Argentina’s presidential frontrunner Milei denies number of disappeared from dictatorship

Human rights organizations in the country unanimously estimate the number of disappeared at 30,000, which Milei classified as “a twisted view of history”

October 02, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch

One of the issues that most stirs the emotions of Argentine society is the human rights violations of the military dictatorship. This was the topic chosen by candidate Javier Milei to raise the temperature of this Sunday’s debate, the first before the presidential elections on October 22nd.

“There weren’t 30,000 disappeared, there were 8,753,” said the far-right candidate who leads most of the polls, raising his voice for the first time after an hour. The official figure is 8,631 dead and disappeared in the period from 1976 to 1983 – the last and most brutal stage of the dictatorship – according to the Unified Registry of Victims of State Terrorism, but the report itself acknowledges that the figure is underestimated. Human rights organizations estimate the total at around 30,000.

Milei also claimed that there is “a twisted view of history”, called guerrilla groups terrorists and accused people of using human rights “ideology” “to make money and carry out shady deals”.

Candidate from the Left Front Myriam Bregman objected. “I would need four or five hours to respond to the barbarities I’ve heard,” she said, adding that “there are 30,000 of them and it was a genocide”. One of the most commented phrases on social media was also hers: “Milei is not a lion, he’s a pampered kitten of economic power”, in reference to the animal Milei usually compares himself to.

Despite the provocative intervention about the victims of the dictatorship, the general assessment of the Argentine press is that Milei presented himself more restrained than usual, and that he may have obtained a good result if his intention was to consolidate support. As for his main opponents, Sergio Massa (Peronist and current Economy Minister) tried to present proposals and sell the idea of a coalition government. Patricia Bullrich (Macrista) tried to reinforce her image as courageous and hardline.


Inflation, which in 2022 reached an alltime high at nearly 100%, and is at the root of the economic crisis facing Argentina, was the most prominent issue in the debate.

The progressive candidate Massa said that he was pushing for investments in the energy, mining and agricultural sectors to turn the balance of trade around and get more dollars from exports. He also tried to distance himself from current president, Alberto Fernández: “I’m clear that inflation is a huge problem. I’m also clear that this government’s mistakes have hurt people. And for that, although I wasn’t part of it until I took over as Economy Minister [in August 2022], I apologize.”

The two main right-wing candidates, Milei and Bullrich, propose, to varying degrees, a dollarization of the economy, a reduction in public spending, and the opening up of markets. Bullrich criticized Milei’s promise to close the Central Bank, saying that few countries don’t have central banks, and they’re all tax havens. But he sidestepped questions about his economic plan, which was highlighted by his opponent.


Analysts consulted by Argentine newspapers think that this first debate is unlikely to have a profound impact on voting intentions. So far, all the polls put Milei in first place, but stuck at around 35% of voting intentions, so with no apparent chance of winning in the first round. The libertarian would need 45% of the valid votes or 40% plus a 10-point gap over the runner-up.

Most consultations put Massa in second place, close to 30%, and Bullrich around 25%. However, other pollsters put Massa in a technical tie with Milei for the lead and others see a rise in Bullrich, who could be in a technical tie with Massa for second place.

One of them, released before the debate, is a poll by anti-Kirchner analyst Jorge Giacobbe, which puts Bullrich in second place with 27.8%, compared to 27.4% for Massa – and 33.9% for Milei. A poll by the Argentine Center for Public Opinion Studies (CEOP), also released shortly before the debate, shows a technical tie between Milei (34.1%) and Massa (32.2%) – the former standing still compared to the previous poll and the latter 1.6 points ahead. Bullrich, also stagnating, is polling at 24.9%.

All polls point to the same conclusion: the election is still undefined.