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Transnational Thursdays 16


Turbo-libertarian Javier Milei has gotten into some trouble for his running mate Victoria Villarruel, who has been a long time apologist for Argentina’s Dirty War and as a lawyer defended officers accused of crimes against humanity. She claims the mass disappearances were understandable and necessary to defeat leftist terrorists (who had mostly been extinguished by the time Videla took power in 76 near the very beginning of this era of state terrorism). This has understandably drawn the ire of Argentina’s human rights organizations and isn’t just an issue of the past - if Milei wins she will be in charge of the police and armed forces.

Separately the Economist wrote a rather scathing article arguing that the IMF had been radically lowering its lending standards to put up with Argentina’s endless monetary mismanagement. At the rate they’re heading, no matter who wins the election it may be too late to save the currency crisis.

The United Kingdom

Politico reports on leadership difficulties in Britain. The Tories have been receiving a drubbing in the polls, recently lost two by elections, and apparently concluded a ministerial reshuffle without generating much excitement. All this is a challenge for PM Sunak and doesn’t reflect well on next year’s election:

Sunak’s supporters are keen to highlight that he’s chalked up some big wins since taking office less than a year ago. He produced a solution to the Northern Ireland trade deadlock, started to carve out a new image for Britain on the international stage, presided over slowing inflation, and passed a flagship bill aimed at cutting undocumented migration. But these limited successes just may not cut it for voters. Two-thirds of people think Sunak has achieved “only a slight amount” or nothing at all in his premiership so far, according to polling for POLITICO by PR firm Redfield and Wilton.

Speaking of leadership woes, following Nicola Sturgeon’s exit and SNP’s ongoing scandals, much of the oomph seems to have been taken out of the independence movement:

A recent Survation poll suggested the SNP could lose almost half the 48 seats it won at the 2019 Westminster election, with Labour picking up 24 — a dramatic improvement on opposition leader Keir Starmer’s current total of one, and a major boost to his hopes of entering Downing Street at next year’s general election.

I’m not really a Britain watcher and I know we have a fair amount of users who are so input would definitely be appreciated.


The left and right remain in deadlock in Spain’s never ending post election hangover. The conservatives were the frontrunner in votes and their leader Feijoo is currently attempting unsuccessfully to form a party. Feijoo actually proposed to the Socialist party that they collaborate on legislation if they allow him to come to power, which the socialists of course rejected.

Currently they still hold the top chance at winning a third party to their coalition because the third parties are mostly regional outright or quasi independence movements that are incompatible with a more nationalist coalition. However, the Catalan party Junts has now formally outlined their demands to support the left. They will require full amnesty for their leader Carles Puigdemon, who is in exile following the illegal Catalan independence referendum. Until now this has been a nonstarter for leftist PM Pedro Sanchez and Junts have already said they won’t accept an exchange of amnesty for police officers accused of brutality in the wake of the referendum, which has been thus far the only idea proposed to sweeten the hard-to-swallow demand.


To summarize the mess so far, two anti-military, anti-monarchy parties were big winners in the last election. One of them was more genuinely radical / progressive, the other was kind of the family party of the last two leaders that the military coup’d. For understandable reasons the latter party, Pheu Thai, were at first seen as a more serious enemy, and their incredibly popular shadow leader Thaksin Shinawatra has been exiled since the his 2014 coup.

However, the more radical (and popular) Move Forward party came to be seen as a more serious threat to the military-monarchy rule so the powers that be blocked them, and ended up coalitioning with Pheu Thai and let them pick a palatable, non-military PM in exchange for Thaksin being allowed to return. The King has now formally pardoned almost all of Thaskin’s sentence.

There are two ways to look at the conclusion to this saga. One is that populist forces have become so powerful that the military was forced on its back legs to sacrifice some power and even ally with their old enemy. The other is that the military has so skillfully entrenched their power that they have co-opted their historical enemy as an ally and handily crushed their only real threat. I tend to lean towards the latter explanation but you can differ.

Separately, I have previously used Thailand as an example arguing against people who think American foreign policy is guided by an urge to push progressivism everywhere. The Thai military basically just steamrolled a progressive democratic movement and we didn’t say anything, because what we really care about is whether they’ll lean towards us or China. At the time I argued it was very unlikely that Thailand made their move without letting the US know first, and that we should expect to see our countries grow closer, not farther apart following this arc. Early signs of this shift, the Thai PM has said he will also skip ASEAN and use that time to hold security talks with the United States.

I’ve been covering this election saga for a while and now that it’s basically concluded I probably won’t update on Thailand too often, unless they do something crazy (which they well might!) so thanks for following this with me.


After Gabon’s coup against the re-elected Ali Bongo, General Brice Oligui Nguema has risen to power as the new “interim” president. While on the surface this is the end of the 56 years of rule by the Bongo family, Nguema is actually cousins with President Bongo, leading the opposition leader to accuse the whole thing of being a sham to keep the family in power. Either way, the General has his work cut out for him:

The freeze on hiring since 2018 and the suspension of a salary before the civil servants are given a posting are just two issues that have made the job more precarious, unionist Sima Bertin says.

"Three major issues come immediately come to mind. First, the administrative situations of teachers must be regularized. The second is the regularization of their financial situation, including the payment of arrears. Last but not least, the pension should be indexed to the teachers' remuneration systems',' the Syndicat de l’éducation nationale member listed.

Nguema has promised to return the country to civilian control with free and fair elections but, uh, no timeline yet. Rwanda and Cameroon have responded to the coup by reshuffling their own defense forces and seem to be wary of more instability spreading.


Slovakia will have a parliamentary election on September 30th. This is earlier than normal because the last election was only in 2020, which saw the rise of the anti-corruption populist Igor Matovič, who proceeded to mismanage things so badly that he is apparently now the most distrusted politician in Slovakia with various polls showing 88% to 91% of the population rating him as distrustful. He was succeeded by Eduard Heger who struggled to maintain momentum through stillwater budget negotiations and ultimately lost a vote of no confidence in December, leading to a vote in January to reform the constitution to allow for early elections.

Right now the previous leader of the left wing coalition, SD, is in first place, trailed by a progressive party likely willing to coalition with them, and trailed comfortably by everyone else.


China’s second largest real estate giant after Evergrande, Country Garden, may default on their debts as well, turning a bad real estate -driven recession even worse.

This came as the crisis-hit company reported a record $6.7bn (£5.2bn) loss for the first six months of the year…

Country Garden also announced it had missed interest payments on bonds that were due this month. However, it added it was still within a 30-day grace period to make the payments.

It is also reportedly seeking to extend a deadline for the repayment of another bond…

Problems in China's property market - which includes everything from building homes to industries making the goods that go in them - is having a major impact as it accounts for around a third of the economy.

China's real estate industry was rocked when new rules to control the amount of money big real estate firms could borrow were introduced in 2020.

Evergrande, which was once China's top-selling developer, racked up debts of more than $300bn as it expanded aggressively to become one of the country's biggest companies.

Its financial problems have rippled through the country's property industry, with a series of other developers defaulting on their debts and leaving unfinished building projects across the country.

BBC adds more detail in a small retrospective:

The country's astonishing growth in the past 30 years was propelled by building: everything from roads, bridges and train lines to factories, airports and houses. It is the responsibility of local governments to carry this out.

However, some economists argue this approach is starting to run out of road, figuratively and literally.

One of the more bizarre examples of China's addiction to building can be found in Yunnan province, near the border with Myanmar. This year, officials there bafflingly confirmed they would go ahead with plans to build a new multi-million dollar Covid-19 quarantine facility.

Heavily indebted local governments are under so much pressure that this year some were reportedly found to be selling land to themselves to fund building programmes.

On the other hand, a series of articles seems to be praising Hauwei’s advances in the just released chip, in spite of sanctions:

Jefferies analysts said TechInsights' findings could trigger a probe from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, create more debate in the U.S. about the effectiveness of sanctions and prompt the Congress to include even harsher tech sanctions in a competition bill it is preparing against China.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

The United Kingdom

The Troubles Legacy Bill has just been sent to the King for royal assent. It offers conditional amnesty for people accused of killings in the Troubles (counter to popular perception the amnesty given as part of the Good Friday Agreement wasn't total and plenty of people are keeping their mouths shut or are on the run because of this), and prevents any Troubles era court cases or inquests being held.

All of Northern Ireland's political parties opposed this bill but I'm guessing that British Army veterans being put on trial for murder made it a point the parties in Westminster couldn't ignore. There are surely violent republicans that will be let off the hook for this, enough reason for Unionists to oppose the bill, but since so many paramilitaries ended up dead or in prison anyway the feeling among nationalists is that they prosecuted some murderers while refusing to prosecute others.

If there's a silver lining it's that as people no longer fear prosecution we might get more answers to what really happened.

Finland updates here.

In some parties, the party secretary is selected by the party’s internal organs, in others by the party convention. SDP belongs to the latter category. Party leaders often do have some leeway in steering the members into backing their preferred candidate into become the party secretary (and their chief working partner), very concretely in this case as Lindtman’s team convinced two candidates for the post to stand down, arousing some criticism.

However, a much bigger firestorm was set off by the party’s eventual decision to select Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi to the post. Näkkäläjärvi, a long-time youth organization activist, became known to most Finns a few years ago when he was running to the European Parliament and it turned out that he had, well… tortured a cat to death. That’s right; no matter what else Näkkäläjärvi has done, he will never shake off the case where he and some friends, living in the backwoods region of the very northernmost Finland, had broken into an old lady’s cabin and brutally tortured her cats to death, as teenagers.

Näkkäläjärvi was duly punished in those years and has apologized many times, but as one might guess, this sort of a thing makes him radioactive in actual elected politics (he didn’t get elected to the European Parliament), but oftentimes such persons, if considered useful enough, are just shuffled to the party’s internal structure. Lindtman himself has aroused some notoriety from old photos from his teenage years where he, among other things, gives a Nazi salute with his chums.

On Gabon- wasn’t Ngeuma the name of some other African dictator, crazy in a legit schizo way not merely in a paranoid and incompetent way? Like maybe Equatorial Guinea or something?

Yes! Macías Nguema, “the Pol Pot of Africa.” His Wikipedia page is a horror show, featuring highlights like him burying dissidents up to their heads in dirt and feeding them to ants.

His successor and to this day current President is also a Nguema Mbasongo, and is also an underrated dictator, the second longest lasting on earth after Biya in Cameroon.

I wonder if there’s any relation or if it’s just coincidence.

The current leader of Equatorial Guinea is the nephew of the more famous dictator Macías, but I don't believe either of them are related to the Bongo family in Gabon. It's a pretty common name for the major ethnic group in that corner of Africa.

Equatorial Guinea and Gabon share a border and all three men are ethnic Fangs.

She claims the mass disappearances were understandable and necessary to defeat leftist terrorists (who had mostly been extinguished by the time Videla took power in 76 near the very beginning of this era of state terrorism)

I wouldn't be so sure of the second part.

This is the accepted narrative across both sides. The Argentinian right doesn't deny it, they signal boost it because the left likes to frame the guerilla terrorists as a (possibly justified) response to the abuses of the dictatorship, while the right likes to point out that left wing terrorism was actually at its worst while Argentina was still a democracy.

So...if we're talking about both sides, is it also the accepted narrative of the left or not?

That for the majority of the Dirty War the terrorist footprint was mild? Yes.

Mild compared to the period before the Dirty War?

Compared to the first two years of the Dirty War, which started in 74. From my OP that you're quoting:

leftist terrorists (who had mostly been extinguished by the time Videla took power in 76 near the very beginning of this era of state terrorism)

The quibbles are whether they were the cause of or a response to state violence. The periods of democracy vs dictatorship / human rights vs state violence can't really be cleanly separated because Videla, prior to becoming dictator, was already leading the anti-terrorist campaigns without regards to rule of law under a democratically elected President, Isabel Perón, so both sides can choose to read into the timeline the narrative that they most prefer.

I see. I thought the term 'Dirty War' is specifically used to describe the methods of the military juntas in power between 1976-83.

Sunak strikes me as a broadly competent PM who’s main problem is dealing with the assorted political baggage that comes from leading a party that has been in power for 13 years. I think there are some interesting parallels between his tenure and that of post-Thatcher PM John Major who went into a general election with a rather buoyant economy, but got totally smashed by Blair. I don’t personally see any Labour victory being anywhere that decisive, the most likely outcome is that Keir wins a single term on a modest majority.

I think you’re correct that SNP struggles could well tip the balance at the upcoming election. Without a realistic prospect of independence, which is the sole unifying policy in the SNP ranks, there’s a risk of damage from further infighting. The SNP do of course have the advantage (similar to the basket case NI parties) that they’re unequivocally the only choice if you want to vote in the self interest of your tribe.

After the Brexit referendum happened, I assumed that the causes of Scottish independence and Irish unification will both gain decisive traction as a result, and become reality in a matter of years. I suppose it's easy to be mistaken.

First of all, thanks for your posts as always! Really interesting stuff

About Argentina

as a lawyer defended officers accused of crimes against humanity. She claims the mass disappearances were understandable and necessary to defeat leftist terrorists

Source? Your provided links don't mention this at all, perhaps it's mentioned in the book, but I haven't read it.
As far as I know, Villaruel's advocacy primarily centers around seeking justice for the victims of the guerrilla group Montoneros, who are often forgotten and disregarded. Interestingly, many individuals associated with Montoneros currently hold positions of power within the far-left populist party. There's a reason why, since 2003, the narrative has shifted to assert that the Montoneros did nothing wrong. This is evident in the removal of the prologue "Theory of two demons" from the book "Nunca Mas" (Never Again), which was written by Sabato.

For some reason, in contrast to my experience in Wikipedia, the Spanish version of this article is accurate while the English version says something entirely different. Probably better to use this link and translate the page: Teoria de los dos demonios

The far-left party has used the outcry over the dictatorship to claim moral high ground for the past 20 years. It's worth noting that this same party, along with human rights organizations, denounces the use of Tasers as being similar to the torture methods employed during the dictatorship.

This has understandably drawn the ire of Argentina’s human rights organizations and isn’t just an issue of the past

What's interesting is that Villaruel has been engaged in this cause for 20 years, and it's only now that a scandal has emerged around it. From a political standpoint, it seems that the far-left party aims to create polarization by positioning Milei as their opponent rather than Bullrich. Since the primaries, the three main parties, each with nearly 30% of the votes, include Massa (far-left), Bullrich (center-right), and Milei (Libertarian).

In other news, Tucker Carlson was in Buenos Aires with Milei's team yesterday and is dropping the interview next week on X.
Hope it's as interesting as other interviews Milei had given, he frequently quotes chapters and books of Murray, Robarth, Friedman and Hayek among some people, not common at all for other politicians to do (and I mean quoting books at all).

Reading back through, I think you're right that the claim that her career was oriented around defending members of the regime seems very exagerrated. As far as I can tell there's really only three instances, her possibly providing legal advice to Etchecolatz, Cozzani, and testifying in a third case. She does seem to have relations and contacts with the quite a few officials from the dictatorship, including allegedly Videla himself.

Who in Montoneros was in Unión por la Patria (or whatever the Peronists/Kirchnerists called themselves at the moment)? That's news to me and definitely a pretty terrible look.

What's interesting is that Villaruel has been engaged in this cause for 20 years, and it's only now that a scandal has emerged around it.

She's been controversial for a while, received death threats, etc, but it's no surprise people are talking about her more now that's she's actually running for national political office.

In other news, Tucker Carlson was in Buenos Aires with Milei's team yesterday and is dropping the interview next week on X.

This sounds like a not-to-be-missed conversation, imaging Melei's penchant for yelling at interviewers combined with someone having to translate.

Who in Montoneros was in Unión por la Patria (or whatever the Peronists/Kirchnerists called themselves at the moment)? That's news to me and definitely a pretty terrible look.

Indeed, here's a long list ( website after, spanish)*. This is why the Villarruel thing is exaggerated and used as political ammo. In their speeches, many Kirchnerists portray themselves as the successors of the Montoneros. Many use the claim "I'm a child of disappeared persons" to assert a moral high ground, a stance that has been widely accepted in society for at least the past 20 years.
While the list might be slightly outdated and includes many who aren't directly affiliated, there are notable names such as "Vaca Narvaja". One of the Vaca Narvaja family members is the current Argentine ambassador to China, married Cristina Kirchner's daughter, and has links to far-left groups in southern Argentina that dispute the nation's authority and claim lands for themselves.

That's news to me and definitely a pretty terrible look.

It's important to note that from their perspective, this isn't concerning, quite the opposite.

*actual pay-walled link: It's in spanish but I assume the google translator toolkit is available to interested people. I use it in brave at least.

Thanks for the added context, I appreciate it. Culturally how did it reach the point that a group known for kidnappings and bombings became fairly accepted across society? Even Perón condemned them back in the day right? I get the Kirchnerists are motivated to whitewash them / tap their history of struggle for legitimacy, but they still only represent about half the country, and Macri would do stuff like taking photoshoots honoring their victims.

A month later but all I can say is not sure. A lot of indoctrination in schools (re-writing history there), and people that don't care.

Don't remember if these were in the link I posted about Montoneros in power, but the fathers of Malena Galmarini (wife of probably next president Massa) were Montoneros, placed a bomb in a park and killed a firefighter. The list goes on and on, there was even a security minister Taiana who actually he set up bombs himself.

Thanks, and thanks for the reply, I love talking about South America. I’ll have a longer fleshed out reply coming up, I’m just absolutely swamped the next few days.