A decisive majority of Argentinian voters opted for trying something new when they elected Javier Milei to be the country’s next president.
Amid soaring inflation and rising poverty, Milei, a right-wing populist who promised a radical shakeup of the government, defeated incumbent economy minister Sergio Massa in a run-off election on Sunday with more than 55% of votes, the highest percentage a presidential candidate has received since Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983.
The 53-year-old lawmaker who has self-identified as a libertarian and “anarcho-capitalist” campaigned on slashing public spending, eliminating the central bank, and switching the nation’s currency from the Argentinian peso to the U.S. dollar, among other drastic economic measures. He also rallied against sex education in schools, pledged to curb abortion access, and rejected climate science as a socialist conspiracy.
But more than any of his policy proposals or platform details, Milei primarily came to be known throughout the turbulent election season as an eccentric. A former rock musician who once jammed in a Rolling Stones tribute band, the wild-haired Milei rose to prominence as a prolific economist and TV and radio commentator. On the campaign trail, he wielded a chainsaw on stage and smashed a piñata on air to symbolize his plans. He has made bold remarks ranging from calling Pope Francis a “filthy leftist” to hailing American gangster Al Capone as a “hero.”
Milei’s critics have often pointed to his outlandish behavior and bizarre pronouncements to argue his incompetency to rule—Argentinian journalist Juan Luis González’s unauthorized biography about Milei is entitled El Loco (The Madman)—but political observers say Milei’s election represents less a personal endorsement and more an outcry of frustration against the status quo. Local political consultant Lucas Romero told the Associated Press: “This is a triumph that is less due to Milei and his peculiarities and particularities and more to the demand for change.”
Read More: Argentina’s Bleak Election
Still, perhaps nothing has raised more questions about the President-elect’s mental acuity and fitness to lead than the widely-reported (and ridiculed) matter of whom he turns to for advice: Conan, Murray, Milton, Robert, and Lucas. They were the first people he thanked when he finished first in the country’s presidential primaries in August—except they’re not really people.
“Who else?” he said. “My four-legged children,” referring to his five dogs whom he has called “the best strategists.”
It all started when Milei adopted an English mastiff named Conan, a reference to the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian, in 2004. González, the Argentinian journalist and unofficial Milei biographer, wrote in the Buenos Aires Times that the pet became, in Milei’s words, his “true and greatest love” and that Milei came to see Conan as “literally his son.” Milei, who is never-married and childless, has credited the 200-pound dog with being his closest friend and confidante and sticking by his side through difficult and lonely times.
When Conan died in 2017, Milei reportedly visited a medium to communicate with his late beloved pet. It was in that telepathic conversation, Milei has said, that Conan relayed God’s mission for him to become President of Argentina. According to Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper, Milei believes that he and Conan first met in a previous life more than 2,000 years ago as a gladiator and lion in the Roman Colosseum and that the pair did not fight because they were destined to join forces in the future (which he believes was a prophecy of his animal-influenced presidential campaign).
In 2018, Milei went on to pay about $50,000, according to Reuters and the New York Times, to U.S. company PerPETuate to clone Conan using his DNA, something Milei had reportedly been planning to do for some time. The procedure resulted in five puppies, whom Milei named after the original Conan and the economists Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, and Robert Lucas. Milei regularly refers to the current clone Conan as his son—and doesn’t distinguish him from the original Conan—and the other four dogs as his “grandchildren.”
González and other Argentine news outlets have reported that Milei seeks counsel from his dogs on matters of his campaign, policy, and more. In an August interview with Spanish newspaper 20minutos, González said that Milei “is convinced that the dogs advise him in different areas: one in politics, another in economics, another gives him general advice.” González added that he is worried about such an “unstable leader” in an already “unstable” Argentina: “This man who would command the fate of the country wakes up each day, does medium sessions with the dogs, and then makes a decree based on that. It’s very shocking.”
When asked by The Economist in September about the reports of his unconventional canine cabinet, Milei didn’t deny it, responding with seeming pride: “What is it they say, that my dogs determine my strategies, yes? That they are like a strategic committee? They are the best strategic committee in the world. Tell me: when has an outsider-outsider achieved what we achieved in two years? If so, they are the best political analysts in the world.”
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