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Success and setbacks: 100 days of Argentina's Milei

Milei met with met with former US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a conservative conference (Handout)
Milei met with met with former US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a conservative conference (Handout)

Argentina's President Javier Milei has slashed public spending but 100 days into his presidency social tensions are simmering and he is still battling to pass his flagship economic reforms.

AFP takes a look at the highlights since the libertarian leader took office on December 10, vowing to halt an "orgy of public spending".

- The chainsaw -

Before the election in which he trounced Argentina's traditional political parties, Milei would campaign with a powered-up chainsaw to symbolize his plans to cut a bloated state.

Once in office, he cut the cabinet in half to nine ministries, slashed 50,000 public jobs, suspended all new public works contracts and ripped away generous fuel and transport subsidies.

The government has boasted its first budget surplus in over a decade and has won the approval of the International Monetary Fund which has a $44 billion credit program with Argentina.

"Stabilization is working, better than one originally imagined, but there are questions about governance," independent economist Marina Dal Poggetto said in a recent television interview.

Milei has come under fire for shutting down the state news agency and anti-discrimination agency, and removing funding for scientific research and the cinema industry.

- Political hurdles -

Legally speaking, Milei's ambitious plans have not gone according to plan.

His party is a minority in Congress, and rivals have repeatedly beaten back his flagship reforms.

The Senate last week rejected a "mega-decree" that seeks to alter or repeal more than 300 existing standards, such as removing rent caps and relaxing labor laws.

However, it only needs approval by one house to become law, and the decree has yet to go before the chamber of deputies.

But even if it does pass, analysts say its constitutionality is in question.

In February a separate Omnibus Law, which seeks to make changes to the economy, politics and even some aspects of private life, was thrown out by lawmakers for a rewrite.

"Milei would like to promote his political and economic project at 100 kilometers per hour, but the government's cruising speed is much lower," Carlos Malamud, a researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute, told AFP.

- Misery and hunger -

Milei took office warning things would get much worse for Argentines before they get better, and they have.

He started out by devaluating the peso by 54 percent, and removing price controls.

These measures, along with the removal of fuel and transport subsidies, have seen Argentines' purchasing power plummet, causing a slowdown in consumption and economic growth.

Monthly inflation is starting to cool, but annual inflation stood at 276 percent in February.

In the absence of recent official figures, a private thinktank estimated that some 57 percent of the country is now living in poverty.

Meanwhile, the government has frozen aid to some 40,000 soup kitchens pending an audit of their operations.

On Monday, police fired teargas and used water cannon against thousands protesting the austerity measures.

"The hunger in the neighborhoods is terrible. They haven't delivered goods to the soup kitchens for four months and the kids need it," Maria Medina, from the leftist organization Polo Obrero told AFP.

- The Pope, Trump and Israel -

Milei has not stopped courting controversy since swapping the colorful campaign trail for the presidency.

A social media junkie, he trashes his opponents online -- such as the lawmakers who ditched his reforms -- praises himself and shares bizarre memes.

He recently raised eyebrows for telling a group of high-school students that he considers abortion to be "murder" and banning the use of gender-inclusive language in the military and public sector.

During a speech to world leaders in Davos in January, he took aim at socialism, "radical feminism," the "bloody agenda of abortion" and "social justice."

He flew to Rome to meet with Argentine Pope Francis -- with whom he reconciled after repeatedly insulting him on the campaign trail -- and met with former US president Donald Trump on the sidelines of a conservative conference.

Milei, who was raised in a Catholic family but has studied Jewish scripture, also paid a visit to Israel.

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