Transcribe your podcast

Hello and welcome to this podcast from the BBC World Service. Please let us know what you think and tell other people about us on social media. Podcasts from the BBC World Service are supported by advertising.


Hello, I'm Katja Adler from the BBC World Service. This is The Global Story. Our mission is to give you fresh, smart takes on the stories that matter. We focus on one story in detail, Monday to Friday, with the help of the BBC's best journalists. Today, Javier Millay, he's being sworn in as President on Sunday, taking over Latin America's third largest economy. His critics call him El loco, the madman.


. You, politicians, should start quaking in your boots.


Go on, keep.


On lying to the people you bunch of criminals and thieves.


He's an anti-establishment politician. Yep, another one. Millé wants to ditch the Pedro for the US dollar, loosen gun laws, and abolish abortion. But how will his policies and positions face the test of reality? Our question today, how radical will Argentina's Javier Millé actually be? For this episode of The Global Story, we've called up the BBC's South America correspondent Katie Watson and Luis Fajardo from BBC Monitoring, who is in Miami for us. Hello to both of you.


Hello. Hi there. Hello.


We need to understand who Javier Millé is to understand how this outsider scored an election victory, or many would say upset, in Argentina, which is the eighth largest country in the world, Katie. You're about to move to Sydney, actually, for your new role as BBC Australia correspondent. But you've been in South America for 10 years. Tell us about Javier Millay. Who is he and how did he get to this position, the top job in the country?


He's a trained economist. He was a punter on the radio. He'd often host programs. He's taught at university. He's been a chief economist in the private sector. He got elected in Buenos Aires City two years ago, and that's helped him climb to the top very quickly politically, which is what we've seen now, is this fast ascent to the top of Argentinean politics.


If we zoom in now on Javier Millet himself, Katie and Luis, I'd like you to choose, please, three adjectives that would best describe him. We'll go into why in a second. First of all, you, Katie.


Outsider. Very much an outsider. A wild card and extreme.


Interesting. Luis?


Well, I'd say Javier Millet is angry. More than anything else, he's angry. He reflects that feeling. He's a rule breaker, certainly. And he's nostalgic.


Nostologic. Interesting. Nostologic for what exactly? Because Argentinians have had a rough ride economically and socially for decades. It's been a real roller coaster, hasn't it?


What he often says is that he, of course, wants to change things, but he wants to take things back to an idealized past of Argentina. Of course, many populist leaders in the world are promising to make their country great again. But Argentina, you have to remember, a century ago, was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. There's few countries in modern times that have experienced such a substantial drop in their economic standing. A big part of Millet's attractive, I think, is to promise that he has what he believes are relatively simple formulas to get back Argentina to where it was to this position of greatness he often refers to.


We'll have a look in detail at what his recipe might be like, the proposals he has for making Argentina great again, to echo what you were saying there, Luis. But first of all, the man himself, he stands out.


Doesn't he? Yes, certainly. He's not a generic image of a politician. Since very young, he's been used to being in dramatic scenes in front of audiences. He was a goalkeeper for an Argentinean professional football team. And when he started his career as a pundit, as a talking head in TV talk shows, he was often very popular because of his very unusual positions and he was not afraid to say them, and to also refer to the things he was against not being afraid at all at using very, very colorful language, very, very insulting languages at some times.


And he seems to have found it hard to let go of his pet dog and has somehow cloned it, is that right? And talks to the clone or clones's?


He has said that he talks to his dead dog, which he says he holds in great esteem. It is not the only thing he has said that has startled many Argentinans. In one famous TV appearance, he said he was hearing voices. But the thing is that many people in Argentina are willing to not focus on this, but instead of focusing on the promise he makes to change completely the political scenario in Argentina and attacking the caste, the traditional political elite, which he blames for all these problems in Argentina.


It's very fair, Luis, to point that out to me because, of course, it's easy for journalists like me outside Argentina to get distracted by the colorful detail. I think he's cloned his dead dog several times and given the clones names of various economists. But absolutely, people in Argentina want change. Just explain to us why they might want change so much.


Well, for years there's been high inflation in Argentina, but it's got to a really difficult point. It's around 150% annual inflation, about four in 10 Argentinians live in povertyover tea. It's got particularly bad since COVID. There's been a drought. And so in terms of crops, it's been much more difficult. There have been so many external shocks as well as its own problems. It's just made the situation so much worse for Argentinians. They do overlook some of the more wacky comments that he's made and worrying comments as well. Those who voted for him, they're cherry-picking what they want because they just think that economically, he might be able to fix it. Nothing's worked before. It's not that the politicians and leaders have not tried to make things better. It's that nothing has worked. And so throwing random and very extreme policies in the campaign, people are like, Fine, whatever.


Let's go for it.


Exactly. And again, this is a country with a solid, educated middle class which finds this particularly humiliating. There's also an incredibly complicated foreign exchange system. There's literally dozens of different exchange rates, which makes it also all kinds of business activities complicated. People do not trust the currency at all. Sometimes when they are buying their family house, they arrive at the place where they're buying it with actual cash because they don't trust the financial system. So there's all kinds of extreme complications in everyday life that make it clear for Argentinians that their economy is not working.


They've learned from the past, haven't they, that they don't trust the banks if they have a look at terrible hyperinflation in the past. I remember this from when I was living in Spain for the BBC as well, older generations would hide money under their mattress, which is something that we see in Argentina as well. Those might be older generations that remember that. What about for the youth, Luis? How did they experience Argentina? How do they live? What are their expectations?


Argentinean youth are facing a particularly hard time because of the economic slowdown. Official data is sometimes difficult to get and even to trust sometimes, but it is clear that they have very high levels of unemployment. People in the slums that have grown around many of Argentina's main cities, they don't have a lot to look forward to. It is no surprise that many of them have chosen to vote for Javier Millay.


Let's see how he got to the attention of the voters, because Javier Millay is a political outsider. In Argentina, Katie, you have something called Pereonismo. There are these established political parties, almost ideologies by now, Pereonismo, and that normally dominate political debate. He had to break his way in.


Yeah, so Peronismo is more than a political movement. I think it's an ideology. It's something that's really in the blood of so many Argentinians. Juan Peron, who started it, his wife, Evita, who many people probably know, the concept of helping the poor of government spending to make sure that those people were looked after, the populist approach, that's something that is still very much a big part of Argentina. A lot of people, if you're in Buenos Aires, you can see a Vita on some of the big buildings, you can see Pernest politicians are painted in many neighborhoods. But it's also very tricky because it's not left, it's not necessarily right. I mean, it traditionally was left, but then there was also a right leader who was also a Permanist. And then in the last few years, and this is something that I think has helped Millay, there's been Kirschnerism. So Nestor Kirschner and his wife, who was also President Christina Ferrande Kirschner, they created a splinter group, if you like, that not everybody in Permanism agreed with. It was a very left-wing, populist, Permanism branch. And that's something that Millay has really criticized, this high government spending, this populist approach.


People are obsessed with Kirschnerism and Pernism, and actually, Argentina needs something completely new. But at the same time, it's just a departure, a swing to the right, but a very big swing to something completely different that Argentina is not historically linked to.


But to swing anywhere, Javier Millay had to get himself known. One way that he did that was through TikTok, Louise.


That's right. Javier Millay initially appeared in Argentinean living rooms on the TV, but he realized soon that if he moved to social media, that would be a particularly appropriate medium for what he was trying to convey. Argentinians have a word bronca, which is anger, like simmering, intense, concentrated anger. And for example, TikTok videos are particularly suited to show dramatic moves by the candidate saying he was going to, for example, with a chainsaw, appearing with a chainsaw, saying he was going to use this chainsaw to destroy corruption in Argentina, and to do these dramatic moves that create a lot of emotion for a few seconds, and then you do not have to explain actually how you're going to do it. So this was particularly efficient for him. And these social media moves were extremely, extremely successful and helpful for his campaign. In Millay, in a very unusual move for an Argentinean politician, he did not criss-cross the country. As Katie was saying, he was facing a very strong structured political organization such as the Peronist. The way he did it was mainly distributing through social media his message. That way, he won in many provinces which he had never visited as a candidate.


And these were often not even produced by his staff, they were distributed by many accounts that had turned out to have millions of followers in some cases, even more than the official Javier Millay account. So he realized the power of social media. He was not the first one in Latin America to realize this. It is said that, for example, Bolsonaro had used WhatsApp to distribute messages when he was elected President a few years ago. But Millay was particularly good at focusing at TikTok, at this shortpowerful videos with short, simple messages. And that is what a lot of Argentinians wanted to hear, very simple emotional responses to their problems. And in that sense, it was very effective and very useful for him.


Katie, you met his TikTok guru, didn't you?


I did. Iñaki Guterres, he's a 22-year-old economics and politics student. He basically took this to Millay saying, You know what? I think you need to go on TikTok. He tried to convince Millay that this was the way forward. And so he's worked with him. And he's one of several young Argentinians who have helped the campaign on social media. And this is something that I think resonated with a lot of Argentinians, is doing it on TikTok was much cheaper than doing these campaign events and being on the streets of Buenos Aires. His presence on the streets of the city, his posters and campaign posters was practically nil. It's all on the phone.


Someone else who's been helping Javier Millay cultivate his image or sell himself on the political stage in Argentina, is his sister, Luis. How instrumental was she in his success and how important does she remain going forward?


Well, some people call her El Jefe, which translated literally the boss, and on purpose they used the masculine version of this. She is said to have, as you mentioned, a very powerful influence in Milan, a man who doesn't have a traditional family structure around him. He is single. The role of first lady, if you want to call it that way, some people would suggest that perhaps his sister would fulfill that, but in a much more powerful way to the traditional role they have played in Argentinean politics. She was one of the few people he went out of his way to thank when he got elected, and he has repeatedly said she is going to be a very trusted and important adviser. So yes, a lot of people are trying to understand what does she think and how is she going to influence Millay's government.


Do stay with and with Katie because we want to have a look at the promises that Javier Millie made leading up to his electoral victory and how many of those promises he and perhaps also his sister are going to make sure they can keep once he's inauguredand evaluated. This is the global story from the BBC World Service. I'm Katia Adler. We tell one story in detail five days a week. Subscribe or follow us wherever you listen. Javier Mele will be sworn in as Argentina's new President. I'm with the BBC South America correspondent Katie Watson, and Louis Fajardo from BBC Monitoring. After all the radical pre-election pledges and promises, what will Javier Meley's presidency actually look like? Katie, first of all, I'm going to be a bit mean here—90 seconds to sum up his political promises? And there was a lot of them.


I think the top of it was taking the dollar and making that the official currency. There was blowing up the central bank as one of the campaign promises, criminalizing abortion, eradicating, getting rid of the Environment Ministry, Education Ministry, and ripping up the structure of the government, cutting spending, which is why we saw him with the chainsaw showing he was going to slash government spending, getting rid or rather not wanting to work with the likes of China and Brazil because of their communist leaders, and I say that inverted commas, those are the top lines.


There were some, again, when we talk about headlines, selling organs officially, getting rid of abortion, that was a big one that caught attention also outside Argentina. How likely is he to focus in on those?


Well, abortion, I think, it will be very hard for him because Argentina was seen as... I mean, it was in 2020 that they legalized abortion, and it's seen as a game-changer in the region, a leader in the region. Other parts of South America, Latin America, have looked to Argentina to be able to liberalize laws on reproduction. So that would have to go through Congress. He doesn't have a majority in Congress, so I think that would be very, very hard. But certainly that's something that obviously his supporters love and his critics, alarm bells sound, but it's certainly one that gets people talking.


What's really worrying the markets, if you like, is his threat to smash the central bank.


Yes, he's used many strong images. He talks about blowing the Central Bank and he just also talks about breaking the institutions of Argentina, which he blames for the problems of his country. The first thing we have to understand is that the state is not the solution. The state is the problem. Ministry of tourism and sports, gone. Ministry of culture, gone.


Ministry of.


Environment and.




Gone. Ministry of women and gender and diversity, gone. Of course, many people suggest trying to do this in reality will be much more difficult than his social media inspired images that trying to move to a dollarized economy would cause a lot of economic pain, particularly for Argentina's poorest. So it is not that clear that he would be able to do it. Other Latin American countries have indeed dollarized their economy. For example, El Salvador, for example, Ecuador, but they are much, much smaller economies than Argentina. Argentina is a mid-sized economy. And again, they say that the economic and the social cost of this would be substantial.


And Millet would also, even if he decides to go ahead with this, and you never really know once someone's in their seat of power and government what they actually will do. But he can't just do this by presidential decree, can he?


He wouldn't. Actually, for some of the things he's proposing, he would need an actual constitutional reform. And Javier Millay, as often as the case with these outsiders, his political movement is built around himself, not around a bigger political structure. So he has a very small representation in Congress. Also, Argentina is a federal government, a federal system of government in which provincial governors have substantial power. And Millay doesn't have governors on his side. So it's very difficult to try to imagine how he would be able to get these reforms passed once he actually gets down to try to do it.


Katie, how would you judge the people of Argentina on this? Because it's one thing to vote for change, but it's quite another to actually vote for the reforms that Millay is proposing.


I think there were people who voted against Perinism and Serge Kiel Massa, and there are other people who voted for Javier Millay. I think those two elements, if you like, saw why we saw so much success. He had these quite extreme policies, but since he's won, he's toned it down slightly.


He's compared to Donald Trump a lot, and you can see why in some of his proposals when he wanted to become President. But he's also specifically said that he admires Margaret Thatcher. I'm wondering because there was something similar that happened in Italy's election last autumn, where you had Giorgia Milani, who's now Italy's Prime Minister, who comes from a party with post-fascist roots, and there was a lot of alarmism and big headlines about what direction she might take Italy in. She also cited Margaret Thatcher as her inspiration and has, in fact, and in government, been much more to the right of center than to the far right, at least according to many of her critics. Could that be what we might be looking at in Argentina? Luis?


Yes, that is one of the possibilities that are opening up. There's a lot being said about how Mauricio Macri, the former president, and definitely a member of the Argentinean establishment that there was ever one, he backed Javier Millay strongly. They are suggesting maybe the influence of Macri and his group will moderate Millay once he realizes he needs to govern. The mention you make of Margaret Thatcher is particularly interesting in the Argentinean context. Of course, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of the UK during the Falklands War, which Argentina lost. It was even more shocking for many Argentinans that Javier Millay would suggest that Margaret Thatcher was one of his inspirations. Again, other people saw it as anas one more example of someone who was not afraid to go against conventions, against the traditional political protocol, to say what he felt, I guess.


We've tried to assess whether Javier Millay will be as radical as President as he promised to be in his election campaign. I'm wondering, can we glean any clues from the guest list from who Javier-Mollet chose to invite to his inauguration and when he invited them? Because Lula da Silva, I believe, for example, was a bit of a last-minute edition?


Yes, there have been slightly awkward protocol situations with several Latin American heads of state. Several of them have very different orientations to Javier Millay in terms of foreign policy. In general, many of the Latin American presidents selected in recent years have been trying to move to the left and make their distances felt particularly from the US, while Javier Millay has said that his two indispensable countries for Argentina are the United States and Israel. This has been reflected in the back and forth around his inauguration. For example, the President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, who's a leftist President and very critical of the United States. He has been criticized in his country for spending a lot of time abroad, going to all these events, but he's pointedly said that he's not still sure if he's going to attend the Mollie's inauguration. There's clearly some frictions in the neighborhood about the position that Millay says he's going to take. Again, as Katie says, this was his position before his election, and now faced with the realities of China becoming an indispensable economic partner for them and other political and economic realities he might eventually shift. But right now that is.


The situation. I wonder, Luis, you mentioned about Javier Millay attaching big importance to his relationship with the United States, for example. How good that relationship will be will depend, one assumes, on what happens in the US presidential election next year. Donald Trump is presumed to be the one who'll run for the Republican Party. Relationships then would be different to if Joe Biden wins again.


Certainly, Donald Trump congratulated Javier Millay when he was elected President. Clearly, Donald Trump would seem to sympathize with many of Millay's positions of bringing greatness back to Argentina. He would certainly, I think, like Millay's very, very clear expressions of devotions toward the United States, towards Israel, and his strong denunciation of what he considers communist regimes in the region, which in reality are left-wing or sometimes center-left governments in the region, but he has denounced them as quote-unquote, communist. In that sense, perhaps he would find a lot in common with Donald Trump presidency. However, not all of his policies are completely aligned certainly in economic terms. Millie is more in favor of free trade of a government and the state basically leaving the economy alone, while of course, Donald Trump stands for a brand of economic nationalists, and so if that would present some problems in economic relations between Argentina and the US, well, maybe. I think that given his controversial statements about the military's past record on human rights and the whole issue of the disappear that Katie had referred to, that might cause more problems, more diplomatic difficulties with a hypothetical democratic government, a government run by Democrats in the US after the next election.


Since we've the hypothesized about which one of his electoral pledges might actually become realities, how long will he have to do it? Katie, do you think he will last a full presidential term, for example?


If the situation gets worse, the situation will get worse for him, and that will soon tell us whether he can stick the four years. Argentinians are struggling more than they ever have been. People are giving up on things getting better. So if things don't get better, but even more importantly, if things get worse, that's when we'll see probably more instability and there's a real concern that that could spark unrest and that thing. But at the moment, it's just anybody's guess exactly which path he's going to take.


Louise, finally, if I could just come back to you on the people of Argentina, how would you describe how Argentinians are feeling now that Xavier Millet is about just that he's poised tobe to become their President on Sunday? When Donald Trump was elected, when Boltonar was elected, their countries became extremely polarized. How is Argentina looking right now and feeling?


Argentina was very polarized to begin with. I think it's even more now. And the fact is that I think that the substantial amount of Argentinans who did not vote for Millay feel absolutely horrified with their country, and they're not afraid to express it. Intellectually, intellectuals like Martín Caparros, a very famous Argentine intellectual, wrote saying he didn't even recognize his country anymore. He couldn't understand how his country would vote for someone like Millay. Of course, the majority of Argentines who did vote for Millay do have an expectation for very fast change, for very fast improvement. Many of them, as we've said before, did not vote so much for Millay, but against the entire system, against the political corruption that characterized Argentina, against decline, and they have given Millay a short window of opportunity to prove that he can reverse this. It is not clear how long it will be, and I fear it's not going to be very long.


Luis, thank you. You'll continue to be watching that closely for us. Katie, it was a great pleasure to chat to you, and good luck in your new job. We'll be chatting to you next from Australia.


Thank you. Thank you very much. My pleasure. And to.


You, thanks for listening. What's your take on Argentina's new President, Javier Meylet? We'd love to hear. Are you hopeful, worried? Do you think his critics are too quick to dismiss him? Email us at theglobalstory@bc. Com. You could message us or, better still, you can leave us a voice note on WhatsApp on plus 4.4, 3.0, 1.2. We'd love to hear from you and put you on our program. Some of the episodes we'll be covering soon include an assessment of the Me Too movement and a look at Donald Trump's legal strategy. Wherever you are in the world, from me and the Global Story team, goodbye.