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Latam Brief: Massa and Milei debate (November 13, 2023)

Javier Milei and Sergio Massa last debate
Javier Milei and Sergio Massa last debate

Latin America Daily Briefing

Argentina’s presidential candidates Sergio Massa and Javier Milei clashed last night in the last debate before next Sunday’s runoff vote — which analysts are touting as the most important election since the country’s return to democracy exactly 40 years ago.

Polls have put libertarian Milei slightly ahead, though many have his lead within the margin of error. The debate was considered one of the last chances to win over undecided voters, notes Reuters: Nearly 10 million voted for other candidates, spoiled their ballots or voted in blank in the Oct.22 first round.

Massa, the current Economy Minister and candidate of the country’s Peronist party, was widely seen as dominating the event, with calm measured attacks aimed at putting outsider candidate Milei on the spot with many of his most esoteric promises, from eliminating the Central Bank, to creating an organ market and privatizing the country’s waterways. (La Nación, Clarín, Ámbito)

“However, there was little in the way of concrete policies as both opponents focused their time on attacks rather than policy proposals – both accused the other of being a ‘liar’ while Massa implied Milei was ‘mentally unbalanced,’” reports the Buenos Aires Times.

Andrei Roman from pollster Atlas Intel said Massa was more aggressive than Milei in the debate. “Massa won the debate and Milei lost it. However, that doesn’t mean he lost voters,” Roman said. (Reuters)

Economy is a weak spot for Massa, given that he is managing the portfolio in a country with nearly 140% inflation and nearly non-existent foreign reserves. But he skillfully kept Milei off balance.

“‘Yes or no, are you going to close the central bank?’ Massa fired at Milei, who mostly focused on answering each question instead of interrogating Massa on his own policy platforms. Milei ultimately replied, ‘yes, we’ll dollarize the economy and we’ll close the central bank,’” reports Bloomberg.

“While Milei frequently went on the offensive and at times appeared nervous and uncomfortable, Massa took a more measured stance, emphasising his long political career and stressing his desire to build consensus and respect different points of view,” reports the Financial Times. He emphasized that he would retain social safety nets, protect pensions and ensure education and health remained publicly funded.”

More Argentina

  • “Like hurricanes, blizzards or wildfires, Taylor Swift is now prompting an airline to waive ticket-change fees,” after her Friday Buenos Aires concert had to be postponed due to rain, reports CNBC.

  • Argentina’s economic crisis has spurred its second-hand clothing market, reports Reuters.


  • Venezuelan prison gang Tren de Aragua has remained relatively unknown outside South America. Drawing on a leak of documents from the Colombian prosecutor’s office, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, found the group has managed to go toe-to-toe with established groups, obtained heavy weaponry, and expanded outside its home country. The gang has set off a wave of terror in countries including Chile, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru, sometimes partnering up with other notorious gangs, reports the Miami Herald.


  • Brazil’s “PCC – First Capital Command – arose in the country’s notoriously brutal penitentiaries 30 years ago but now controls a billion-dollar drug trade supplying much of Europe’s cocaine,” reports the Guardian.

  • Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil fell to a five-year low, according to the latest data from the country’s National Institute of Space Research. It is a sign that Brazil is making progress on its pledge to halt all deforestation by the end of the decade, reports the New York Times.

  • A Brazilian government plan to recover degraded pastures will be officially announced and presented at the COP-28 climate summit in Dubai by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, reports Reuters.


  • Ecuador’s Indigenous A’i Cofán guard patrols against illegal gold mining in the Amazon, using traditional spears, but also drones, GPS mapping and the courts to protect the land, reports the Guardian.


  • “Restrictions on movement from South American countries to Mexico and Central America, often promoted by the United States government, have helped contribute to sharp increases in numbers of people crossing the Darién Gap. This exposes migrants to abuses, including sexual violence, and empowers organized crime in the area,” according to a Human Rights Watch report released last week.

  • “A total of 70% of migrants in urban areas are internal migrants, moving within their countries’ borders. However, international migration within the region has increased by more than 80% from 2015 to 2020,” according to a new IDB report. (Via Americas Migration Brief.)


  • The international community’s response to Haiti “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the country’s underlying problem. Haiti lacks a genuine ruling class—an intergenerational network capable of establishing and administering political authority,” argues Alexander Causwell in Compact.

Regional Relations

  • A group of Cuban athletes defected after the recent Panamerican Games, and several asked host country Chile for asylum, reports Reuters.

  • Colombian President Gustavo Petro will attend a gathering of Pacific Rim leaders hosted by the US in California “as he increasingly turns his attention toward Asia following a state visit to China last month,” reports Bloomberg.


  • Colombia’s recently implemented “junk food law” taxes ultra-processed products defined as industrially manufactured ready-to-eat foods, as well as those high in salt and saturated fat, such as chocolates or crisps. It has been hailed as an international example by campaigners and health experts, reports the Guardian.

  • Footballer Luis Díaz’s father spoke of his two week’s as a captive by armed guerrillas on the Colombian-Venezuelan border after his release last week, reports the Guardian.

Critter Corner

  • A Colombian court ruled that a dog could be legally considered offspring in a divorced couple’s separation proceedings — part of a growing body of jurisprudence in Latin America considering animals as family members, reports the Washington Post.

  • “A move to reintroduce guanacos—a wild relative of the llama—to a reserve in Argentina has become the latest flash point in a fierce scientific debate over the nation’s rewilding efforts that has included charges of government malfeasance and legal threats,” reports Science.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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