Monday, March 4, 2024

ARGENTINA | 12-01-2024 16:58

Karina Milei: the most feared woman in Argentina's new libertarian government

Javier Milei’s sister is his gatekeeper and guard – she handles the president’s agenda and the cash. The collaborators she has expelled and those she holds in her sights. Karina Milei’s grudge against Victoria Villarruel and Fátima Florez. Her mystical connections and past as a baker. A look at the presidential chief-of-staff – the most feared woman in government.

The meeting was at the Hotel Libertador in downtown Buenos Aires. Javier Milei had already won the election and in a matter of days, he was set to be inaugurated as president. That is why a group of high-flying businesspeople – no more than a dozen in total – got together and asked for a meeting. They wanted to get a glimpse of the Argentina that was coming down the road. 

The talk didn’t go as the business leaders imagined it. The person who had just received the most votes in the election was seated in front of them in the hotel’s presidential suite. But he was offering no answers. To almost any topic at all. In fact, every time he opened his mouth, the libertarian gave a similar stock reply. 

“That’s all very well, but we need to talk it over with The Boss,” “That’s The Boss’s job,” “That’s up to the Boss." The business leaders, people who handle millions of dollars of business via their companies and pay the salaries of thousands of people, left the meeting feeling disconcerted.

The man who had set up the meeting approached Milei when the meeting was over, to say a few words in confidence before leaving. “Javier, I say this because I love you and respect you. You’re the President of Argentina. You can’t tell us you don’t make any decisions, that someone else is the boss. Otherwise no-one will take you seriously, you see? They’re going to want to meet the boss, not you,” he explained with the patience of a primary school teacher. 

The libertarian president-elect had one more surprise in store. With total seriousness written across the face, Milei said the problem was not him, but them. “You don’t understand,” he said. “She’s Moses.”

‘Moses’ is The Boss. And The Boss is Karina Milei, the most important person in Argentina’s brand-new government. 

Almost as much as her brother.

“Suppose you’re the next President. What position would your sister have?” journalist Eduardo Feinmann asked Milei in an April 2022 interview. 

“Whichever she wants,” responded the then-lawmaker chuckling. “Because deep down – I mean, I think she would be more of a First Lady. There’s a joke we make with her: that I did all this just to make her First Lady.”

A few things have changed ever since, such as, for instance, that the interviewee is indeed now the President and installed in the Casa Rosada. The position the economist had envisioned for her has also changed, although he’d said in several interviews that she’d have no formal role. Karina is no First Lady – she’s the general secretary to the President. 

That position, on paper, normally means that whoever holds it is a key personal assistant to the head of state. How many people know or could identify her predecessor in the post? 

Karina monopolises everything. And I mean everything. She is the person who never leaves Javier’s side. From attending Cabinet meetings with him (she is the first to read the papers her brother must later review), to going with him on his trip to Bahía Blanca, being by his side while he visited those injured by the storm. She is the one who reviewed the names and CVs of ministerial candidates, who gave some the thumbs down and others the thumbs up. 

She also commandeered the attack that barred such historical leaders from Milei’s La Libertad Avanza party as Ramiro Marra and Carolina Píparo from entering the government entirely (similar to a raid she led in mid-2022, when she threw out the founding group of La Libertad Avanza, consisting of, among others, Carlos Maslatón and Eduardo Prestofelippo, better known as ‘El Presto’).

These are merely a few examples. On the other hand, it is more difficult to see Karina’s hands in the government’s ideas or completed bills. There are a few: the raffle of Javier’s per diem salary each month when he was a deputy, the insistence on running for president in 2023 (when many within the space said, after the midterms, that first he needed to go for Buenos Aires City),Milei’s rockstar aesthetic – these are all her work.

However, Karina’s mark on the government and the space in general is more visible when one looks at what does not happen. Or more specifically, what she prevents from happening. She is, above all, her brother’s sentry. The one looking out for him, mistrusting and wary. She has a mission, which was quickly revealed to ministers: no-one in the government can dare compete with her brother’s exclusive stardom, which conveniently goes hand-in-hand with her own. Everyone else is a supporting actor.

Everyone who has been expelled from the space – for having a voice or their own career – knows this, even Interior Minister Guillermo Francos. During the last stretch of the campaign he raised his profile too much (which stood out thanks to his presence as a career politician as opposed to the rest of the space). Karina, the ever-present guard, reminded him that his was a very different task. Ever since then, Francos stopped showing up in public so much. 

“I’ve seen people who get nervous and stuck when they get to the Casa Rosada. But not Karina. She’s not afraid of power. She’s like a fish taking to water,” claimed a source with an office there. Another source said: “Karina has no enemies, because if you fight her, you’re out.” 

Vice-President Victoria Villarruel and Fátima Florez, Milei’s girlfriend, are among those on her watchlist.

There is another aspect in which Karina seeks to look after her brother. It is rather mundane, but it comes with the weight of the brutal force of biology: Milei’s double chin. The President has a sort of complex about that part of his body – hence the pose he uses for selfies. And that is why they also banned photographers from entering the congressional chamber on the day of his inauguration: from that place, from the angle, they can only take photos from below. 

The Boss if aware of this matter – as are all those around Milei – and that is why the mechanism to the publication an image of the chief executive is a well-oiled machine. The snap is taken, Karina sends it quickly to Eugenia Rolón – one of her trusted influencers with an office at Casa Rosada – who edits it and sends it back. The double chin is gone, thanks to the power of Photoshop.

Ever since political communication specialist Santiago Caputo introduced his uncle, former finance minister Luis Caputo, to Milei over a year ago, the relationship has grown. Today, ‘Toto’ is now the nation’s economy minister.

Prior to his election win, the libertarian had sought to feel out the ex-Mauricio Macri administration official and assess his take on joining a future government. Every time, he received the same answer: Caputo’s wife and children, who had suffered a lot due to their husband and father being in the limelight (including harassment at a few events which was never reported), did not want him to return to government. 

Karina proposed to her brother for all four of them to go to dinner. There Milei told the Caputo couple one of the most important phrases in his head, which, according to his beliefs, he got through a “channel of light”, opened up by his dead dog Conan with God. “Toto, you’re part of the mission, you’re a chosen one.” 

Although the phrase may sound grandiose, the truth is that ever since that dinner, Caputo’s wife never objected to the project again. Quite the contrary: she is now very excited about the government.

Even though it is merely an anecdote, the scene reflects the heart of the Milei siblings’ adventure. They believe God chose them, and everything they do stems from that idea: they are convinced that their life is part of a prophetic plan designed by a higher force, a mystical conviction to perform government tasks in the depth of their measures and projects. That is essential to understanding Karina’s power as well: she is The Boss not only because she is the only one who was by her brother’s side throughout a lonely and difficult life, but because she plays a central role in that mystical connection. She was the one who claimed she could talk to animals, both living and dead, the one communicating Milei with his dead dog.

According to Milei, she was chosen by God too. “I’m Aaron, the brother disseminating Moses’ ideas, but Kari is Moses,” he told Viviana Canosa in a famous interview with tears in his eyes. A curious piece of information: Aaron is also the name of Karina’s dog: “My nephew,” as the President calls the pup, who these days became famous after showing up at a programme with his owner hosted by Guido Kaczka in 2016. 

It is a singular blend of names, but it is not the only one. Milei also calls God “The Boss,” and he swears that he does not leave his house without a piece of paper in his pocket with those two words on it, to remind him constantly about the presence of He who gave him a divine mission – and She who assists it.

Therein lies Karina’s power. She was born out of the ins and outs of Milei’s difficult life, of his difficulty solving issues (unless they are economic, the area where he feels most comfortable), out of the mystical dimension, but also from his sister’s desire for stardom. 

Until a couple of years ago, Karina was selling cakes on social networks, reading tarot cards and communicating with dead animals. She struggled to make ends meet and Milei often gifted her part of his salary. 

While she has a degree in public relations from the UADE university, she has held no known jobs beyond her digital bakery and a company selling tyres, which their father established and which she later ran.

Now she concentrates the power of a government. She does it in a strange way, choosing fanaticism and opening up very little of the game. 

Many people in the ruling party point to one fact: it took one month for Karina to appoint her first female official for the government. She has no senators or deputies answering to her, except for Romina Diez from Santa Fe. Her only political terminal was spin doctor Carlos Kikuchi, whom she sacked two months ago. “Just like she screwed me, she’ll screw us all,” he afterwards told some 10 legislators from the space on that day as he stormed out of the Hotel Libertador. 

Kikuchi has put together a separate caucus in the Buenos Aires Province Senate.

“She wants to be the star. She has a parallel agenda, which is not just Milei’s. She likes stardom and money, too,” said one of the first people to be expelled from the space, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Karina Milei’s skills in her government position have yet to be seen. Fernando de Andreis, who held the same role during the Mauricio Macri years, is helping her with what he can and it would seem the woman is forging her first weapons. 

The Milei siblings’ move to the Olivos presidential residence was delayed but as of this week, they are now installed there. There wasn’t any hurry – The Boss was handling things.

related news
Juan Luis González

Juan Luis González

Periodista de política.


More in (in spanish)