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At Argentina’s Presidential Debate, Far-Right Milei Got Slapped Down by Socialist Bregman

On Sunday, five candidates in Argentina’s presidential elections faced off on live TV. Socialist Myriam Bregman showed that far-right economist Javier Milei, who won a surprise victory in the primaries, was no “libertarian lion” — he’s a “cuddly kitten of the rich and powerful.”

Nathaniel Flakin

October 2, 2023
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Socialist presidential candidate Miriam Bregman at Argentina's presidential debates.

Argentinians are going to the polls on October 22. On Sunday evening, five presidential candidates faced off at a televised debate in the northwest city of Santiago del Estero. Millions of people followed the debate on TV, online streaming, and social media.

Sergio Massa is the candidate closest to the current governing Peronist coalition, which is now called the Union for the Homeland; Patricia Bullrich represents the right-wing coalition of former president Mauricio Macri. All eyes, however, were on the far-right candidate Javier Milei, who surprisingly won over 30 percent in the primary elections in August.

Milei is sometimes described as “ultra-liberal,” but the best term is really Trumpian — and not only because of his bizarre hair and his acerbic speaking style. Milei manages to combine extreme neoliberal proposals with attacks on the corrupt political “caste” that governs Argentina, regardless of whether a “center-left” or a “center-right” coalition is in power. With inflation out of control, millions of people in Argentina have seen their living standards erode under the Peronist government. Many are turning to a self-described “libertarian lion” who promises radical change. He celebrates “freedom” while also praising the dictatorship of 1976-1983 that killed more than 30,000 people. He blames the country’s problems on feminism, so he wants to re-criminalize abortion and stop sex education in schools.

Fortunately, there were not only bourgeois politicians on the stage. Myriam Bregman, a human rights lawyer who is the presidential candidate of the Workers Left Front — Unity (FIT-U), stood out with her green jacket, the color of the massive feminist movement that won abortion rights. In her opening remarks, she made clear that she is radically different than the other candidates:

Good evening. I am Myriam Bregman. I am a lawyer, I am a socialist, and I fight every day to transform this society at its roots. Today I have come here to ask you to not feel resigned. There is another way. Because we, the workers, are the vast majority. And if we unite, we have the strength to turn history on its head. We women have already shown that when we mobilize, we are unstoppable. Our country is going through a crisis, and certain people are responsible: the International Monetary Fund, the wealthy, and their politicians. Today you will hear them make campaign promises, even argue amongst themselves, but they are all involved in the “chocolate scandal”1The “chocolate scandal” is a corruption scandal centered on the Peronist operator Julio “Chocolate” Rigau. in the legislature of the Buenos Aires Province. While they starve the people, they go away on their luxury yachts to Europe. Far from that, we do not come to make campaign promises, we come to make a commitment to fight.

The most meme-worthy moment of the evening came when Bregman addressed Milei directly.

Milei got this far by speaking against “the caste.” He is not “the caste” but he makes alliances with [corrupt union boss] Barrionuevo. He is not “the caste” but he forms electoral lists together with Sergio Massa. He is not “the caste” but he has a vice-presidential candidate from the military caste. He is not “the caste” but he moved to a gated community like many of the politicians he criticizes. Milei is an employee of big businessmen. They have earned millions in the last few years, some living off the state, and they expect to earn more. Milei is not a lion — he’s a cuddly kitten of the wealthy and powerful.

All over the world, far-right politicians denounce the corruption of liberal elites. Trump won the U.S. presidency by promising to “drain the swamp.” Clinton had no response to this, because she has in fact taken countless millions from big capitalists. She has no interest in turning the accusation around, as this would mean admitting that both wings of bourgeois politics are corrupt.

Bregman, in contrast, has only ever taken a teacher’s salary. She lives in a workers’ neighborhood and sends her kids to public school. She can therefore respond to Milei’s demagoguery about “the caste,” pointing out that he is a corrupt capitalist politician like all the others.

Victoria Villarruel, Milei’s vice presidential candidate, is the scion of a family full of right-wing military officers. She has spent her career attempting to relativize the crimes of the dictatorship, and has written books accusing the Left of “terrorism,” leaving the military with no choice but to resort to mass murder.

Bregman, a human rights lawyer, is the mirror opposite: she has spent decades pursuing the mass murderers of the dictatorship, and even deposed Jorge Bergoglio, the current pope, about his role in the disappearance of critical priests.

In her closing remarks, Bregman stated:

As I said at the beginning, beyond some empty phrases, none of the candidates could hide the fact that they are all accomplices of the wealthy and powerful. You know that we are not, because our goal is to build a society without any kind of oppression or exploitation. You see us in every struggle. This October 22, let us show that there are lots of us who do not want to continue paying the IMF with the hunger of the people. Lots of us who do not want the workers to continue losing. We do not want them to continue destroying the planet because there is no Planet B. Women cannot keep waiting.

Do not feel resigned. Vote with your convictions. Let’s go with the Left, across the country, in the streets and in Congress.

“And one more thing,” she added, responding to Milei’s historical revisionism, “there were 30,000 people and it was a genocide.”

You might also be interested in: What if a Trotskyist Were Part of the Presidential Debate? (2019)

Bregman was on stage because socialists in Argentina have been organizing independently of all bourgeois parties. The Workers Left Front — Unity (FIT) is an alliance of four socialist groups with a class-struggle platform. They are using the elections to present socialist ideas to millions of workers and organize mobilizations against the International Monetary Fund and all capitalist politicians. 

And it’s been successful: Bregman was a trending topic on Twitter during the debate. Just one Tiktok video of her has two million views. A second presidential debate will take place on October 8, where Bregman can again show the possibilities of a program of class independence that fights the capitalists.

Notes

Notes
1 The “chocolate scandal” is a corruption scandal centered on the Peronist operator Julio “Chocolate” Rigau.
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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.

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