Argentine President Javier Milei at CPAC AFP

Last week, the United States' far-right political leaders gathered for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

The conference drew a host of U.S. political figures who follow former President Donald Trump's brand of conservatism, including former White House aide Steve Bannon, former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, and Trump himself.

A handful of international conservative politicians also gave addresses, including Brexit champion Nigel Farage, former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, and two of Latin America's most outspoken populists: Argentine President Javier Milei and President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele.

Milei and Bukele's styles have resonated with Trumpism Republicans, as well as conservative leaders around the world. For the two Latin American presidents, who come from countries with struggling economies and populations just over 45 million (Argentina) and 6 million (El Salvador), it was an opportunity to continue solidifying their positions among the far-right movement's international leadership and get close to Trump, the expected Republican presidential nominee for this year's elections in the U.S.

In their speeches, Milei and Bukele railed against globalism, economic regulation, abortion rights and, in the case of the latter, championed measures taken by his government to crack down on crime.

Milei's big show

"In all of his appearances outside Argentina, Milei's main objective is to project himself as the new figure of the international far right," Julio Burdman, a professor of geopolitics at the University of Buenos Aires, told The Latin Times.

Burdman said that other far-right leaders like Trump, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and Santiago Abascal Conde, president of Spain's ultra-conservative Vox party, "have less intellectual training" than Milei, and taking advantage of that, he "wants to be the ideological leader of that group."

"Hello everyone, I am the lion," Milei greeted the CPAC crowd, before diving into what many described as a lecture on libertarian economics. The half-full conference room seemed ready for fiery one-liners they could applaud, but instead the economist fed them technical detail about how state regulations introduced distortions in the free market.

"Argentina produces food for 400 million people. The tax burden on the food industry is 70%. So, the state government keeps the food for 280 million people. And still 5 million Argentines don't have enough to eat because of the damned state," said Milei during a passage of his speech.

It wasn't until later when Milei spoke out against abortion (which was legalized in Argentina in 2020) and chided the country's "thieving politicians, businessmen, trade unionists, and media outlets," that the president got cheers from the audience.

Back in Argentina, Milei is struggling to rein in the world's highest inflation rate. According to the Catholic University of Argentina's social debt observatory, poverty in the country reached its highest level in 20 years, and in February Congress rejected a bill proposed by the president that included sweeping economic reforms.

While Milei addressed CPAC amid uncertainty at home, Bukele, the self-described "world's coolest dictator," is fresh off a landslide presidential victory and his Ideas party holds a supermajority in Congress.

Bukele encourages strongman leadership in the U.S.

Bukele, 42, may not fit the profile of an average CPAC-goer. Originally a socialist and a member of El Salvador's far-left Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), he's now more of an "opportunist," according to what Jorge Cuellar, an assistant professor of Central American Studies at Dartmouth, told NPR.

In CPAC, Bukele sees another opportunity to cozy up with Trump, the Republican front-runner, who has been sympathetic to Bukele's crack down on crime, which many have said includes disregarding human rights.

Nayib Bukele AFP

Under Bukele, El Salvador has jailed over 70,000 people, several arbitrarily, in what's been a wide-ranging (and mostly successful) effort to win back control of the country from street gangs. But experts worry that by throwing 1% of the population in prison and ignoring underlying issues which lead to the country's violence, El Salvador will face future waves of gang violence, reported the Associated Press.

While human rights organizations have denounced Bukele's tactics, many Salvadorans and other Latin Americans have embraced them. Moreover, his tough-on-crime stance could resonate with conservative US Latinos voting in upcoming elections.

Bukele warned the CPAC audience that cities like Baltimore, Portland, and New York are experiencing a generalized decline. "We can clearly see the signs of a declining society because our own hit rock bottom decades ago," he said.

"We have done the unthinkable and cleansed our society. We arrested the terrorists, but we have to remove corrupt judges and prosecutors," said Bukele. "The next president of the United States must not only win the elections, he must have the vision, the will, and the courage to do whatever it takes," he added.

According to Burdman, "Bukele wants a strong, regulatory state ... You can see that in the territorial reform recently implemented in El Salvador, meant to centralize power on the presidential figure over subnational governments."

CPAC leaders bash globalism and institutions

This year's CPAC theme was "where globalism goes to die," echoing Trumpism's penchant for isolationism in U.S. foreign policy.

The theme also resonated with the Latin American leaders.

"They say that globalism comes to die at CPAC. I come to tell you that in El Salvador it is already dead," Bukele told the audience. "But if you want globalism to die here too, you must be willing to fight unapologetically against everything and everyone who defends it," he added.

For his part, Milei urged the audience to "not allow the advance of socialism" and to not "be carried away by the siren song of social justice."

Juan Elman, an Argentine journalist who attended CPAC, told The Latin Times that Trump, Milei, Bukele and other far-right leaders at the conference "have the same negative view about the present political system. They believe that this system needs profound reforms in their countries because it is against them."

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