A new political group gains strength in Argentina, breaking the party polarization with aggressive and politically incorrect speeches. They are the libertarians, who reject both Kirchnerism, the predominant contemporary current of Peronism, on the left, and Macroism, which brings together center and right-wing forces in the Juntos coalition, led by former president Mauricio Macri.
For libertarians, Peronists are “communist garbage” and macrismo “cool populism”. The economy must be liberal, and security treated with hard-line strategies. Conservatism is also a strong trait of the group, although it does not apply to all agendas. Libertarians favor egalitarian marriage—”it’s a contract”—and drug legalization—”anyone has the right to kill themselves.”
However, the agreement with traditionally progressive themes, even if motivated by reasons that do not find an echo on the left, stops there. They are, for example, opposed to the feminist movement that pressured the government to legalize abortion, because they consider the practice criminal and advocated by “radical women who hate men”.
Still within the conservative package, they oppose quotas for minorities and do not accept a definition of gender other than biological sex. Nor do they agree with the state’s current human rights policy, which has condemned more than 800 acts of repression that took place during the military dictatorship (1976-1983).
Libertarians see lawsuits as partisan persecution and justice as a unilateral institution that does not judge guerrilla actions — Argentine law understands that human rights abuses committed by the state are not statute-barred, unlike those whose perpetrators were civilians.
The statements mentioned above were given by the main libertarian leader, economist Javier Milei, 50, known for the histrionic and radical profile that he exhibits in TV programs. Milei, who was a rock singer and goalkeeper for the Buenos Aires team Chacarita, usually walks disheveled and wears a leather jacket, characteristics that do not hide his political ambitions. First, he wants to be a deputy. Later, who knows, president.
At the launch of his candidacy for the legislative elections to be held on November 14, he delivered an eloquent speech to a crowded crowd in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The video of the occasion was republished by Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro. In it, Milei yells: “I didn’t get involved in this [na política] to guide lambs, I got into it to wake up lions! Live the fucking freedom!”.
Before, he needs to go through the primaries, on September 12th. For the candidacy to be approved, Milei needs at least 1.5% of the votes. The most recent survey, by Management & Fit, gives it 9%.
“Every time an ideological space is empty, it tends to be occupied by another group. The macrism has moved to the center, and the space of the right has been freed”, says political analyst Sergio Berensztein. “Although there are particularities of Argentine politics, the phenomenon can be compared with what happened with the PSDB migrating to the center and the Pocket regime occupying the place of the right, with a more radical discourse.”
For now, says the analyst, the one who is most likely to lose votes to libertarians is macrism, and that is why some leaders of that coalition are trying to get closer to Milei, such as former security minister Patricia Bullrich. Others, concerned with the group’s radical ideas, have been marking differences, like Macri himself.
The phenomenon is also benefiting from a rapid political attrition of President Alberto Fernández, who has lost eight percentage points of popularity in recent weeks — today, it is at 32% — due to the scandal of the photo of the first lady’s birthday in July 2020. On that occasion, while the Argentines were dealing with phase 1 of the plan to combat Covid, with a strict quarantine, Fernández and his wife, Fabíola Yañez, held a party to celebrate the date, in breach of the president’s own decree.
“The poor administration of the pandemic, poor economic performance and the split within Peronism have also been influencing this fall in the president’s popularity. The left wing of Kirchnerism, led by Cristina Kirchner, is increasingly dissatisfied with Fernández,” he says. Berensstein.
Libertarians have at their base young militants, usually between 15 and 23 years old, from the middle and upper classes. They wear T-shirts with Che Guevara’s face scratched and on the marches they shout “the communists are scared, we’re coming”. Convened through social networks, the acts, which have already had the presence of neo-Nazi groups, sometimes cause riots. Libertarians deny the link.
Gathered in student associations and militant organizations such as Pibes Libertarios and Nueva Derecha, they also find space in think tanks such as Fundación Idea or political parties such as Avanza Libertad, for which Milei will run for election. Several of the economist’s fellow runnings are very young, such as Delfina Ezeiza, 18, who says she is against “communist feminism that imposes rules of collective behavior” and who, in an antidemocratic stance, has already called for the return of the dictatorship to the country.
Libertarian youtuber Lilia Lemoine, in turn, says the group “likes to debate with arguments, to reason, while left-wing youths just repeat a memorized narrative they don’t understand and that breaks down when confronted with empirical data.”
On feminism, Lemoine says that Argentina “is dominated by gender ideology, going against biology.” “We are against these feminists who speak out by showing their breasts or their hairy armpits.” Another libertarian influencer, Álvaro Zicarelli, says the movement is against “having to think four times before saying something because any slip is read as xenophobia, misogyny or transphobia”.
For former presidential candidate José Luis Espert, 59, founder of Avanza Libertad, the group is formed by “children of a frustrated generation, who saw relatives lose companies, jobs and projects.” “Today, for them, to be revolutionary is to be liberal and against the Peronist model that dominated the last few decades.”
On the subtitle’s list there are also names that deny the repression imposed by the dictatorship in Argentina, such as Victoria Villarruel, who heads an organization that demands financial compensation from people she considers victims of guerrilla action during the military regime. She also militates against abortion.
For Myriam Bregman, a human rights lawyer and candidate for the Izquierda Front, libertarians “appropriated a revolutionary word such as the freedom to present the country with a retrograde project whose political execution can only be implemented by a dictatorial regime”. “You can’t be a defender of freedom if you go against the essential rights of women.”
In the November legislative election, Avanza Libertad, created in 2020, will be on the ballot for the first time. Earlier, when Espert, the founder of the acronym, ran for president in 2019, he got less than 2% of the valid votes, well behind Macri (40.3%) and the winner, Fernández (48.1%).