who are the voters of the Left and do they have a permanent majority within the state?
I would not say that the Left has a permanent majority within the state. I would say that Perónism has a permanent majority. But Perónism is a very complex movement, which has elements both from the Right and the Left. Argentina had, for example, Peronist presidents who were on the Right of the political spectrum. So, I would say that Perónism is a populist movement which has been able to adapt to different periods and different ideologies. Some analysts have even described Perónism as merely a system to retain power.
What’s the role of the Catholic Church, if any?
The vast majority of Argentina’s population are Roman-Catholic. Until 1994, the Argentine Constitution stated that the president could only be a Roman-Catholic, which underscores how powerful the Church has historically been in Argentina.Currently, there is more of a separation between State and Church, which has resulted in the reduced influence of the Church over time. While Pope Francis is a native of Argentina, some segments of the population are openly critical of him because they believe he has meddled into the country’s politics, especially by allowing a number of corrupt politicians to visit him. However, I believe that most Argentine Catholics feel close to the Pope.
Where do the candidates stand on foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel
Milei has repeatedly affirmed his affinity for both the U.S. and Israel, which are the two countries that he admires the most. If elected, he has even pledged to move Argentina’s Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
If elected, Bullrich is also expected to enjoy excellent relations with Washington and Jerusalem. She is a market-friendly candidate who is expected to prioritize Buenos Aires’ relationship with Washington. She opposed Kirchner’s 2013 agreement with Iran.
Massa is believed to be a little bit more market-friendly than the current government in which he serves. He is not particularly hostile towards either Washington or Jerusalem. However, if elected, he is expected to accommodate the interests of the many anti-American elements within his party.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Argentina was one of the world’s wealthiest countries with its abundance of natural resources combined with a highly-educated population