Javier Milei was inaugurated as president of Argentina Sunday after pledging to radically transform the country’s suffering economy, which has faced the worst downturn in two decades.
The 53-year-old economist and professor ran as part of La Libertad Avanza, a party that has been described as far right and ultra-liberal on economic issues.
At the December 10 ceremony, Milei was embraced by outgoing president Alberto Fernández as he donned the presidential sash.
He beamed as he addressed the crowd, waving and flashing a thumbs-up. In the inaugural book he scrawled ‘Long live freedom, damn it,’ which served as his rallying cry throughout the campaign.
At his side stood Vice President Victoria Villarruel, dressed in all white. She left her own inscription that read: ‘Everything for Argentina!’
Javier Milei was inaugurated as president of Argentina after pledging to fix the country’s suffering economy
The 53-year-old and his running mate, Victoria Villarruel (left) left messages in the inaugural book, with Milei writing his campaign slogan: ‘Long live freedom, damn it’
Crowds poured into the streets, waving Argentina flags. One attendee described Milei as ‘the last hope we have left’
During his presidential run, Milei vowed to dollarize the economy, slash the number of government ministries by more than half and shutter the central bank.
But in recent weeks he has backpedaled. Dollarizing and closing the central bank no longer appear to be his primary concerns; since the election he has focused largely on cutting the fiscal deficit.
‘There’s no money,’ Milei stated in previous interviews. ‘Fiscal balance is not up for discussion. Any minister who spends more, I will fire him.’
Argentina’s yearly inflation stands at 143 percent and rising while a recession looms. The country has undergone boom-bust cycles for decades with money printing to fund regular deficits continuously weakening the value of the peso.
Poverty stands at 40 percent and the central bank was left with virtually no reserves amid a drought that hit the country’s main cash crops, corn and soy.
Marcelo Altamira, a 72-year-old doctor, referred to Milei as ‘the last hope we have left.’ He added that the previously ruling Justicialist Party ‘had destroyed the country.’
Milei says it could take up to two years to tackle inflation. Amid the economic downturn, he seeks to mend ties with those he criticized, including important trade partners China and Brazil.
During his campaign, the author and radio host called Pope Francis ‘the representative of evil on earth,’ labelled China as an ‘assassin’ state and deemed Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a ‘communist.’
Milei was embraced by outgoing president Alberto Fernández as he donned the presidential sash
The radio host and author ran on a platform that pledged to dollarize the economy, slash the number of government ministries by more than half and shutter the central bank
Since winning the election, he has praised Francis as the ‘most important Argentine in history,’ invited Lula to the inauguration – an offer that was swiftly declined – and thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for his congratulations.
Voters have noticed the tone shift as well.
‘I think he will do well. For legal and Congressional reasons he’ll end up having to focus on more coherent things,’ said Laura Soto, 35, a restaurant worker in Buenos Aires.
She suspected some radical social ideas discussed during the campaign were unlikely to pan out, including easing regulation on guns and reopening the debate on abortion, which was legalized three years ago.
To fix the burgeoning economy, Milei has selected mainstream conservative Luis Caputo to head the economy ministry and named close ally Santiago Bausili as the central bank chief.
Analysts anticipate a sharp devaluation of the over-valued peso currency shortly after Milei assumes office. The new president is expected to provide a more detailed economic plan on Tuesday or Wednesday.
‘He gives us something, the people, not the politicians,’ said retiree Vilma Bonino, 73. ‘Now we need to see what happens.’
Prominent world leaders past and present attended Sunday’s inauguration, including Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Prominent figures in attendance included Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was seen at the inauguration, while ruling President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva turned down the offer to attend. Milei formerly referred to Lula da Silva as a ‘communist’
Missing from the ceremony was 45th President Donald Trump, for whom Milei previously expressed admiration. Two attendees were seen carrying a flag in support of Trump’s 2024 presidential run.
Last month, Trump posted a video address to Truth Social where he congratulated Milei for securing the nomination.
‘I am very proud of you,’ the former President said. ‘You will turn your country around and truly Make Argentina Great Again!’
Trump is not the only right-winger to voice support for Milei. Prominent figures like Ben Shapiro and Elon Musk have rallied behind Argentina’s newest head of state, praising his promises to tear down the establishment.
One senior U.S. official who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post sought to downplay the comparisons between Milei and Trump.
‘I’m not convinced that he knows Trump very well,’ the official said, adding he didn’t think Milei would be as pro-Trump if he knew him well. ‘Trump loves Russia and Putin. This guy does not like Russia or Putin.’
Milei has expressed support for Israel and Ukraine, starkly contrasting leftists like Lula da Silva and Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who have been skeptical of the U.S. position on those wars.
As the 53-year-old enters the presidency, he must garner the social and political support needed to implement sweeping reforms. This includes forming alliances in Congress, where he holds fewer than 15 percent of the seats in the lower house and fewer than 10 percent in the upper chamber.
On Monday, Milei is expected to unveil a bill promising tax simplification and the elimination of primary elections. Another issue expected to be on the table is the privatization of deficit-running state-owned enterprises.
‘Things aren’t in good shape currently and it seems to me that a change was necessary,’ said 22-year-old student Delfina Ortiz as she took a photo in front of Congress.
‘Obviously, like all change, there is a lot of hope and expectation for what is to come,’ she continued. ‘Hopefully it will be good.’