The Student Movement


Argentinian Students Navigate Life during Immense Turmoil

Reagan McCain

Photo by Quirinale

I’m currently a part of the Adventist Colleges Abroad (ACA) program, studying at a Seventh-day Adventist university in Argentina. The interviews in this article were conducted in Spanish with Argentinian students and then translated into English. 

A week before the 2024 school year began at Universidad Adventista del Plata (UAP), students received an email notifying them that the cost of tuition had just increased by 55%. These sorts of sudden, unexpected changes have become typical for students in Argentina, where the tumultuous economic and political situation means many things about daily life are in constant flux. It’s hard to make plans in Argentina,” Alan Rotta, a student studying physical education explains. 

During the early 20th century, Argentina was among the ten wealthiest nations on earth. After a century of decline followed by severe economic turmoil in the early 2000s, Argentina’s once vibrant economy is a distant memory. In 2001, Argentina had to default on $132 billion in foreign investment loans in what’s called La Crisis del 2001. Its largest debts were to the American-based International Monetary Fund (IMF). Argentina struggled to restructure its debt, further worsened by predatory American "Vulture Funds." Things worsened again in 2018 when the government under President Macri took out $44 billion dollars from the IMF (the world’s largest loan in the history of foreign debt). But, because of corruption, instead of this money being invested into Argentina's social programs, a considerable amount was moved to offshore accounts. Shortly after a new administration was brought in, the coronavirus pandemic struck, and Argentina’s economy suffered another serious blow. Since then, things have only gotten worse with out-of-control inflation and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. 

In the most recent election, Argentina elected the eccentric, libertarian political outsider Javier Milei. The situation before Milei’s election was already dire, with inflation at 143% and 40% of Argentinians living in poverty. But since then, it’s worsened. After the devaluation of the Peso in February, inflation hit 276% — the highest of any country in the world. As of right now, poverty rates hover near 60%.As the first ever libertarian president, Milei has implemented harsh austerity measures to try and rein in the economy. Through executive decree, he’s cut financing to the provinces, as well as government-subsidized transportation and energy. In line with his libertarian ideology, he ended price controls so that private healthcare companies can set prices as they wish and ceded full control of the rental market to landlords. Argentinians feel themselves being financially squeezed in every direction. Utilities like water and electricity have steadily increased, and necessities like medication and groceries have had an average price increase of 300% over the past year.

These changes have had direct impacts on many people throughout Argentina, including the students who study at the UAP. Rotta shared that in December, before Milei’s reforms, the rent for his one-bedroom apartment was the equivalent of $50 a month. Now, in March, it’s $150 (For reference, the average monthly income in Argentina is the equivalent of around $430 USD). Yamilla Caviglione, a systems engineering student, shares, “I think what affected me the most was the big inflation of tuition fees.” Adriel Ernst, another systems engineering student, explains that he began to work to alleviate the economic burden for his parents, and he counts himself lucky, “I understand that many students were unable to continue their studies this year.” Rotta describes the stress he’s seen his family go through to support themselves and his education, “My parents are doing everything they can, but every month is more complicated. It’s exhausting seeing that every month, no matter how much effort you make, the money is never enough.”

Studies show that 80% of Argentinians are in a worse financial situation than they were last year, yet Milei’s approval rate has stayed relatively high at about 45%. Ernst explains this seeming contradiction: “I think that Javier Milei’s high approval rating is due to the fact that during his campaign, he preached a lot about the fact that the first months of his government were going to be worse off.” So whether or not the worsening conditions are all part of the plan or because his plan is simply not working, Argentinians feel a sense of trust in Milei because they feel he was upfront and realistic with them from the beginning. Ernst continues, “People value very much when a politician tells them the truth — something that does not happen much in Argentina.” 

Rotta likewise explains that while conditions have not necessarily gotten better, he feels that people are still hopeful that the worst of it might soon be over, “These past couple weeks felt like we're gonna get destroyed, [but now] I see the changes in the mentality of the people around me. I see hope that there might be a change soon.” Many Argentinians feel they have hit rock bottom. “We have nothing left to lose,” Rotta explains, so people are choosing to trust in Milei’s extreme plan and hope for the storm to pass. “All we can do is hold on and keep working,” Rotta elaborates, “That is the life of the Argentinian.” 

But while Argentinians are hoping for the best with the economy, many fear things erupting into political violence, especially as they remember the political violence of their recent history. On Sunday, March 24, people in Argentina observed a Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice (Día de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia). This day is to remember the victims of Argentina’s brutal dictatorship that lasted from 1976-1983. Rotta explained the special significance of this day, “It’s important because it reminds us as Argentinians about the victims of this event… and that we should never allow something like this to happen again.” 

The number commonly given for the people that the military dictatorship systematically killed and disappeared during its oppressive regime is 30,000. But this number is increasingly disputed by those who, human rights groups worry, are seeking to soften the memory of the dictatorship. Milei has been quoted saying, “There were not 30,000,” opting instead for a much smaller estimate of around 8,000. He and his vice president have also described the violence during the dictatorship not as targeted elimination of political opponents from an oppressive government, but instead as an equally matched war with “excesses” on both sides.Caviglione disagrees with Milei’s framing. She says, “Being a public figure and now President, he should not impart such a strong opinion that makes invisible how ugly and difficult the dictatorship was.” Historians agree that it’s impossible to know how many people truly died during this time because of the “pact of silence” in the military. But documents from 1976 that were declassified in 2006 revealed nearly 22,000 people had already disappeared with seven more years left of the dictatorship. The fear is that this rhetoric will increasingly escalate to full-blown justification for the extreme violence used by the dictatorship and then serve as future justification for similar actions. Yamilla admits to me that she fears she will see more political violence in Argentina within her lifetime. Ernst concedes that he has the same worries. “Given the violent history related to Argentina’s crisis, I think it is possible that violence will escalate in the country if it continues to worsen economically,” Ernst asserts. 

Like all students, the interviewees are working to complete their education and considering what their lives might look like afterward. But it's difficult for them to imagine the future during these tumultuous times in their country’s history. Ernst, while skeptical of Milei, still holds on to hope that he might be able to turn things around. “I have hope for the future, because whatever happens, these are not the same politicians of the last few years who have done nothing but destroy Argentina.” Yamilla is less confident. “It scares me,” she says, “As much as Milei is trying to change things, you never know what to expect and what might come out. I don’t see much hope for the future or that it will get much better.” Rotta holds a very deep affection for his country and had always dreamed about the life he wanted to establish here, “I always thought Argentina was the perfect place to live, even with the economy and the instability. I believed a good life was still possible in Argentina even with all these problems,” he reflects. But now, as he nears the end of his university education and stands at the precipice of his adult life, he’s begun to reevaluate: “At this point — if something doesn’t change — then I think if I want to live a decent life, then the decision will have to be to leave this country.” He confides that he thinks Milei’s plans represent the final attempt to fix Argentina, “If this doesn’t work, then there’s just nothing else.” 


Sources (in order of underlined sections)












The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.