Retour sur l’éditorial : Argentina’s electoral crossroads: far-right or centrist, but no environmental justice | Global development


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La date de publication est 2023-11-18 02:00:00.

“The environmental problem can be solved through the distribution of property rights,” says Bertie Benegas Lynch, a newly elected MP for the far-right party La Libertad Avanza in Argentina. “Why are whales on the brink of extinction while chickens or cows are not? The difference lies in the fence that protects them. When there’s an owner, there’s economical use, and this protects the fauna.”

Lynch is a prominent supporter of Argentina’s far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei, a staunch advocate of privatisation of environmental assets. If the self-proclaimed “libertarian” candidate Milei wins the second round of the presidential election in Argentina on Sunday, Lynch will be among many with such views in his government.

About 35.4 million Argentine citizens are eligible to vote in this weekend’s elections. Milei is standing against the incumbent economy minister, Sergio Massa. Despite differing profiles and policies, they have in common a lack of attention to the region’s most environmental pressing issues: the protection of Indigenous peoples, the climate crisis, renewable energy and the promotion of more sustainable agricultural and livestock practices.

As Lynch puts it: “Are we going to pass a law to protect an African mosquito from extinction? It doesn’t make sense. Species extinction occurs every day and is a natural process.”

Javier Milei brandishes a chainsaw during a rally in La Plata, Argentina.
Javier Milei brandishes a chainsaw during a rally in La Plata, Argentina. Photograph: Natacha Pisarenko/AP

In that sense he is in lockstep with Milei, the “Argentine Trump”, who has adopted an extreme stance, vowing to disengage Argentina from the Paris climate agreement, adopted in 2015. His circle often makes aggressive statements around environmental issues, views shared by his supporters, for whom the expansion of agriculture and mining is more important than the impacts of deforestation, and who say the question of who is truly Indigenous – and so have specific rights – is controversial.

When first elected as an MP in 2021, Milei said the climate crisis was a lie invented by the left. Today, he says: “There is a cyclical behaviour of temperatures in the Earth’s history. Thus, all these policies blaming humans for climate change are false and only serve to raise funds to finance lazy socialists.”

In one presidential debate, Milei said he would not take political measures to tackle the climate crisis and would not stick to the Paris agreement agenda “as we do not subscribe to Marxism and decay”.

In recent weeks, people more usually linked to science and education, as well as children of the “disappeared” – as the victims of the Jorge Videla dictatorship of the late 1970s are known – have been coming out to campaign against Milei.

Followers of Milei wait for him in Cordoba.
Followers of Milei wait for him in Cordoba. Photograph: Daniel Bustos/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

“I studied medicine at the public University of Buenos Aires [which Milei intends to privatise], where I was a professor until I retired,” said one man, out leafleting on public transport in the capital. “Do not let them privatise everything we have built – in education, science and human rights. Remember that Argentina has three Nobel prizes in science.” A video of the man’s argument has been widely circulating on social networks.

Milei promises to privatise the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (Conicet), a state institution founded in 1958 that brings together 300 institutes and thousands of researchers. It is a leading academic establishment in a country that spends 0.5% of its GDP on research and development.

Massa, a pragmatic lawyer with a long political career, is a moderate and leads a much-criticised centre-left ministry of the economy. However, he has also refused to put environmental policies at the heart of his plans.

Sergio Massa poses with students of the Carlos Pellegini school in Buenos Aires.
Sergio Massa poses with students of the Carlos Pellegini school in Buenos Aires. Photograph: Maximiliano Vernazza/Argentina’s economy ministry/AFP/Getty Images

“Of course, Sergio Massa and Javier Milei are not the same thing. Massa has already stated he will continue to comply with climate commitments and not leave the Paris agreement. And recently, albeit a somewhat electoral measure, he stated he would impose a fine for environmental crimes,” says Alejo Di Risio, of Ecosocial Justice Action Collective.

“However, if we study Massa’s programme for government, it is clear he plans the country’s economic recovery through a doubling or even tripling of Argentina’s total exports,” says Di Risio. This strategy has environmental consequences. Massa said this year that the area available for agricultural expansion is minimal, especially for soya and wheat, Argentina’s key exports.

In the agribusiness sector, distrust prevails. Fernando Boracchia, of the Sociedad Rural, says that Massa is more of the same. “We know whom he answers to,” he says, referring to former leftwing president Cristina Kirchner. “His approach is protectionism, which means difficulties in exports. On the other hand, he is more of a dialogue-seeker and knows the businesspeople, which could be positive.”

Boracchia defines Milei “as the novelty that scares a bit”, adding: “His ideas about leaving Mercosur [the South American trade bloc] will isolate Argentina further and won’t be good for business. Moreover, today’s country agreements are made with a climate commitment. If he continues to appear as a global warming sceptic and leaves the Paris agreement, how will we sign so many free-trade treaties he wishes for?”

If expanding farmland isn’t an option, mining may be. Di Risio says: “Mining and fracking are not so limited, which is very worrying as it undermines the quality of life of local communities and exhausts resources, such as water, compromised in these areas. This economic model is already in place, so we foresee that Massa will probably deepen the problems affecting many communities.”

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Di Risio says people in regions linked to fracking are already affected, adding: “We see people abandoning their villages and camping next to landfills. This problem will require a response now, and I can hardly see how it would come from a candidate preaching to accelerate the causes of this situation.”

Indigenous rights and land appropriation also concern activists such as anthropologist Fernando Pepe, founder of Colectivo Guias, an NGO dedicated to land restitution. “Land boundaries include territories currently occupied by agribusiness or mining entrepreneurs, often with the connivance of local authorities. The main problem is how to remove them from the Indigenous land,” says Pepe.

This situation is widespread in regions such as Salta, where agribusiness companies and entrepreneurs have encroached on forests. Almost 90% of native forest cover is gone. The problem is exacerbated by the economic power and political influence of families owning soya farms in the region, such as the former president Mauricio Macri in the Chaco Salteño area.

“The same happens in the south, where the displacement of Indigenous and peasant people progresses faster due to new tourist developments,” says Pepe.

In Jujuy and Salta, a severe drought is occurring, displacing local Wichí people, often far from rivers, drinking water and healthcare. “The only way to put a brake on deforestation is to protect the Indigenous people,” says Pepe. “They are the guardians of the forests and their resources.”

A sign saying ‘No to the lithium’ at Salinas Grandes in Jujuy, Argentina. Salinas Grandes is the third largest salt field in the world with an exposed surface of more than 21.200 hectares shared between Jujuy and Salta. The salt miners extract salt only for animal and human use, rejecting the proposal to produce lithium for energy and batteries.
A sign saying ‘No to the lithium’ at Salinas Grandes in Jujuy, Argentina. Photograph: Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images

In Jujuy, which has seen popular unrest, lithium exploitation is causing water scarcity and pushing people out, says Di Risio. “Currently, there are no obstacles to preventing lithium extraction companies from advancing without respecting either the licence granted by the government or international regulations. Honestly, I don’t see this among the priorities of either Milei or Massa.”

Aylén Tapia, a member of the Mapuche people in Argentine Patagonia, says she is horrified by Milei’s anti-environmentalism. “It is clear he is not thinking of any compensation for the people living here,” she says.

On the other hand, Massa does not inspire her trust either. She says: “Our current conditions are bad. The local children’s schools lack gas and hot water in winter.”

Tapia also says she has not forgotten Massa’s past, referring to the 2015 elections, when he campaigned with a stricter line regarding Indigenous rights and the repression of protesters. “He wants to expand mining exploration. What more needs to be said?”

According to Tapia, most of her community will leave their voting paper blank. A minority will vote for Massa as a “lesser evil”. She says of Milei and Massa: “I know they are not the same, but they prioritise capital and plundering our wealth.”


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