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Milei in the presidency: the politics of hunger

Milei will face several general strikes in the coming months. And as hunger grows, the president's positive image is falling: 54% of public opinion is negative.

The arrival of Javier Milei to the presidency of Argentina has shaken different sectors of society. Following the script of the international ultra-right, culture, science and universities have been prioritized for attack at the beginning of his government. Of course, precarization and the elimination of social rights are also guiding principles of these administrations. Multiplying hunger is the president’s policy option.

Milei’s hunger

Milei rose to fame in Argentina as a television interviewer, aggressive and polemic, with extreme ideas and violent programs. He became president by winning the second round, after negotiating with everything he rejected and denounced in his electoral campaign, being nicknamed the pampered kitten of economic power. Finally, a man with little repertoire quickly embraced the script of the far right: he reconfigured his discourse, focused on his objectives and reproduced methodologies that had been successful in other latitudes.

Freedom became the most pronounced word, typical of the far right. Milei’s concept of freedom is limited: ultra-individualistic and anti-communitarian. Thus, hunger is a result of meritocracy, without history or social or economic structures. Hunger is considered a weakness of the individual, solely responsible.

In these lines of thought, alien to social needs, charity is the way to address the problem. The meanings of food are different. It is a multiple concept that implies culture, work, health, identity, environment, geopolitics, collective, and love. Those who are hungry are denied all this. “He who is hungry is in a hurry,” says a Brazilian song. In his book “The Geography of Hunger”, written in the 1940s, Josué de Castro already problematized the issue by incorporating social, economic, and political relations. Hunger is a political option, with biological symptoms.

In the electoral campaign, in the government plan of his party, La Libertad Avanza, the word hunger appears only twice. Human rights appear 5 times (4 times as a negative reference); the word food appears 27 times, but in general, nothing to do with food, but in phrases such as feeding production. The word company appears 115 times and economy or economic 125 times. It is not too difficult to understand the place of rights and privileges in the private sector. Milei’s hunger, the only one he cares about, is hunger for profits.

The legal framework of the anti-hunger policy

As president, at the end of 2023, Milei had to deal with public policies in the area and legislative proposals. All of them impacted society, with consequences in people’s stomachs. Two days after taking office, Milei devalued the Argentine peso by more than 54%, triggering inflation. Cutting subsidies and suspending infrastructure works were also some of the first measures. As part of the legal framework, Milei presented the “Law of Bases and Principles for the Freedom of the Argentines”. This law, which contains 664 articles, is known as the Omnibus Law, due to the number of articles and changes it introduces in other laws. It also issued injunction 70/2023 “Bases for the reconstruction of the Argentine economy”, with 336 articles, as extensive as it is unconstitutional. None of these include policies to combat hunger or food insecurity. They would provoke large demonstrations and protests due to the depth of the cuts and adjustments. Repression was the response, applying Minister Patricia Bullrich’s new and deeply irregular security protocol.

On January 24, Milei would face his first General Strike against the Omnibus Law and the provisional measure 70/2023 on his own merits. The national mobilization had an effect and the law was rejected by the Parliament, due to the ineffectiveness of the ruling party, the lack of consensus, and its regressive content for human rights and democracy itself.  For its part, Provisional Measure 70/2023 has already suffered several setbacks in the courts, with the suspension of the labor reform and the annulment of six specific articles. And its fate seems to be a profound judicialization.

The implementation of the hunger policy

In February, the Minister of Human Capital, Sandra Pettovello, who is responsible for the transfers to the “soup kitchens”, approached the demonstrators who were demanding food in front of a public agency. The minister said: “Are the people hungry? I am going to attend one by one to the hungry people, not to the referents”. In the days following the minister’s speech, a huge queue of 30 blocks formed and made itself heard, denouncing the reduction of food aid to community restaurants. The Minister did not want to receive any of the protesters. Let us remember that the new Ministry of Human Capital incorporated six former ministries. In other words, it has everything, but nothing works.

The restructuring of the distribution of resources to soup kitchens is being targeted by the government, which accuses intermediaries of being the problem. Argentina is in a context of rising food prices, uncontrolled inflation, widespread hunger and massive increase in poverty. In this scenario, with the lack of distribution of resources, many of the soup kitchens are closing their doors. And with them closed, the pain and vertigo of hunger are expanding as public policy.

Well over five million people depend on food from these community spaces. In response, various social organizations and parties demonstrated on February 23 demanding the delivery of food.

According to research by the Catholic University of Argentina, approximately 57% of the population is on the poverty line. There are more than 45,000 soup kitchens that have not received food from the national government for months. The government is trying to change the system through the Tarjeta Alimentaria Program, which is insufficient in terms of the number of beneficiaries and the quality of the service. It has also signed agreements with Caritas Argentina, the Christian Alliance (which groups evangelical institutions), and other foundations, ignoring the importance and capillarity of the work of the different local and community social movements. It would seem that it is a question of what kind of intermediaries the government wants, rather than the intermediaries.

Hunger horizon

It seems that Milei will face several general strikes in the coming months. As hunger grows, Milei’s positive image is falling, while dissatisfaction with his performance as president is growing: 54% of public opinion is negative. Since Milei has been in office, various social conflicts are raging out of control. In this context, the Minister of Economy, Luis Caputo, has pointed out that: “the worst of the adjustment will be between March and April”. It would be good for Milei to start reading the Brazilian author Carolina de Jesus.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.

Autor

Cientista político. Profesor de Ciencias Políticas en la Universidad Federal Fluminense (UFF). Doctor en Ciencia Polítia por el Institutos de Esudios Sociales y Políticos de la Universidad del Estado de Río de Janeiro (IESP/UERJ).

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