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Milei and Maduro, riders on a storm that’s coming from the south

The populist leaders of Argentina and Venezuela fly under the radar in the northern hemisphere, but the threat they pose is very real

Argentina’s newly elected president, Javier Milei, describes himself as an ‘anarchocapitalist’. Photo: Tomás Cuesta/Getty

As we focus our gaze and our horror on the likes of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan and Xi Jinping, we need to remember that these are just the northern hemisphere’s Really Bad Guys.

The southern hemisphere RBGs generally get downgraded; slip our collective minds; are brushed away in our haste to focus on our part of the globe. Where the power and action are.

So we believe.

But south of the equator, there are two men quickly grabbing the attention of northerners as a threat to our increasingly fragile, so-called world order. Yet we barely mention them.

This might be because the north has an English-language bias, and maybe because, well, below the equator, nothing occurs that truly threatens the balance of world power.

So we believe.

Now, Argentina and Venezuela may quite quickly emerge to help bring our focus a bit lower.

Take Argentina. For Britons, inextricably linked with Thatcher, the Falklands, with football through Diego Maradona and his Hand of God. Though Americans are learning to recognise Lionel Messi, most will have grown up only really knowing about the country through the magnificent aria Don’t Cry For Me Argentina in Evita, sung by the title character, the high-living wife of a dictator.

Argentina actually had plenty to cry about, not least the fact that it was known as the end of the “rat run” for escaping Nazis after the second world war. Many lived openly and happily there, leaving one Mossad agent to comment that you could look up some of the former SS in the phone book.

Which is what makes its new president, Javier Milei, a rather interesting person.

He is obsessed with Judaism, and not just the religion itself. But its mystical aspects. Although baptised Catholic, Milei claims that he has been a student of Judaism for many years. Some say that he has the classic personality of the fervent convert. Because Milei is all in for Israel, no questions asked.

Milei is not like the Millenarian Christians in the United States who support Israel because Armageddon is supposed to take place there, so everybody better be on the scene and ready for The Final Battle. He is entranced by the religion and its people.

For example, he’s already pledged to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite the disputed state of the city.

At a recent Hanukkah festival in Buenos Aires, he offered unambiguous support for Israel. Problems with the extreme right wing government that now leads Israel? No problem with the president of Argentina, who is reported to have stated that he knows the forces of heaven are with Israel.

Milei has stated that he got religion from a rabbi who represented the Moroccan Jewish community of Argentina. And if he – Milei – doesn’t convert to Judaism, he states that it’s not political but religious. He points out that his mother would have had to have been Jewish for him to be Jewish, and if he became Jewish then there were things that he would have to do that he did not relish: like keeping the Sabbath.

In other words, he is fervent and will not hear a word of even mild criticism of Israel in relation to Gaza.

However, recently there had been a slight tiff with Israel over Milei’s appointment of a man called Rodolfo Barra to government office. Barra, a former justice minister, was forced to resign in 1996 following revelations about his past in a violent neo-Nazi group. Problems there.

Milei is known for his outlandish style of dress, including his hair. Argentinians call him “The Wig”. The president is a self-described “anarchocapitalist” and in Argentina, Milei has stated that he is a “liberal-libertarian” who believes in applying deep pain to the currency, even suggesting getting rid of the Argentine peso and replacing it with the US dollar.

He admires the book of Exodus and praises Moses and Aaron’s confrontation with the Pharaoh as his kind of role model. The question is: who is Pharaoh?

He also discounts Keynesian economics, and would rather talk, instead, about the Stones and the Beatles. Above all, he denies claims that his five English mastiffs advise him on fiscal policy.

Next up is Venezuela and its leader, Nicolás Maduro. Recently, Venezuela and neighbouring Guyana have been back at it over a dispute involving an oil-rich piece of Guyanese land known by all as Guayana Esequiba.

Known by all except Maduro. He claims that it is Venezuelan.

The border dispute was inherited from the colonial powers of Great Britain and the Netherlands in relation to Guyana, and Spain in relation to Venezuela.

Guyana wants the matter to be resolved by the International Court of Justice. Maduro does not.

Venezuela’s claim is legally being called “long and lonely”, but its turmoil suits Maduro, who rules by decree. The Organization of American States has decreed his presidency to be illegitimate. Because to be president of Venezuela you have to have been born in Venezuela.

Some say that Maduro was actually born in Colombia, where his mother was born. If that’s true, well he can’t be president of Venezuela, can he? Tell that to Russia and China, who support him.

It  took Exxon Mobil’s discovery of a large oil reserve to get the Guyanese singing an old song: “I ain’t giving up no mountain, I ain’t giving up no sea, I ain’t giving up no river that belongs to me.”

So Maduro promised the Venezuelan people what he called a “consultative referendum” to support the country’s claim to Guayana Esequiba. In this, he follows the path of many a dictator: make the people not only feel that they are oppressed by “outside forces”, but that they are unique.

And there is Milei the Mystic. He, too, follows a well-worn tyrannical path: the Man directed by God Himself to Lead The People.

Whose own idiosyncrasies and disasters matter not a jot, because he Walks In The Light. And It Is Written.

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