Do fears of crime in Argentina reflect reality?


Jun 20, 2006
BUENOS AIRES — On April 15, 45-year-old Daniel Capristo was shot dead in front of his family by a kid who wanted his car.
The next day, more than 3,000 banner-bearing residents of greater Buenos Aires filled the streets, chanting pro-death penalty slogans and demanding that minors be tried as adults for violent crimes, according to local media. They also revived the refrain that chased out three successive Argentine presidents during the financial collapse of 2001: “All of them must go; not a single one may stay.”
In the weeks ahead of Argentina's congressional elections, the consensus on editorial pages and the street is that crime is foremost in voters' minds. The survey firm Ibarometro found that the issue outranked all others considered — including poverty, education and corruption — by a factor of two in the greater Buenos Aires area, and by four inside the city proper.
As in Buenos Aires, so in the rest of the country. According to a monthly survey by the University of Di Tella, almost 40 percent of metropolitan Argentine households have seen a crime against a household member in the past year, the same rate as in the capital. Most of those offenses were robberies, about half of them violent ones.
That crime rate — colorfully called the “Index of Victimization” — has jumped 35 percent in the past year. The increase may represent a new surge in Argentina, which last saw a major crescendo in violent crime leading up to and following the economic crash in the beginning of the decade, as mounting unemployment led to desperation. As the economy recovered, crime rates began to fall again.
Even if the rates fell for much of this decade, however, it seems that fear of crime has only grown. Gilson Jorge, a Brazilian student of international relations, got a time-lapse image of the Argentine mood between his first visit to Buenos Aires in 2003 and his return this year to start his master's degree program.
“People appear to be much more afraid now than they were before,” Jorge said. “Now, people look scared when you walk up to them in the street.”
To Jorge, the fear seems overblown.
After all, the homicide rate in Argentina is only about a fifth of that in Jorge's native Brazil and in Venezuela, for example, and a tenth of that in Colombia and El Salvador. Although Argentina had the 20th-highest “Index of Victimization” — out of 77 countries analyzed by the Network of Latin American Technological Information — it's near the bottom of that list for American countries. While Latin America is one of the highest crime regions in the world, Argentina (hysteria aside) remains one of the safest countries in the region.
“In Argentina, everything is exaggerated, especially if it's bad news,” said Miguel Winazki, journalist and author of the book “Panic Attack: Chronicles of Fear in Argentina.” “There's a long apocalyptic tradition of believing that the world is collapsing, and that Argentina is worst off.”
Argentina's secretary of security, for one, has tried to counteract the doomsday fears, maintaining that the crime rate has been decreasing steadily since 2001, and publicly blaming the media for “constructing an image of insecurity which, at times, is distorted.”
Winazki notes that the media's ratings rise when they report scary news, and he's a bit skeptical about a real rise in the crime rate. “It probably has risen, but I don't know if it has risen dramatically,” Winazki said. “But what has risen dramatically is the priority the issue has in the public agenda."
Recent months have brought new and controversial public initiatives — from security cameras on some posh neighborhood streets to a partially constructed wall dividing an affluent neighborhood from a poorer one in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. There has been talk of bringing gendarmerie forces from the borders that they have traditionally patrolled into city slums in the country's interior.
The crime controversy is a favorite with politicians of all stripes, whom Winazki says are as guilty of feeding and exploiting the hysteria as the media. Perhaps they have to be, upon pain of losing their jobs: In the Ibarometro poll that found crime to be the top election issue, two-thirds of respondents thought the Buenos Aires province government mishandled the issue. That provincial government is home to the pivotal race of the June 28 elections — a hint that Argentina may be in for a regime change this month.
And whatever the contributions of politicians and media types, a popular front is clearly growing where crime hits home. “We are all Daniels in the street,” said the 24-year-old son of the slain Daniel Capristo, surrounded by thousands of outraged supporters and mobbed by television cameras. “We must say 'Enough.' "
Well ... what is your opinion? This is just a pasted article.

Here's my opinion, but first the caveat. I have lived here six months. I live in a rich neighborhood, although not everyone in this area is all that rich. I live in a regular neighborhood, no walls or gated communities, just a regular part of the city with people going about their business and their lives. I am sure I have a viewpoint distorted by where I am, who I am, and what I know. I do not live in a villa miseria ... but does anyone reading this live in such a barrio?

On the other hand, what I just wrote makes me a juicy target. Or it ought to. I think I stick out as a rich person. Not once in these six months have I felt threatened or worried about the situation I found myself in. Although it must be said that I certainly do not go about looking for danger ... the looking for Mr. Goodbar effect.

I find, in my personal experience, Buenos Aires to be an amazingly safe city for one this size and on this continent. I live been in truly dangerous cities: Rio, Jo-burg, and Mexico City, to name three. I have felt more overt threats in NYC than I have here.

This is not to diminish the reality of crime, which I have no doubt exists in spades. And for some Portenos, it must be a daily, even an hourly, element of life. But there ought to be some perspective. There are cities in the world of comparable size that are so much more overtly dangerous than BAires that it is difficult to make a fair comparison.

So, cutting to the chase, one's perception of the reality of crime in Buenos Aires must depend on who you are, where you live, and what you choices are. My perspective is, Buenos Aires is better than most world cities of comparable size, but it's not Topeka.
The topic was not about my opinion HDM it was about the members perceptions of crime in Buenos Aires.
I believe that it is a balanced article and well expressed.
Well, as an incoming arrival to BA, and not taking up permanent residence until later this year, I trust you will allow my impressions fo my two trips this year to date. I live in Dublin, Ireland, at present but was born and grew up in the North of Ireland, during the times of the "The Troubles", so have a good concept of living with fear on the streets.

Unlike HDM, I have been living in a not so rich neighbourhood, Avellaneda, and as a native English Speaker, I clearly stand out form the crowd - needless to say, being irish, I don't blend in too easily. Generally people who know the BA locale, have taken a sharp intake of breath when I mentioned I was living in Avellaneda, and shaken their heads. Well, I have to accept that it is not the luxurious open spaces that Palermo enjoys, but it is a normal working class city life suburb, and to date, I have felt as safe here as in inner city Dublin, where my present apartment is.

Last week I gave a talk to some Adult English learners in Avellaneda, a general conversation group, and they were asking me the questions about security, and expressing their own fears, which I challenged in much the same way as the article does. Their perceptions were driven by anectdotal evidence, media influence, and generally a "belief" that security was bad... Perhaps I have not spent enough time, not been personally put into a difficult situation, but my own views are that the impression is more perceived than reality - again, given the size of the city.

It reminds me of a time, a few years back, when I was Chairman of the Local Police Consultative Committee, and a local elected councillor (this was in the UK back in the 90's)... I was approached by some local residents expressing their fears about walking down the local high street in the evening for fears of being mugged etc... They were genuinely afraid, because of all the muggings..... When I spoke to the District Inspector, and we looked at the crime figures, in the previous 8 years, there had not been a single incident in that area - It was a perception, irrational, but built up by the media percieving high streets as "Muggers Alleys" .... Maybe there is an element of this within society in BA - Maybe I will be mugged next time I walk down Mitre in Ave...., and my views will change, but as long as one is sensible about this issue, and does not allow fear to consume, then I genuinely believe that the perception exceeds the "individual" reality.
There are a lot of security guards in Buenos Aires. Businesses are in the business of making money. I don't think the security guards would be hired if there were not a true need. It's unfortunate that some of the security guards could not be used for other, more productive purposes, such as additional checkers at the supermarket.

The politically correct in their plush apartments with 24 hour security in Barrio Norte may feel that cracking down on crime is a victimization of the poor, when actually it is the poor who are, and have always been, the main victims of violent crime.
In all the times I have been to Buenos Aires I have never felt threatened, exept once in Balvenera when two guys were fighting just feet away and one had a piece of broken glass he was using as a weapon. In truth I was not threatened at all, they were too interested in each other.
Tango venues are in some of the roughest areas and we regularly walk them at night. Take regular precautions, like not showing off and carrying the minimum of money and I think you will remain safe.
The perception of high crime, I think is propergated by the media. Of course it is bad if it has happened to you, but how often do we hear " I had a freind who heard about someone who was robbed" We are getting towards the six points of separation. If one person in the world was robbed then we would all know someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew him.
In order to understand the current crime "paranoia" you don't have to compare us with other cities, you have to know how things have worsened in this city. Sure, crime in BA is not as bad as in Rio, and sure, there have always been a fair amount of crime in the city. But many problems are new, and scary. The level of violence of today's crimes (14 year old killing people for the smalles things) was practicaly unheard of some years ago. Drugs have too taken hold in the city, while traditionaly Argentina was a transition country and not a consumers country (today we are one of the major cocaine consumers). Now we have national and international drug cartels operationg in the city. Again, this was unheard of a few years back.

But what really pisses people off is not just the government failing at solving this problems, but not even trying to solve them!, as they are just a sensation, a feeling created by the media...
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Of course we all speak from our own experience, a survey of one. Then too, 100 surveys of one become a real survey, small, but with a voice. I am tall, blue eyed, in my opinion easily identifiable as a foreigner. I am female and often am on the streets alone, though only in daylight. The caveats of my answer begin with that. I don't go out much at night, take taxis when I do and am usually with my boyfriend at night. We don't drink heavily when we are out, we don't carry large amounts of cash, we don't over dress (much) and we've never had a problem. Even those nights we have gone out, San Telmo, Palermo, Recoleta, Barrio Norte, Flores, Belgrano and other barrios have been quiet and peaceful for the most part even at 2 or 3 in the morning. Twice (that I know of) someone has tried to steal from my bag on the subte but because I keep my valuables on an inside pocket they never got anything but a feel of my tissue packet. I also don't know anyone whose been robbed and have never met anyone first hand whose had violence done on them. For my money it's a fairly safe city if you are cautious and responsible. If it matters, we live in Congreso and don't own a car. Our building has 24 hour doormen. We feel very safe.
Comparing Buenos AIres to Rio and saying BA is safe by comparison is a lame argument. It would be like someone telling me that a bad section of Orange County has, "a crime rate one half of Compton's"

I was eating in a Resto next to Park Lezama and commented to my companion that I liked this part of the city because it was relatively quiet. Unprompted in any way she responded that the park was extremely dangerous at night and that people will kill you for your 100 peso mobile phone! This from a resident that lives near the park. Having worked near Skid Row LA and lived near West Lake (K-town), I feel MUCH safer here. But it is indeed a sad day if our points of reference are Skid Row LA or Rio's notorious favelas....

I lived in Japan for many years and there is great value in feeling secure, so secure that young women feel totally at ease walking through a large city park after a late evening. You really appreciate that when you lose it. It is a quality of life issue.

You aren't going to solve the problem by condescendingly telling people that they are being irrational in their fear. Maybe the people aren't as dumb as you appear to think they are.