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Argentina's populist president meets billionaire Elon Musk in Texas — and a bromance is born

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LA Post: Argentina's populist president meets billionaire Elon Musk in Texas — and a bromance is born
April 13, 2024
ISABEL DEBRE - AP

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — One is an erratic billionaire entrepreneur and self-declared free-speech absolutist, prone to profanity-laden rants against “wokeness” and obsessed with making humanity a multi-planetary species.

The other is an iconoclastic Latin American leader and self-declared anarcho-capitalist, prone to cloning his dead dogs and obsessed with destroying state controls.

Tech executive Elon Musk and Argentine President Javier Milei finally sealed their budding bromance Friday at a Tesla electric car factory in Texas — their first meeting after months of mutual admiration on social media.

It was a match made in free-market heaven.

In social media posts that thrilled their right-wing fans, the pair played up their real-life friendship.

“To an exciting & inspiring future!" Musk wrote on X, or Twitter as it was known before he bought it in 2022, along with a photo of him and Milei both grinning widely and giving the camera two thumbs up, the libertarian president's trademark gesture.

“Long live freedom, dammit!" Milei wrote in his own X post, which included a selfie of the pair, with the president sporting his signature leather bomber and Musk in his Air Force Academy navy sports jacket.

The meeting was closed to the press and a statement from Milei's office produced little news, saying the free-market enthusiasts discussed issues, ranging from the expected (how to promote entrepreneurship by slashing red-tape) to the random (the existential danger posed by declining birth rates).

Milei's office said that the president offered to help Musk in the clash between social media company X and Brazilian authorities, which have accused Musk of obstruction for defying a judge's order to block some accounts.

The two also agreed to host “a big event soon in Argentina to promote the ideas of freedom," the Argentine presidency said, but provided no further details.

But behind the smiley photo-op — and video of Milei's joy ride in a futuristic Cybertruck pickup — much was at stake for Argentina.

Support from the U.S. — particularly at the International Monetary Fund, to which Argentina owes over $42 billion — is critical to boosting investor confidence in the South American country, as Milei seeks to overhaul a broken economy with market-oriented policies.

With the revival of socialist governments across Latin America, from Chile to Brazil, experts say Argentina is now poised to emerge as a key strategic partner for Washington.

“There’s a chance that Argentina can fill this vacuum and eventually be a strategic partner for the U.S.,” said Sergio Berensztein, who runs a political consultancy in Buenos Aires. “Musk can serve to speed this process of Argentina becoming part of the (U.S.) new network of friends."

Last month, Musk's company delivered Starlink satellite internet service to Argentina, a move cheered by farmers struggling to keep up with high-tech agriculture in remote parts of the country.

Gerardo Werthein, Argentina's ambassador to the U.S., attended Friday's meeting and told La Nación newspaper that Milei and Musk discussed Argentina's vast reserves of strategic minerals, including lithium, an indispensable ingredient in batteries for electric cars.

“He expressed wanting to help Argentina, and had a very good view of everything we have, mainly lithium,” Werthein said of Musk.

Milei’s love for free markets and close alignment with U.S. policy — a major shift after years of left-wing governments that adopted interventionist policies and strained relations with Washington — has raised hopes in the U.S. that lithium and other badly needed metals can be extracted closer to home, breaking China’s dominance of the battery supply chain.

Analysts say that a successful energy transition in the U.S. will demand far more lithium and other essential commodities than the country is now on track to produce.

“We want to be able to localize our supply chain to the greatest extent so you’re not transporting materials all the way around the world,” said Ben Steinberg, a former Department of Energy senior adviser and current executive vice president at government affairs firm Venn Strategies. “The U.S. has a lot of interest in working domestically and with South American countries like Argentina."

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Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

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