President Milei of cash-strapped Argentina starts another US tour, plans to meet Elon Musk

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Javier Milei of Argentina kicked off a visit Wednesday to the United States, where he’ll meet with tech billionaire Elon Musk, as his government seeks an infusion of cash to overhaul Argentina’s embattled economy.

The populist president started his four-day trip in Miami, home to Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi and among the largest populations of Argentines in the U.S., where the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism will honor him at a local synagogue. Milei will meet with Musk on Friday in Texas, his spokesperson said, where he will also tour a factory for Tesla, Musk’s electric car company.

Milei’s third trip to the U.S. in merely four months as president comes as he reshapes Argentine foreign policy in line with Washington. Standing beside Gen. Laura Richardson, head of the U.S. Southern Command, at the southernmost tip of South America last week, Milei vowed to boost the nations’ “strategic alliance” — underscoring how he sees U.S. support as vital to the economic overhaul on which he has staked his presidency.

“We took advantage to present a new foreign doctrine for Argentina,” Milei wrote Wednesday on social media platform X of his meeting with Richardson. In the same post, apparently directed at Musk — a self-declared free speech absolutist — Milei said he promoted “true freedom of expression” and slammed journalists critical of his administration as trying to “stop us from speaking.”

“We are not going to remain silent in the face of slander, insult or defamation,” he wrote.

Milei’s plan to slash spending has inflicted encountered resistance in a nation where annual inflation tops 276%. On Wednesday, police forcibly dispersed anti-government protestors blocking a main Buenos Aires artery.

The United States, the biggest investor in Argentina, also has the most influence over the International Monetary Fund, to which Argentina owes $42 billion. The IMF has endorsed Milei’s shock therapy for Argentina, agreeing to disburse $4.7 billion from a bailout package the country took out six years ago.

The State Department’s investment climate statement last year noted “capital controls, trade restrictions, and price controls” as factors hampering investors in Argentina. Milei has vowed to roll back those interventionist policies with market-oriented changes favored by business executives, like Musk, one of the world’s richest men who leads rocket company SpaceX, car company Tesla and took over Twitter in 2022.

Milei and Musk — who share a brash personality-driven style and distaste for government overreach — have expressed mutual admiration. Ahead of his inauguration last December, Milei praised Musk as an “icon of freedom.” Musk gushed over Milei’s speech lambasting socialism at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, commenting “So hot” with a meme of a couple having sex while watching Milei speak.

That’s in sharp contrast to Musk’s clash with Brazilian authorities, who threatened to regulate social media sites and accused Musk of obstruction this week.

With its vast mineral reserves, Argentina has much to offer Musk, a dominant player in the auto industry who calls lithium — indispensable for electric car batteries — “the new oil.”

Milei’s free-market policies have raised hopes in the U.S. that the metal and other badly needed raw materials like lithium can be extracted closer to the U.S., breaking China’s dominance of the battery supply chain. The Biden administration said it was exploring investment opportunities in Argentine lithium earlier this year.

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