‘I’m the king and I will destroy you!’: Argentinian president stages frenetic stadium appearance | Javier Milei

Argentinians call him “the Madman”. This week he declared himself their monarch.

“I’m the king of a lost world! I’m the king and I will destroy you!” Javier Milei bellowed into the microphone on Wednesday night as Argentina’s showman president took to the stage for his first stadium gig since his election last year.

The concert, at a famed 8,000-capacity arena in Buenos Aires called Luna Park, drew hordes of adoring rightwing fans – the majority young men – who had come to see their rock-loving libertarian leader up close and wearing a knee-length leather jacket.

“I did this because I wanted to sing,” proclaimed Milei, 53, who as a teenager was the frontman in a Rolling Stones cover band called Everest and is also said to be a fan of the opera composer Giuseppe Verdi.

Loyalists lapped up Milei’s decision to perform on a stage previously graced by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Duran Duran, Liza Minnelli and a-ha – and where the football legend Diego Maradona memorably threw a lavish wedding reception in 1989.

Sergio Gómez, an owner of a transport business who flew more than 700 miles to witness Milei’s “fiesta of freedom”, admitted the president’s radical economic policies had, without exception, “been directly detrimental to my personal activity”.

“He has removed all the subsidies from public passenger transportation, prices have gone up and that has affected the people directly,” Gómez said. “But I am convinced we must finish the economic cleanup – we can’t keep living a lie,” he added, echoing the frustrations of the more than 14 million voters who brought Milei to power.

Ana Eugenia Clemente, a 33-year-old Venezuelan actor, clutched Milei’s new book as she exalted Argentina’s entertainer-in-chief. “I feel a deep hatred for the evil left that damaged my country and feel Milei is a person who has come to save not only Argentina, but the world,” she enthused.

Argentina’s opposition was less impressed, calling the jam session an attempt to distract from domestic woes exacerbated by Milei’s austerity drive and reforms that the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage has described as “Thatcherism on steroids”.

“With his show at Luna Park, Milei is covering up an enormous economic and social crisis, which his economic administration only aggravated,” said Itai Hagman, a lawmaker for the centre-left coalition Frente de Todos. “[There is] no prospect of short- or medium-term improvement; the idea of a quick recovery or a foreign investment boom is only in the mind of the president.”

Javier Milei at his Luna Park rally. Photograph: Agustín Marcarian/Reuters

The newspaper La Nación said Milei’s “utterly flamboyant event” had been unlike anything Argentina had witnessed before “above all in times of crisis and [economic] adjustment”.

“It was a two-hour-long pagan mass celebrated by a president in ecstasy,” the newspaper said of the show, which was designed to promote Milei’s latest book, Capitalism, Socialism and the Neoclassical Trap.

The rock concert – at which the president’s specially assembled band played tracks by the Argentinian hard rock band La Renga – will help cement Milei’s growing international reputation as what Time magazine this week called “the world’s most eccentric head of state”. It will also bolster his position as a leading member of the global hard right, alongside Donald Trump, the former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Playing on the drums alongside Argentina’s president was Bertie Benegas Lynch, a pro-Milei congressman whose T-shirt featured the yellow Gadsden rattlesnake – a symbol of Milei’s movement and the US far right – and the message: “Don’t tread on me!”

During the show, Milei railed against the “damned communists” he blames for Argentina’s economic malaise and the “enemies who are trying to overturn this government because they want socialism and misery to continue” as well as the “murderous” pro-choice movement. “I eat the elites for breakfast!” Milei sang, slightly altering the lyrics of the La Renga track Panic Show.

But critics say the distinctly un-presidential performance will do little to fix issues such as growing poverty and unemployment and one of the world’s highest inflation rates. Argentina is now suffering its most severe economic crisis in two decades – a situation Milei vowed to address after his election last November. But six months after he took office, three in five citizens are living in poverty and annual inflation has surged to almost 300% – ahead of Syria, Lebanon and Venezuela, although monthly inflation has slowed somewhat in recent months.

Hours before Milei picked up the mic, the government’s statistics bureau announced that economic activity had fallen by a whopping 8.4% in March compared with the previous year. The informal dollar exchange rate, known as the “blue dollar”, hit an all-time high of 1,280 pesos. Last week, protests broke out in the northern province of Misiones as police officers and schoolteachers demanded pay raises to help them deal with rising inflation.

Gustavo Córdoba, the director of the Zuban Córdoba political communication consultancy, said Milei’s “self-celebratory, tribal” show was an attempt to fire up his base at a time when many Argentinians were unconvinced by the president’s economic “revolution”.

“The government … needs favorable economic results urgently,” Córdoba said. In the absence of those, “what it does is entertain”.

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