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Former President of Argentina Mauricio Macri declared populism a “global threat” and discussed Argentina’s far-right libertarian Javier G. Milei — the frontrunner to become Argentina’s next president — at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum Tuesday.
The forum, which recognized the 40th anniversary of Argentina’s established democracy, was moderated by professor of Latin American studies and Government Steven R. Levitsky and Alicia E. Yamin ’87, a senior fellow in Global Health and Rights at Harvard Law School.
Argentinians will head to the polls in under three weeks as the highly contested presidential race draws to a close. Milei currently holds the lead in national polls despite some political experts declaring him “a threat to democratic institutions and values,” according to Yamin.
“I believe in our democracy,” Macri said during the event. “At the same time, I rather prefer to talk about our skills and strengths to push ahead the changes — the huge changes — Argentina needs.”
During his own presidency, Macri acknowledged he felt “isolated” while commanding more than 4,000 staff members and facing opposition from 20 of the nation’s 24 governors. Navigating those two obstacles is where he says he sees Milei, who has the backing of no governors, coming short as a leader.
“What I really believe is the biggest risk that Milei represents is that he’s isolated,” Macri said.
“You must have experience leading a big team before leading a national team,” he added.
According to Yamin, Milei has been labeled as a “far-right populist,” “radical libertarian,” and “anarcho-capitalist,” but Macri said he believes Milei is propagating right-wing populism, which is sweeping over Latin America and the world.
“Maybe we are the country in which populism was created, and it’s going to be the first country to get rid of populism,” Macri said.
“And we had done a very successful export to the world, because now this is a global threat,” he added.
For Macri, the responsibility in combating the new wave of populism does not rest solely on governments and politicians. He said he believes the private sector is vital in preventing Argentina and other countries from becoming the next Venezuela.
“You end up in a system like in Venezuela, where they have been fighting against first Chávez, then Maduro, and then complete failure because he’s still there, destroying the lives of Venezuelans,” Macri said.
“It’s crucial the role of the private sector in this battle,” he added. “We need to fight for our values because it’s destroying the system.”
This presidential cycle, Milei has built momentum around a platform that proposes dollarizing the economy and abolishing the central bank in face of the nation’s dire fiscal situation. Macri, who opposes what he calls the “extreme proposal,” said Argentina requires “deep reform of our national budget.”
“The great challenge of Argentina is to get rid of the seventy years of the fiscal deficit,” Macri said.
“We need to cut the state expenses, reduce the oppressive presence of the state on our lives, deregulate the economy, and reduce the taxes, so we will receive real investment,” he added.
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