"¡La casta tiene miedo!" – crowds in Buenos Aires cheered Javier Milei’s battle cry on Sunday night as the libertarian lawmaker was elected Argentina’s next president.
The 53-year-old economist’s railing against the political class convinced Argentines to elect him as president, with voters endorsing his disruptive proposal to lead the country out of the crisis.
"Freedom! Freedom!" chanted thousands of supporters who gathered at Milei’s party bunker at the Hotel Libertador and at the capital’s iconic downtown Obelisk after the result was announced in his favour.
"Enough of the impoverishing model of the [political] caste, today we return to embrace the model of freedom to be a world power," Milei said in his victory speech.
"Despite the bleakness of the situation, I want to tell you that Argentina has a future. That future exists, if that future is liberal", he added, before concluding with his trademark phrase: "Viva la libertad, carajo!"
Outside on the streets, amid flares and fireworks, a cheering crowd listened to his speech.
Matías Fasson, a 23-year-old publicist, was among them. He said he felt inspired: "It makes me feel that Argentina has a future," he said.
Both at the campaign headquarters and at the Obelisk, thousands of people raised Argentine flags and the others of yellow featuring the lion insignia symbolising Milei. They were onsale for “two dollars" – a nod to his dollarisation plan.
"I feel hope because it's a 180-degree change, especially because it's going to change the conversation. A lot of people empathised with his ideas of freedom," said Nicolás Herrera, a 30-year-old content editor.
Miguel Besnador, a 57-year-old refrigeration technician, was euphoric. He is convinced that Milei will solve the problems that burden Argentines.
"The dollarisation proposal can't be done immediately because we don't have the dollars and inflation won't come down in two days," he admitted, referring to 143 percent annual inflation and the 40 percent poverty rate.
"But sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to go up," he added.
An Argentina without Cristina
More than 55 percent of voters backed Milei’s promises of change against 44.3 percent for Economy Minister, Sergio Massa.
Argentines were on edge during a highly polarised campaign in which both sides felt that the future of the country was at stake because of the antagonistic nature of the two options.
Milei's vote removes from power the Kirchnerism of current vice-president and two-time former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which has dominated Argentine politics for the past 20 years, except for the interval in which the right-wing leader Mauricio Macri governed (2015-2019).
"Argentina without Cristina," "Cristina will go to jail" and "they should all go, not a single one of them," chanted the crowd outside Milei’s campaign headquarters with euphoria.
Amidst honking horns and trumpets was Sonia Dos Santos, a 36-year-old teacher.
"We were already living in a dictatorship disguised as a democracy where you couldn't choose; I want a free country," she said, referring to Peronism.
Pieces of a country
"Argentina is like that, when you least expect it, it embraces the tyrant. Then it cries," said Diego Avellaneda, a 55-year-old metalworker outside Massa’s bunkers, where supporters were crushed with despondency.
"We're going to be back in four years with everything in shambles and rebuilding the pieces of the country he's going to leave," weeped 20-year-old Camila Velaron.
Velaron went to the bunker with a group of friends, all wearing purple T-shirts with the slogan "Todes unides triunfaremos" (“We will all triumph together”) – a reference to the rights that feminist and LGBT groups feel are in danger under a Milei government.
Milei denies that there is a wage gap between men and women and rejects the consensus figure of 30,000 disappeared during the last dictatorship (1976-1983) established by human rights organisations, estimating the figure at less than a third of that.
Furthermore, he argues that climate change is not caused by human activity.
by Sonia Avalos & Tomás Viola, AFP