April 15, 1999

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
                  like Brazil.

                  "We will act with all our energy to clean up the streets of Argentina. I'm not
                  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 with
                  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 in
                  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 want
                  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 de
                  la Rua, said Menem's decision to call out security forces to help the police
                  was welcome.

                  "It's fine, because we need to stop this wave of violence. But it also reveals
                  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.