Why Y Wladfa backed far-right candidate Javier Milei to be president of Argentina
With its Welsh chapels, tea houses and schools, Gaiman has always stood out on the cultural map of Argentina.
Now the centre of the Welsh community in Patagonia stands out on the country’s election results map too, with the department of Gaiman a deeper shade of violet than those surrounding it.
That was the colour used on the campaign branding of Javier Milei, the economist turned far-right populist who claimed a shock victory over Peronist Sergio Massa in the final round of the presidential elections last Sunday.
The 66 per cent of the vote won by Milei in Gaiman was still 10% off the far-right candidate’s highest scores, which came in the Córdoba province.
But it was also 10 per cent higher than the national score achieved by Milei and was his third highest score across the 39 departments in the south of Argentina.
It is difficult to know how many of the 4,968 Gaiman residents who cast their vote for Milei last Sunday were of Welsh descent.
But Dr Geraldine Lublin of Swansea University, author of Memoir and Identity in Welsh Patagonia: Voices from a settler community in Argentina, told Nation.Cymru: “Many Welsh descendants tend to be considered ‘middle class’ and so they tend to vote for whoever’s opposing the Peronist party.
“This was Juntos por el Cambio in the legislative elections and Milei in the presidential ones on Sunday.
“Most voters seemed to be voting against the other candidate rather than for their chosen one.”
The Chubut province, where Welsh settlers established Y Wladfa in 1865, has been governed by Peronists, who broadly believe in a third-way between capitalism and socialism, for the last two decades.
The late Mario Das Neves, an ally of defeated presidential candidate Sergio Massa, was governor during most of that period and visited Cardiff to reinforce the region’s historic ties with Wales.
But this time Chubut backed Milei in both the first round, when he was narrowly beaten by Massa, as well as the second round.
In the Futaleufú department, which includes Trevelin, Milei received 56% of the vote in the final run-off. In Rawson, which includes Trelew, he won 60%. And in Biedma, which includes Puerto Madryn, he won by 62%.
Inflation of 140% played the key role in persuading voters in rural Chubut to take a chance on Milei rather than sticking with Massa, the current economy minister.
“This whole election has been about inflation and how to control inflation,” said Dr Lucy Taylor of Aberystwyth University.
“For people who are farmers, as we know in Wales, they’ve seen their prices fluctuating and they’re losing money hand over fist.
“They’ve seen their incomes dropping significantly and I think they, along with everyone else, are just desperate for some economic stability.”
A self-described “anarcho-capitalist”, Milei spent the election campaign waving around a chainsaw to demonstrate his commitment to cutting inflation.
He says he will achieve that by abolishing Argentina’s central bank, adopting the US dollar as the country’s currency, cutting government spending by 15% and halving the number of government departments.
The ministry for the environment is among those under threat from Milei, who has described climate change as a “socialist hoax.”
“Like all populist votes, it’s a rejection of the government as much as it is a grasp to the last hope,” added Dr Taylor.
“This guy comes along with some ideas, he waves a chainsaw in the air and says I’m going to slash inflation. You have that or more of the same.
“It’s not necessarily a positive vote for Milei but it’s kind of ‘what the hell do we do now.’”
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