BUENOS AIRES-Argentina’s President Javier Milei took office Monday with a stark warning to citizens to brace themselves for painful austerity measures as he seeks to cut spending and curb triple-digit inflation, all with empty coffers.
The 53-year-old libertarian addressed thousands of supporters from the steps of Congress, who waved flags and chanted “freedom!” and “chainsaw!” in reference to the power tool he carried around on the campaign trail to symbolize spending cuts. “There is no money,” said Milei, vowing to put an end to “decades of decadence” by his overspending predecessors who he said had left him “the worst inheritance” of any prior government. Latin America’s third-biggest economy is on its knees after decades of debt and financial mismanagement, with annual inflation at 140 percent and 40 percent of Argentines living in poverty. Milei said his election was a turning point in history like “the fall of the Berlin wall,” and that the only solution for the economy is “shock treatment.”
“We know that in the short term the situation will worsen. But then we will see the fruits of our efforts.” Milei -- a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” -- warned of spending cuts equivalent to five percent of gross domestic product in a country where millions receive welfare handouts and have become accustomed to hefty energy and transportation subsidies.
During his swearing in he received the presidential sash and baton, which was personalized with the faces of his five dogs -- cloned from the cells of a beloved, deceased mastiff -- carved into the handle
After his speech Milei made his way to the Casa Rosada (Pink House) presidential palace, waving to supporters and flanked by his sister Karina, his closest confidant and whom he has appointed secretary to the president. He again addressed the crowd as he appeared on the balcony, singing “I am the lion” and chanting his slogan “Long live freedom, damn it!” Earlier, Milei spoke briefly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the steps of Congress, and the two men shared a warm embrace.