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Argentina’s wild president-elect makes calm first choice

Argentine President-elect Javier Milei reacts next to Vice-President-elect Victoria Villarruel, before the session of the legislative assembly at the National Congress, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 29, 2023.

Argentine President-elect Javier Milei reacts next to Vice-President-elect Victoria Villarruel, before the session of the legislative assembly at the National Congress, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 29, 2023.

REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Argentina’s eccentric, “anarcho-capitalist” president-elect Javier Milei made a surprisingly normal pick for his economy minister this week, tapping Luis Caputo — a former finance minister and one-time central bank chief — for the unenviable task of tackling an inflation rate above 140%.


Milei, you’ll recall, won the presidential runoff last week in a landslide, as Argentines fed up with years of economic crisis cast their lot with a chainsaw-wielding populist who has promised to close the central bank, dollarize the economy, and shutter almost all government ministries.

His radical proposals delighted voters but spooked investors, cratering the currency and deepening Argentina’s economic misery in the run-up to the election.

Tapping Caputo looks like a bid to calm markets a bit ahead of the inauguration next month. In that sense, Milei is following in a long tradition of incendiary populists — on the left and the right — who promise to burn down the system on the campaign trail, only to hire people from the fire department once they are in power.

Still, Milei, who won the presidency but has weak support in Congress, insists that his radical proposals are “non-negotiable.” It may just be a matter of time before — as in other populist administrations — the gap between what’s promised and what’s possible causes frustrations to boil over.

Spiritual interlude: Milei’s choice of finance minister wasn’t the only “orthodox” thing he did this week. The Catholic-born Milei, famously a fan of the Jews, prayed at the Brooklyn grave of renowned Hasidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and confirmed that he intends to convert to Judaism soon.

GZEROMEDIA

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