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Tuesday briefing: How Argentina punctured far-right populism’s rise in South America

Good morning. Today we’re heading to Buenos Aires, where left-wing and centrist Argentinians have taken to the streets celebrating that the country may be about to avoid electing a far-right president described by some as a mashup of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and The X-Men’s Wolverine – who describes himself as “anarcho-capitalist”.

Until the results of the first round of Argentina’s presidential election trickled out early yesterday morning, the polls and the pundits had predicted that eccentric far-right populist Javier Milei – whose signature mop of untamed hair and long sideburns is a professionally designed homage to Elvis and the aforementioned superhero – would probably become the country’s next president.

But Milei – who has promised to scrap the Argentine peso for the dollar, described abortion as “murder” and promised to allow people to sell their organs – came second with 30% of the vote.

The incumbent Peronist economy minister Sergio Massa – who has been widely blamed for Argentina’s latest economic crisis – came first with 37%. It sets up a two-way fight in a second-round vote on 19 November. After the headlines, Tom Phillips, the Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, explains Milei’s rapid rise from rock singer, TV show “shock jock” and “tantric sex coach” – and what his apparent stalling at the final hurdle means for Argentina and the rest of South America.

Five big stories

  1. Israel-Hamas war | The US has said now is not the time for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, as the UN reports that some Palestinians who fled their homes in the north of Gaza have returned due to a lack of food and shelter in the south. On Monday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told CNN that Israel still had “work to do to go after Hamas leadership”, echoing comments from the US president, Joe Biden, that any discussions of a ceasefire could only take place if Hamas freed all its hostages in Gaza.

  2. Technology | Government officials are using artificial intelligence and algorithms to help decide everything from who gets benefits to who should have their marriage licence approved, according to a Guardian investigation. Kiran Stacey reports on the findings that shed light on the often uncontrolled ways cutting-edge technology is being used across Whitehall.

  3. Protest | Downing Street has argued that police already have “extensive powers” to take action against demonstrators who chanted about “jihad” in London at the weekend, as Keir Starmer said ministers should plug any gaps in the law.

  4. Crime | Lewis Edwards, a 24-year-old former police officer, incited more than 200 girls as young as 10 to share explicit images and videos of themselves with him via Snapchat, a court has heard.

  5. Policing | A Metropolitan police officer is under criminal investigation over alleged racially aggravated assault after a woman was wrongly arrested for evading a bus fare. The incident was filmed and widely seen on social media.

In depth: ‘Just about the worst candidate you could think of’

Sergio Massa is in pole position for the presidential run-off election. Photograph: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

“There is a lot of public celebration on the streets of Argentina and across Latin America’s left wing,” Tom says. “But we need to treat it with a heavy note of caution. This is just the first round, and we’ve got four weeks of campaigning to go until the next round. The first round is, however, a big surprise and pretty damaging to Milei and his supporters.”

Those supporters include Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former far-right president, who on the eve of the vote urged “all Argentinians” to support Milei’s push for “real change”. “I’m really rooting for you,” Bolsonaro said in a video message and promised to attend Milei’s inauguration.

His congressman son Eduardo flew to Buenos Aires in the hope of celebrating the “unstoppable movement” of far-right ideology across South America with Milei at his La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) party’s campaign headquarters in the downtown Hotel Libertador.

Members of the far-right Spanish party Vox and close supporters of France’s Marine Le Pen also flew in for the much-anticipated party, one that Milei ally Ramiro Marra had said would be as joyous as that which greeted Lionel Messi last year: “We’ve already won the World Cup. Now we’re going to win control of this country with our ideas of freedom.”

Get rid of them all

Milei, 53, has only been in politics since 2021, when he was elected to congress and formed the La Libertad Avanza coalition. “He has made himself the radical change candidate and successfully dominated the media” says Tom. “People are so sick of inflation – which has hit 138%, the highest annual rate since 1991 – and corruption scandals constantly rocking the country that many are looking for something different.”

Speaking to people in Buenos Aires’ poorer neighbourhoods before the vote, Tom was struck by the number of people backing Milei’s radical plans. “There is massive frustration and anger, particularly among working-class men, young men in particular, who would traditionally have all supported the Peronist party.”

Juan Grabois, a prominent leftist who likens Milei to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, told Tom: “There’s a sort of suicidal temptation. It’s not that they think Milei will win and everything will improve. It’s that they want everything to go to hell. It’s about scorching the earth and starting from scratch.”

In his campaign videos, Milei mostly talks about what he’ll scrap rather than what he’ll do. “Culture ministry – out! Environment – out! Ministry of women and gender diversity – out! Public works – out! Science – out! Labour and social security – out! Ministry of education and indoctrination – out!” The loudest chant in a stadium tour before the vote was Milei’s slogan “Que se vayan todos” (Get rid of them all).

‘Riche comme un Argentin’

In the 1970s, the Nobel prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets is reported to have said there are four types of countries in the world: developed, undeveloped, Japan and Argentina.

A century ago, Argentina had a higher GDP per person than Germany, Italy or France, according to the Economist, and migrants from across Europe went there to work its fertile lands and become “riche comme un Argentin” (rich like an Argentinian). A phrase that is now used as a joke. Today, Germany’s GDP is quadruple Argentina’s. The South American country has suffered no fewer than 14 recessions between 1950 and 2016, according to the World Bank.

Milei’s proposed solution is to scrap the peso, and use the dollar instead, citing Ecuador’s dollarisation in 2000 as a success story. However, touting the idea caused the peso to plunge to an all-time low against the dollar – making the plan even more expensive.

As the man currently in charge of the Argentinian economy, Massa is “on paper just about the worst candidate you could think of”, Tom explains. “Imagine voting for the finance minister during an economic crisis – it’s kind of unthinkable,” he says. “But he has managed to position himself as the normal, straightforward calm guy, in contrast with the rather bonkers far-right Milei who goes on stage wielding a chainsaw as symbol of cutting spending and bringing down the system.”

Argentinians return to the polls to make their final decision on 19 November.

What else we’ve been reading

Photographer Angela Christofilou’s grandmother, right, and friends at St James Church Hall in Heywood, Lancashire. Photograph: Angela Christofilou
  • When Sarah Ingram’s cat Biff went missing, she had assumed he had been hit by a car. Eleven years later she got a call from a pet detective who told her that her beloved pet was alive and thriving with someone else. Ingram writes movingly about reconnecting with Biff after a decade. Nimo

  • Prof Emma Smith discusses whether already short attention spans are getting shorter, and dissects misconceptions about concentration and productivity (like our ability to binge a whole TV series). “Distraction,” she writes, “allows for different, not simply lesser, possibilities than absorption.” Nyima Jobe, newsletters team

  • After the shocking felling of the Sycamore Gap tree, campaigners have called for tighter protections of ancient and veteran trees. Damien Gayle spoke to experts about what should be done next. Nimo

  • While attending her grandma’s church bingo group in Lancashire, photographer Angela Christofilou documented the strong bond the group built and presented her nana’s youthful nature. She understood “the profound joy that can be found in the simplest things in life”. Her photographs (above) are collected in the book Church Bingo, from Pendle Press. Nyima

  • ICYMI: Nesrine Malik is as brilliant and incisive as ever in her analysis of the reaction from the Arab world at the relentless bombing of Gaza. Nimo

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Arsenal Women’s squad for the 2023-24 season pose for a photograph, alongside manager Jonas Eidevall. Photograph: Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

Football | Arsenal have accepted there is a lack of diversity in their women’s team (pictured above) and vowed to make improving the situation a “key priority”. The club has faced criticism ever since posting a photograph of Jonas Eidevall’s squad for the 2023-24 season on social media earlier this month. There are no black or ethnic-minority players in the 27-strong lineup.

Cricket | Afghanistan pulled off their second giant-killing act of the Cricket World Cup with a memorable eight-wicket victory against Pakistan on Monday. Afghanistan’s top three batters smashed fifties and their captain, Hashmatullah Shahidi, made an unbeaten 48 at No 4 in their pursuit of a 283-run victory target that they accomplished with one over to spare.

Premier League | When Tottenham play like this, overwhelming the opposition with their energy, desire and creativity, it does not feel outlandish to suggest that they will soon be seen as genuine title challengers. Perhaps there will come a time when a light squad runs out of steam and the natural order resumes. Yet there is no stopping Spurs at the moment and, after they moved back to the top of the Premier League with this win over a toothless Fulham, the scenes that followed made it tempting to conclude that anything is possible under Ange Postecoglou.

The front pages

Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian’s front page is “Bombardment of Gaza continues amid talks to free more hostages”. Underneath is an image of a crying woman with a child in Gaza after an Israeli airstrike. In the i, “Two more Israeli hostages freed as air strikes on Gaza intensify”. The Telegraph opts for the diplomacy angle, saying “EU clash with UK and US on ceasefire”. In the Times, “Sunak: Chanting ‘jihad’ is threat to our democracy” as the fallout continues over protests in London. Underneath, a similar picture of the woman and child as seen on the Guardian’s front page. In the Express, “PM blasts Met police for not acting on ‘jihadi’ chants”. The Mail says “Videos that ‘prove’ the depravity of Hamas terrorists” referring to a video screened by Israel. The Financial Times goes in a different direction with “Chevron doubles down on fossil fuel wager with $53bn swoop for Hess”. The paper says it’s the biggest deal in Chevron’s history. And in the Mirror, “Storm Babet nightmare” and “Why will no one help us?” on the aftermath of the flooding.

Today in Focus

Israeli soldiers patrol an area near the northern border with Lebanon Photograph: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images

Could the conflict in Israel tip into regional war?

With Israel unleashing an increasing number of missiles into Gaza, Hamas still holding more than 200 hostages, and rising violence in the West Bank, it can be hard to imagine how the conflict in the region could get much worse. But to many seasoned watchers of the Middle East, including the Guardian’s international security correspondent Jason Burke, the possibility that the conflict could slide into all-out war is worrying. But, as Michael Safi hears, there are reasons to be hopeful that a full-blown war can be avoided.

Cartoon of the day | Ella Baron

Illustration: Ella Baron/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Visitors at Lassen Volcanic National Park, California. Photograph: Andri Tambunan/The Guardian

In August 2021, the Dixie fire in California destroyed almost 70% of the Lassen Volcanic national park (pictured above). The aftermath was devastating for the local community, which had already borne the brunt of the fire.

Since then, firefighters and park staff worked tirelessly to protect what was left of the park. Dani Anguino visited the national park to see how well it has bounced back. Experts note that the ecological resilience and the importance of controlled burns to manage the landscape was crucial, demonstrating that, in the face of destruction, nature will always be adaptable and able to regenerate and offer us beauty.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.

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Tuesday briefing: How Argentina punctured far-right populism’s rise in South America


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