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Argentina 2020 Crime & Safety Report

For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Argentina 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.

 

Travel Advisory

 

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 in the country. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

 

Crime Threats 

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Buenos Aires as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Officially reported, nationwide, full-range crime statistics first became available in 2016. The police force faces tremendous challenges after an approximate eight-year lapse in tracking and reporting statistics; 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. 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 Buenos Aires suburbs (e.g. Vicente Lopez, Olivos, Martinez, San Isidro) and in the capital city (CABA) neighborhoods (e.g. Palermo, Belgrano San Telmo, Recoleta, La Boca). Tourists who travel to Buenos Aires’ 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 look for 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. 

  

The percentage of crime in CABA is higher than in the rest of the country. Specifically, CABA has a higher number of robberies, assault incidents, and car thefts. 2018-2019 crime statistics reflect a continued decrease in the overall murder rate for Argentina, and a decrease in the overall number of robberies committed nationally, but a consistent threat of violent crimes in CABA originating from motochorros. Crime statistics from 2018 indicated a marked spike increase in motochorro-based crimes, which continues to be a problem for visitors to Argentina, as well as for residents. In the second half of 2019, there a series of violent attacks targeted visitors departing from Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE) traveling to hotels in downtown Buenos Aires. This type of a violent attack resulted in the shooting death in December of a British tourist in front of his Puerto Madero hotel. The criminals had targeted the man and his family after arriving to EZE from Miami, following them to their five-star hotel. Outside the hotel, a physical encounter ensued after the man and his adult son fought against the initial robbery attempt, resulting in the death of the father and severe wounding of the son. The motochorros got away with luggage containing computers, money, and high-end watches. In recent months, local police have received numerous reports of crimes following this scenario, in which criminals seemingly targeted foreign tourists at EZE, followed them to their hotels, and subsequently robbed them of luxury watches, computers, or foreign currency. Federal and municipal police investigators have made four arrests, but these crimes continue to pose a serious threat to travelers. 

 

Another common crime scenario involves spraying an offensive-smelling substance on an individual from a distance. Then, an accomplice posing as a concerned bystander will notify the individual of the substance and, while pretending to help clean the substance off, will try to pickpocket the victim. This common scam has been reported throughout Buenos Aires. 

 

While most U.S. crime victims do not receive physical injuries when robbed, criminals are often armed and may use force and physical violence when encountering resistance. There have been violent and even fatal attacks of foreigners carrying valuables. In January 2019, a criminal shot a foreign tourist in the leg when he resisted the theft of his iPhone in the Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Recently in the tourist neighborhood of Recoleta, criminals attacked tourists for their high-end watches and iPhones, resulting in injuries when the victims resisted. The common targets for armed robberies in Argentina are banks, restaurants, and businesses dealing in cash or high-value merchandise. If confronted, do not resist turning over valuables. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

 

Criminals may also target individuals withdrawing cash from ATMs by following customers exiting banks. 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 some locations are cash only (especially as economic issues arise). 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. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

 

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 that criminals followed victims to their accommodations, especially from financial institutions. When staying in a hotel or apartment, 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).  Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security

 

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. The Ministry of Security has established a National Cybercrime Directorate to coordinate the activities of cybercrime investigators within the four federal police forces; there are increasing reports of ransomware targeting businesses and individuals, along with phishing, sexual extortion, and other cyber-enabled crimes targeting victims in Buenos Aires and across Argentina. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

 

Other Areas of Concern 

 

Shantytowns, called villas in Argentine Spanish, exist in Buenos Aires and other major cities, even adjacent to tourist zones; avoid entering these high-crime areas. 

 

Transportation-Safety Situation 

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

 

Traffic accidents are common in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires, and remain a serious concern. Police statistics continue to show a slight decrease in traffic related deaths from 2018 to 2019. In 2019, independent reporting estimates almost 6,700 traffic-related deaths nationwide. Buenos Aires province continues to have the highest number of traffic-related deaths in the country, with almost 2,200 fatalities in 2019. 

 

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. In addition, bike lanes often run two ways even on one-way streets for vehicles. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

 

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 reasonably priced. 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, is a usual order of preference: a) call for a remis or taxi; b) take a remis or taxi from an established stand; or c) hail a remis or taxi on the street (but not from in front of a bank). Do not leave bags in the care of a taxi driver while you run in to a bank or other location. 

 

Subways, buses, and trains are generally safe; be aware of pickpockets and prepare for work stoppages that may lead to delays. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions 

 

Visitors report various 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 for placement in the cab.  

 

Another scam involves the taxi breaking down on the side of the freeway and a second 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 Buenos Aires’s EZE airport have been the main targets. 

 

Terrorism Threat 

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Buenos Aires as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. In 2018, Argentina hosted both the Summer Youth Olympic Games and G20 Leader’s Summit 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. 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 recent years, there were several incidents in Buenos Aires involving small improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or simulated IEDs. Some high-profile recent incidents include: 

 

·         In October 2019, during a pursuit of motorcycles in the micro center by La Ciudad Police officers, the drivers threw a small duffle bag containing an explosive device at the pursuing police vehicle. Following the investigation of the incident, La Ciudad officers found evidence that suggests the device was a homemade IED produced in Argentina. 

·         In November 2018, 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 2018, in which individuals left IEDs  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 in 2018 – specifically, the Ministry of Security Headquarters in La Plata. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

 

Civil Unrest 

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Buenos Aires as being a MEDIUM)-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 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 local labor protests. Protests can attract thousands of participants, and often feature piqueteros, a collection of social activist groups whose main tactic is to block roads and disrupt local transportation systems. 

 

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, or 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 Government of Argentina has been proactive in dispersing demonstrations, especially when roads are blocked. As such, there has been a slight increase in clashes with police, but with typically only minor violence. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

 

Post-specific Concerns 

 

Environmental Hazards 

 

Occasional heavy rains and flooding in low areas (including parts of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe province) have become more prevalent in recent years.  

 

Argentina’s western and northwestern provinces (e.g. San Juan, Mendoza, Salta, Jujuy, Tucuman) periodically experience earthquakes. 

 

Economic Concerns 

 

Argentina continues to suffer from high inflation. 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. 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 came from the passenger. 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. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

 

People with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from in the United States. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but while the federal government has protective laws, many provinces do not. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

 

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Argentina. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

 

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

 

Drug-related Crimes 

 

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 popular 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, kidnappers make them withdraw as much money as possible from an ATM, and then contact their family or co-workers and tell them to deliver all the cash that they have on hand or can gather in a couple of hours. Once the ransom is paid, the kidnappers usually release the victim 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 coworkers 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. 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 their passport or Argentine identification card, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of third-party liability insurance. 

 

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. 

 

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 Emergency: 911  

 

·         PFA - Argentine Federal Police: 4346-7000, Av. Moreno 1550, CABA – Buenos Aires City.  

·         Bomberos (Fire Department): 911/100, Av. Belgrano 1547, CABA – Buenos Aires City 

·         Tourist Police (Comisaría del Turista):  4346-5748 , Av. Corrientes 436, CABA – Buenos Aires City 

·         PNA - Prefectura Naval Argentina (Coast Guard): 4318-7000/7400/7500/7600,  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, use private clinics. 

 

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

 

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

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

 

From December 2018 through January 2019, a Hantavirus outbreak in southwest Argentina, (e.g. Epuyen, Chubut) impacted local communities, with 29 confirmed cases and 11 deaths reported. Authorities at the time implemented a quarantine and warned against travel to the area.  Health authority measures controlled the outbreak. There have been no further signs of an outbreak.  

 

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

 

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

 

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

 

OSAC Country Council Information  

 

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

 

U.S. Embassy Contact Information  

  

Avenida Colombia 4300, CABA, 0121 

Hours of Operation: 0800-1800 

 

Switchboard:  +54-11-5777-4533 

Website: https://ar.usembassy.gov/ 

 

Helpful Information

 

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

·         OSAC Risk Matrix

·         OSAC Travelers Toolkit

·         State Department Traveler’s Checklist

·         Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

·         Argentina Country Information Sheet 

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