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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Argentina 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Argentina at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

 

Please review OSAC’s Argentina-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is serious risk from crime in Buenos Aires. Officially reported, nationwide, full-range crime statistics first became available in 2016. However, the police face tremendous challenges after an approximate eight-year lapse in tracking and reporting statistics, and the accuracy/integrity of reported statistics is difficult to gauge. Media coverage of individual crimes often creates disproportionate emphasis, and public concerns follow suit.

 

Crimes self-reported to the U.S. Embassy reveal U.S. citizens are most often victims of theft or non-violent robbery, principally in tourist neighborhoods. Street crime in the larger cities (e.g. Downtown & Greater Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mendoza) is a constant problem for residents and visitors alike. Visitors to popular tourist destinations should be alert to muggers, pickpockets, scam artists, and purse-snatchers. Violent armed robberies have also taken place in the northern suburbs (e.g. Vicente Lopez, Olivos, Martinez, San Isidro) and Federal District neighborhoods (e.g. Palermo, Belgrano San Telmo, Recoleta, La Boca) of Buenos Aires. Tourists who travel to the La Boca area should limit their visit to the designated tourist street during daylight hours only.

 

Crime can occur anytime and anywhere. Criminals are often well dressed and hard to spot. Thieves target expensive-looking jewelry, watches, cell phones, and cameras, and specifically target unattended purses, backpacks, laptops, and luggage, often only needing a few seconds to steal valuables. There are numerous reports of robbery of bags off chairs and from in between feet at cafés and restaurants. Thieves on foot and motorcycles (locally identified as motochorros) regularly nab purses, backpacks, laptops, and luggage, and often target vehicles in stopped traffic for smash and grabs.

 

2017-2018 crime statistics reflect a decrease in the overall murder rate for Argentina, but a marked increase of violent crimes; specifically, 300 more crimes by ‘motorchorros’ in Argentina in 2018 than in 2017. Another increasingly common crime scenario involves spraying an offensive-smelling substance on an individual from a distance. Then, an accomplice(s) posing as a concerned bystander will notify the individual of the substance and, while pretending to help clean the substance off, will try pickpocketing the victim. This common scam has been reported throughout the city of Buenos Aires.

 

While most U.S. crime victims are not physically injured when robbed, criminals may be armed and are known to use force when they encounter resistance. There have been violent and even fatal attacks of foreigners carrying valuables. Favorite targets for armed robberies are banks, restaurants, and businesses dealing in cash or high-value merchandise. Visitors should immediately hand over everything demanded if confronted.

 

Criminals target individuals withdrawing cash from ATMs by following customers exiting banks. Travelers should use caution entering and exiting financial institutions and when using ATMs. Use ATMs in public places (e.g. hotels, shopping malls, event venues). In an enclosed ATM booth, make sure the door closes securely.

 

Use credit cards only at hotels and major stores/restaurants. Verify that shops and restaurants accept credit cards prior to purchase, as many locations are cash only. Watch bills and statements for fraudulent charges, and have account information available if you need to contact your credit card company to report theft or fraud.

 

The U.S. Embassy receives frequent reports of stolen passports. Lock passports and other valuables in a hotel safe, and carry only a photocopy of your passport’s information page for identification purposes.

 

Long-term residents have greater exposure to criminal activity than visitors do. One trend is for criminals to go through local neighborhoods and apartment buildings waiting for food delivery services. A common tactic is attacking victims upon entry/exit of their residence, enabling criminals to force their way inside. Many home invasion gangs seek cash, which Argentines frequently store in their homes. The Regional Security Office (RSO) has also received reports from victims followed back to their accommodations, especially from financial institutions. When staying in a hotel or apartment, it is a good precaution to call the front desk or security office to identify uninvited individuals before giving them access.

 

There have been robberies in isolated areas and occasional burglaries of hotel rooms and rental cars in resort areas, including while stopped temporarily at convenience stations. Highway robbery largely affects commercial vehicles. The robbery of trucks has mainly occurred on the highways of northern Buenos Aires province, outside the city; and on the southern roads of Santa Fe province. Highway robbers are often referred to as piratas del asfalto (asphalt pirates).

 

There have been also been reports of the use of date rape drugs in bars. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

 

Cybersecurity Issues

 

The Argentine government is developing its expertise in combatting cybercrime. Few sophisticated schemes have been uncovered. In 2017, the Gendameria has created a squad to fight cybercrime; it has identified several criminal organizations who use phishing techniques to exploit victims in Buenos Aires. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Cybersecurity Basics.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

Visitors should be aware that shantytowns (villas) exist in Buenos Aires and other major cities, even adjacent to tourist zones; avoid entering these areas.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Traffic accidents are common in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires, and remain a serious concern. A report produced by the NGO Luchemos por la Vida states that although there was a slight decrease in traffic deaths nationwide, over 7,000 people die in vehicle accidents each year. In Buenos Aires city, fatalities decreased from 109 deaths in 2016 to 98 in 2017. Buenos Aires province had the highest number of traffic-related deaths in 2017, at nearly 2,200.

 

Pedestrians should be vigilant when crossing streets and look in both directions, regardless of whether the street is designated one way or the traffic light indicates a pedestrian right-of-way. Drivers routinely disobey traffic laws, and vehicles often travel at excessive speeds.   

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

Remises (hired car and driver) and radio taxis are the best, most convenient form of public transportation. Remises charge by the kilometer and are priced reasonably. Radio taxis are black and yellow in the capital, and white with blue lettering in the provinces; they commonly have a fare meter. In town, and especially after dark, use radio taxis or remises hailed from a reliable location whenever possible. Hotels, many restaurants, and shopping centers can help you call either type of service. The following, in order of preference, is advised: a) call for a remis or taxi; b) take one from an established stand; or c) hail one on the street (but not in front of a bank).Travelers should not leave bags in the care of a taxi driver while they run in to a bank or other location.

 

Subways, buses, and trains are generally safe; visitors should be aware of pickpockets and prepare for work stoppages that may lead to delays.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

Visitors report a number of scams involving yellow and black taxis at airports and around town. The most frequently reported include a handler at the airport requesting hundreds of pesos (far exceeding the likely fare) from the traveler as they get into the cab. The traveler often assumes s/he is paying a flat rate up front. Upon conclusion of the ride, the driver demands his fare, stating that he has no association with the handler, and that payment was only to be placed in the cab.

 

Another scam involves the taxi breaking down on the side of the freeway and another cab coming to pick the passenger up. The first driver demands payment for the whole fare as does the second driver for completing the trip. To avoid these scams, pre-arrange transportation or select one of the flat-rate remis services at designated counters inside the airport terminal.

 

Watch your bags at airports and bus or ship terminals. Officials have acknowledged the theft of valuables and money from checked baggage at airports. International passengers arriving at Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Buenos Aires (EZE), also known as Ezeiza, have been the main targets.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Buenos Aires. In the past year, Argentina has hosted both the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games (October 6-18) and 2018 G20 Leader’s Summit (November 30- December 2) without serious incident. Both high-profile international events successfully culminated with praise for the Ministry of Security (MOS) and federal law enforcement agencies for their specific roles in the handling of the security for participants, visitors, and the overall events. Anticipation of widespread protesting and possible violence leading up to and during the G20 never came to fruition, and did not negatively affect the events. The MOS maintained a secure environment, acting in a proactive manner to eliminate potential threats, and permitted peaceful protests during the event.

 

There is no recent or significant operational terrorist activity in Argentina. International terrorists used car bombs to destroy the Israeli Embassy in 1992, killing 29 people; and a Jewish cultural center (AMIA) in 1994, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds.

 

In 2017 and 2018, there were several incidents in Buenos Aires involving small improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or simulated IEDs. Some high-profile recent incidents include:

 

2018:

  • In November, anarchists detonated IEDs in two separate incidents in Buenos Aires.The first involved a premature detonation of an IED at Recoleta Cemetery, resulting in serious injuries to one of the anarchists. In a separate, concurrent incident, an anarchist threw a bag containing an IED over the wall of a house belonging to a federal judge.
  • There were numerous incidents of intimidation, in which found IEDs left at federal police stations and other government offices in and around Buenos Aires.
  • Anarchists also used Molotov cocktail-style incendiary devices to attack official government buildings – specifically, the Ministry of Security Headquarters in La Plata.

     

    In 2017:

  • In August, a small IED detonated in the Puerto Madero section of Buenos Aires at Indra Sistemas, S.A., a Spanish information technology and defense systems company in charge of the voting tabulation for upcoming elections. A receptionist and another employee suffered non-life threatening injuries. Police believe anarchists were responsible.
  • In November, an IED detonated in Tigre, Buenos Aires province, at the residence of an employee of the Buenos Aires Provincial Education Department. The explosion caused fatal injuries to the perpetrator, who police have described as a previously unknown anarchist who may also have been responsible for making the device involved in the Indra Sistemas incident.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

Civil Unrest

 

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Buenos Aires. There are frequent demonstrations in Downtown and Greater Buenos Aires, as well as in other major cities. Most demonstrations are protesting domestic economic and political issues—especially labor disputes and price hikes in previously subsidized utility services. Occasionally, protests target U.S. interests based on current events and in conjunction with labor protests. Protests can attract up to the thousands of participants, and often feature piqueteros, a collection of social activist groups whose main tactic is to block roads.

 

In Buenos Aires, demonstrations most commonly occur at highway access points, the Ministro Pistarini International Airport road, or downtown (e.g. the Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Congress, the obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio). Protestors generally come from labor unions, unemployed/underemployed/landless movements, student groups, and the political left. While most protests are peaceful, there are hooligan elements who may show up to fight the police and/or engage in vandalism. The use of sound systems, fireworks, and musical instruments is common, as is the burning of tires, effigies, and flags. The Macri administration has been proactive in dispersing demonstrations, especially when roads are blocked. As such, there has been a slight increase in clashes with police. 

 

Violent protests occurred in Buenos Aires and La Plata following the disappearance of a Mapuche activist in August 2017. In December 2017, anti-government protests outside Congress turned violent as protestors clashed with police; authorities arrested dozens of protestors, and the violence left more than 80 police officers injured.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

Argentina experiences occasional heavy rains and flooding along the coast (including parts of Buenos Aires) and in low-lying parts of interior Santa Fe province.

 

Western/northwestern provinces (e.g. San Juan, Mendoza, Salta, Jujuy, Tucuman) periodically experience earthquakes.

 

Economic Concerns

 

Argentina continues to suffer from high inflation. Illegal currency exchange has diminished considerably since the government unified exchange rates in 2015. Argentina is a hub for counterfeit currency, with fake U.S. dollars and Argentine pesos circulating in significant numbers. Traditionally, fake currency arrives from neighboring countries. Visitors should avoid street moneychangers, and be aware that fake peso exchange occasionally occurs in taxis. This happens when the customer pays the driver, the driver exchanges the good note for a fake one, and then declares that a fake note has been passed to him. Visitors should watch the driver’s hands and avoid paying with large bills.

 

There have been multiple reports from individuals who have attempted to sell electronics (mainly cellular phones) through an online marketplace called Mercado Libre. The victims have either been physically robbed of the electronics or had the buyers give them counterfeit currency. Police sources believe that organized criminal gangs from third countries – mainly the Dominican Republic and Peru – are behind these robberies.

 

Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the U.S., but you may also be breaking local law by purchasing them.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

NGOs have identified femicide as a major issue in Argentina; the country has a very public campaign against gender-based violence, “Ni Una Menos.” One NGO that has been tracking femicides for over a decade, reporting that a woman is killed every 30 hours in Argentina.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Argentina is a transshipment point for cocaine from Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. Counter-narcotics efforts in Mexico and Colombia are pushing traffickers into Argentina, according to Argentine officials. Marijuana, the bulk of which is imported from Paraguay and used for domestic consumption, continues to be the most widely abused illegal drug in Argentina.

 

According to official Argentine government figures, DEA reporting, and open-source information, traffickers import significant amounts of cocaine into Argentina from Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. Cocaine use has risen sharply. Based on the United Nations Office of Drug Control's (UNODC) estimates, Argentina is home to 25% of the cocaine users in South and Central America (with approximately 740,000 users), second only to Brazil. The UNODC World Drug Report 2013 placed Argentina cocaine abuse at just under 1% for users 15-65 years of age; Argentine government officials confirm that this statistic remains accurate in 2019. Cocaine remains by far the leading drug for which Argentines seek help at treatment centers. The use of cocaine base is a growing problem among the economically disadvantaged. A cheap, readily available, and mentally debilitating drug, paco (a derivative of cocaine production similar to crack), is consumed in Argentina’s poorer neighborhoods. The use of cocaine products has increased concurrently as the country acts as a transshipment zone for cocaine from South America to expanding markets in Europe, West Africa, and, to a lesser extent, the Far East. Cocaine trafficking is the most challenging drug threat faced by Argentine authorities. Large seizures of cocaine in Europe link back to Argentina, and authorities intermittently discover individual carriers of small quantities from Argentina to Europe. There is evidence of sustained use by traffickers of light aircraft to bring drugs into the country across borders with Bolivia and Paraguay.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

There are occasional reports of express kidnappings. Victims are often targets of opportunity, profiled due to their appearance of perceived wealth and the vehicles they drive. In some scenarios, they are made to withdraw as much money as possible from an ATM, and then their family or co-workers are contacted and told to deliver all the cash that they have on hand or can gather in a couple of hours. Once the ransom is paid, the victim is usually released unharmed.

 

Virtual kidnappings (fake telephone kidnappings) are a common scam in which criminals use stolen phones or otherwise obtained personal data to contact family members and co-workers claiming to have kidnapped the owner of the phone. This happens while the alleged kidnapping victim is in a movie theater, on an international flight, or has just had their cell phone stolen, making it difficult to confirm whether the claimed kidnapping is real. Memorizing phone numbers and immediately letting family members know you are all right is important in interrupting this cycle.

 

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

 

Police Response

 

Expatriates can generally expect better police response and less harassment from police than in many other Latin American countries. Police uniforms vary from municipality to municipality, and a number of federal security forces augment the local police periodically.

 

Checkpoints are common, especially around Buenos Aires. Drivers must have all documentation, including a copy of passport or Argentine identification card, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of third-party liability insurance.

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

Argentine law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government of Argentina generally observes these prohibitions; however, there are occasional reports of the police arresting and detaining citizens arbitrarily. Individuals detained by the police should ask to contact the Embassy. Report any irregular police procedures to the Embassy.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

In Buenos Aires, the Tourist Police (within the Argentine Federal Police) have been very responsive in assisting many tourists with language services to file police reports. Recently, however, the unit has suffered staffing issues and become less effective.

 

Police: 911

 

PFA - Argentine Federal Police:

Switchboard:  4-346-7000

HQ Departamento Central de Policía Av. Moreno 1550, CABA – Buenos Aires City.

 

Bomberos (Fire Department)

Tel: 911/100

Av. Belgrano 1547, CABA – Buenos Aires City

 

Tourist Police (Comisaría del Turista):

Switchboard: 4346-5748

Av. Corrientes 436, CABA – Buenos Aires City

 

PNA - Prefectura Naval Argentina (Coast Guard)

Switchboard: 4318-7000/7400/7500/7600

HQ’s Edificio Guardacostas Av. Eduardo Madero 235, CABA – Buenos Aires City

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

GNA – Gendarmería (Nacional de Argentina) – Border Patrol

Policia de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires – Buenos Aires City Police

MOS – Ministry of Security

PBA – Policía de la Provincia de Buenos Aires – Buenos Aires Provincial Police

PFA – Policía Federal (de Argentina) – Argentine Federal Police

PNA – Prefectura (Nacional de Argentina) – Coast Guard

PSA – Policía de Seguridad Aeroportuaria - Airport Police

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Pharmacies are comparable to those in the U.S., and well-trained medical professionals are plentiful. Public hospitals are excellent for treating trauma; for any less serious medical needs, private clinics are highly advised.

 

Municipal Emergency Medical Service (for transport to a public hospital): 107/911 or 4923-1051/9.

Ambulance Service: Vittal: 0810-333-8888/4-000-8888 /4805-4545.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

Recently, a Hantavirus outbreak in southwest Argentina, (e.g. Epuyen, Chubut) has begun impacting local communities, with 28 confirmed cases and 10 deaths as of this report’s publication date. Authorities have implemented a quarantine and warned against travel to the area. Health authorities are optimistic that with these measures, they can control the outbreak as they continue to study it

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Argentina.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The Country Council in Buenos Aires is active, meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere Team with any questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

 

Avenida Colombia 4300, CABA, 0121

Hours of Operation: 0800-1800

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

Switchboard:  +54-11-5777-4533

Website: https://ar.usembassy.gov/

 

Embassy Guidance

 

U.S. citizens traveling to Argentina should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

 

Additional Resources

 

Argentina Country Information Sheet


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