It only took a day into his term as Argentina’s new president for Javier Milei to get rid of the Ministry of Culture. Milei was inaugurated on 10 December, and the following day, the boisterously libertarian economist and former television commentator fulfilled his campaign promise with typical bravado. Also on the chopping block—or, rather, in the path of his chainsaw, which Milei carried throughout his campaign to symbolise his intent to slash government spending—was the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity.
Several other ministries were downsized and recombined into new entities. The Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security will be pared down into a newly formed Ministry of Human Capital, headed by the former TV producer Sandra Pettovello. Meanwhile, the Ministries of Public Works, Transportation, Energy, Mining and Communications will merge into a new Ministry of Infrastructure. (It appears that the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity will be completely dissolved.)
Coming out on top after a runoff election against Argentina’s former economic minister Sergio Massa, Milei is eager to show his supporters that he is serious about austerity measures. The self-described “anarcho-capitalist” also made sweeping subsidy cuts for gas and electricity and cancelled public projects, deeming these actions necessary in order to get Argentina’s economy under control. In addition, Milei announced plans to devalue the Argentine peso to half its current value against the dollar in an effort to deter hyperinflation, a move applauded by the International Monetary Fund, to which Argentina owes more than $40bn. Prices in Argentina have more than doubled in the past year, and 40% of the population is living below the poverty line.
Although Milei’s actions are presented as economic policy, they are also a means of wielding control. An admirer of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro (the former presidents of the US and Brazil, respectively), Milei has a history of grandstanding, snubbing journalists and promoting ultra-right views on issues such as abortion, immigration, climate change and gun ownership. He also regularly attacks his political rivals, dubbing socialists “garbage” and “human excrement”. (Bolsonaro also did away with his country’s cultural ministry when he took office, and Trump congratulated Milei on his win by saying that he would “make Argentina great again”.)
Milei has called his own country’s Ministry of Education “the Ministry of Indoctrination”, and his disparaging view of the arts and humanities extends to history—publicly doubting the number of people killed and disappeared by Argentina’s 1970s military junta and mocking human rights workers. Milei’s vice president, Victoria Villarruel, is a regular apologist for the junta, going so far as to stage a tribute to the “victims” of 1970s leftist groups in September and calling for the dismantling of the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory in Buenos Aires, a former junta prison and torture centre recently named a Unesco World Heritage Site.