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Argentina braces for more economic upheaval after a major political shakeup

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Argentina is bracing for more economic upheaval after a major political shakeup. A far-right libertarian who's vowed to, quote, "cut the government with a chainsaw" has emerged as the front-runner in the South American country's presidential race. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Javier Milei embraces his outsider status.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: At his rallies, like this campaign closer in Buenos Aires, he plunges into the crowd as heavy metal music blares. Once on stage, he belts out the lyrics by an Argentine hard rock band about a lion ruling over a lost world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAVIER MILEI: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Images of a large, roaring lion in flames projects on huge screens above the stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Viva.

KAHN: Milei's anti-establishment message is the latest in a trend of political novices attacking the status quo. And it strikes a chord with many Argentines struggling with inflation hovering at 115%, one of the highest in the world. Nearly 4 out of every 10 Argentines now live in poverty. Milei supporter 30-year-old Kevin Echeveste says Argentina's government is too big and too intrusive.

KEVIN ECHEVESTE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's time for the government to stop being present everywhere and let us act for ourselves," he says. Milei wants the dollar to replace the peso, and he pledges to obliterate the central bank. He'll also slash multiple ministries, especially health and education. Health care and university education in Argentina is free. He says sex education destroys family values, and climate change is a lie. Milei's next big test will come in October. He'll face candidates from the country's two mainstream parties, which have traded power for years. That includes a former security minister who's taken a hard line against crime and the current ruling Peronist party's economic minister, who came in third place in last Sunday's primary election. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Buenos Aires.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTONIO PINTO'S "LOVE AND HATE MARADONA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.