A wave of violent crime in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, has prompted the city’s authorities to declare a state of emergency. Argentine citizens have taken justice into their own hands, with reports of suspected criminals being lynched.
“Too much blood has been spilled,” said Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province, announcing the state of emergency. “These measures will mean more rigorous police patrols to crack down on crime.”
The measure comes in response to a growing vigilante movement taking the law into its own hands to combat increasing crime rates in the city. In just 10 days at least 12 attempted lynchings were reported across the city by angry members of the public.
“They kill, they rape, they rob. What do you expect?” 64-year-old Jose Villalba, the superintendent of a building in downtown Buenos Aires told AFP. “I don't think I would go to such an extreme, but you'd have to see the circumstances,” he said.
So far one person has been killed in the vigilante attacks and lynchings. Last week, an angry mob beat 18-year-old David Moreira to death in the city of Rosario, 300 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, after he allegedly stole a woman’s handbag. His family claims he was innocent and has called for justice.
“They seemed more like animals than people, no one has the right to take another’s life,” Moreira’s mother told the Argentine press.
Public reaction to the nascent wave of vigilantism has been mixed in Buenos Aires. A survey by Raul Aragon Associates, published Monday, revealed that 30 percent of the Argentine capital’s residents approve of the public lynchings, while 60 percent oppose them. In addition, over 90 percent of those asked thought that crime was out of control in the province.
As part of the emergency measures, 600 million pesos ($74 million) will be invested in the acquisition of 1,000 new patrol cars, 10,000 weapons and 30,000 bulletproof vests for the police. A total of 5,000 retired police officers will be rehired to support Buenos Aires’ 72,000-strong police force. The city has a population of 3 million, while Buenos Aires province is home to 15 million people – one-third of the country’s population, according to a 2010 national census.
The poor shanty towns surrounding Buenos Aires, known as “villas miserias,” are hotbeds for crime with reports of drug trafficking and violent crime on a daily basis. Argentina has not published any reliable statistics on crime in the country for the past five years.
The results of a survey in 2009 revealed that Argentina had the highest rate of robberies in Latin America at 974 per 100,000 inhabitants. The study also found that the murder rate was significantly lower than in neighboring Brazil and Venezuela, however.