The Miami Herald
Sat, Apr. 03, 2004
Get tough on crime, public demands

Spurred into action by the murder of a kidnapped student, and the grieving father's petition drive, Argentines are calling for stronger penalties.

BUENOS AIRES - (AP) -- For days, Argentines have been transfixed by news of the slaying of a 23-year-old kidnapping victim -- a real-life drama that seemed all too familiar in a country gripped by spiraling crime.

The rage over the death of engineering student Axel Blumberg boiled over late Thursday as more than 100,000 people took to the streets in one of Argentina's largest demonstrations in years.

Headlines on Friday captured the mood: The people said enough! read the front page of Argentina's largest daily, Clarín.

Argentines clamor for justice, said The Buenos Aires Herald.

For years, Argentines considered their capital a relative island of calm, far removed from the big-city crime plaguing Rio de Janeiro and Caracas. But the country's 2001-2002 economic crisis brought on a crime wave: holdups, street robberies, and other crimes soared.

Government statistics show that over the last year, a kidnapping was reported every 48 hours in Argentina.

''The Blumberg case has inflamed Argentina,'' said pollster Ricardo Rouvier. ``The crime problem is so out of hand that everybody now feels they could be a victim.''

Axel's case made headlines beginning in mid-March, when he was snatched by captors seeking a $17,550 ransom.

Axel's father, Juan Carlos, reportedly negotiated the ransom down to about $6,000 with the help of Buenos Aires provincial police. As the captors headed to a drop-off point to receive the money, police reportedly tried to stop them. A gun battle ensued, and the kidnappers escaped.

Axel reportedly was shot by his kidnappers hours later as he tried to escape from a suburban home where he was being held.

The elder Blumberg, a textile businessman, has circulated petitions asking for a change in crime laws and conducted interviews at his doorstep, railing against local officials for not doing enough to rescue his son.

President Nestor Kirchner has shaken up the police force in Buenos Aires province, home to a quarter of Argentina's 36 million people. He says he'll soon take new steps to combat rising lawlessness.