Argentina calls out paramilitary to clean up crime
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -- Argentine President Carlos Menem called
out the border police and coast guard on Thursday to help "clean the streets"
of rising violent crime in what has long been one of Latin America's safest
Alarming indicators of rising crime in Buenos Aires and the surrounding
province, and panicky news stories, have created an atmosphere of growing
concern in a country long spared the endemic urban violence of neighbours
"We will act with all our energy to clean up the streets of Argentina.
prepared just to watch citizens die while politicians talk," the Peronist
president told an emergency meeting of the government's Internal Security
He announced the "mobilization of all state security forces to cooperate
provincial authorities, especially in and around the capital, to combat this
wave of crime." This should free up 1,500-2,000 federal police officers from
secondary duties such as guarding officials and judges.
Government data quoted by one paper showed 53 percent of the population
of greater Buenos Aires was robbed in 1998, versus 37 percent in 1997.
The capital's annual murder rate was five per 100,000 inhabitants. In greater
Buenos Aires, which includes outlying suburbs, it was 12 per 100,000.
That compares to a murder rate in the United States of 6.8 per 100,000
1997, the last year for which data is available. The all-time U.S. high was
10.7 murders per 100,000 in 1980.
The numbers, and daily reports of bank robberies and deadly hold-ups, are
a shock to a society which more than any other big country in Latin America
has enjoyed being able to wander the streets to visit cafes and bars any time
of day or night.
The rise in crime has accompanied an increase in unemployment to more
than 12 percent and in divisions between rich and poor. It has become a
political hot potato ahead of the presidential election due in October this
Officials partly blame immigrants from poorer neighbours like Peru and
Bolivia and want tighter immigration laws.
Menem, who is banned from seeking a third term and whose party faces stiff
opposition in the vote from the centre-left Alliance, predicted that "political
criticisms will rain down" on him for calling out the Gendarmes and Naval
But he said he had "the support of the vast majority of our people who
to live and work in peace." He pledged to crack down on crime with the
same success as inflation, which was in four digits when he took office in
1989 and is now zero.
The Alliance's presidential candidate, Buenos Aires city mayor Fernando
la Rua, said Menem's decision to call out security forces to help the police
"It's fine, because we need to stop this wave of violence. But it also
the lack of prior policy, which has led the capital and province to these high
levels of crime," he said.
The Alliance, like the Roman Catholic church, blames the crime wave on
unemployment and poverty -- blamed in turn on Menem's free-market
reforms, including widespread privatisations.