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Argentina 2012 Crime and Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Argentina > Buenos Aires

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

Crime is a serious problem in Argentina but can be managed with common sense precautions. Street crime appears to be increasingly common and more violent than in the past; it is often committed with a firearm or other deadly weapon. In January 2010, local press reported that over 1.2 million firearms are registered to nearly 700,000 users in Argentina, with almost 36,000 permits issued in 2010 (down from the 55,000 issued a decade earlier). The office within the government of Argentina that regulates firearms, Registro Nacional de Armas (RENAR), stated that its 2007 "Money for Weapons" program recovered a total of 107,488 weapons and more than 774,500 rounds of ammunition before the program ended in December 2009 (www.desarmevoluntario.gov.ar). In November 2010, the program was reinstated, and so far 18,753 weapons and 171,276 rounds of ammunition have been recovered. 

Criminal activity is concentrated in urban areas, especially greater Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario, and Mendoza. The wealthier parts of metro Buenos Aires experience high rates of property crime, with high-income neighborhoods often registering twice as many complaints as some of the poorer parts of town. This may be a result of better or more frequent reporting by the citizens living in these areas.

Urban crime includes pick-pocketing/purse snatching, scams, mugging, express kidnapping, residential burglary, home invasion, thefts from vehicles (including “smash-and-grab”), sexual assaults/rape, car theft, and carjacking. There are also occasional high-profile assaults on armored cash carriers, such as the November 2010 assault on the Pan-American Highway where approximately 12 assailants attacked an armored vehicle. Two police officers were killed. Short-term visitors to urban areas are subject to street crime but report few problems while using public transportation or staying in four-and five-star hotels. 

Thieves specifically target expensive jewelry and watches, especially high-value items such as Rolexes. They regularly nab unattended purses, backpacks, laptops, and luggage and will often distract visitors for a few seconds to steal valuables. American tourists routinely report stolen U.S. passports to the Embassy. Some of these were stolen violently, including at gunpoint. Long-term residents, like Argentines, have greater exposure to criminal activity on the street while driving, traveling, and at home.

Many criminals are armed and ready to use their weapons at the first sign of resistance. Crimes occur at all hours, and armed robberies often take place during business hours. Favorite targets for armed robberies are banks and businesses dealing in cash or high-value merchandise. Apartment invasions and burglaries occur, and occasionally entire buildings are taken hostage. Criminals regularly employ target-of-opportunity tactics. That is, they go through neighborhoods and apartment buildings ringing doorbells and robbing those who open the door. Many home-invasion gangs seek the hoard of cash many Argentines are thought to keep in their homes. Criminals have also targeted individuals withdrawing cash from bank ATM machines and customers when exiting banks. The normal tactic used may be an overt act where the criminal challenges an individual directly or a scam that involves altering basic ATM functions causing the individual to believe the machine failed to dispense the cash and may be out-of-order.

In the countryside, there have been a few robberies in isolated areas and occasional burglaries of hotel rooms in resort areas. Highway robbery largely affects commercial vehicles. Hijacking of inter-city buses is uncommon.

Officially reported, country-wide full range crime statistics are not available, but indications regarding the scope of the crime rate and typical crimes are available. 

The Buenos Aires district attorney's office reports that although its reported crime cases fell from 2008 to 2009, robbery and theft held steady at about 53 percent and 35 percent of its yearly caseload. Statistics for 2010 are not yet available. A November 2009 study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) found that about 36 percent of the respondents reported that they or a member of their household had been the victim of a crime in the 12 months prior to being contacted for the survey (with violent robbery being the most frequent). 

The province of Buenos Aires provides detailed semi-annual crime statistics covering the entire province (www.hcdiputados-ba.gov.ar/osl/informes.html). The January-December 2010 statistics state that there were 617,502 reported cases involving adults. Of these, the top ranking categories were threats against personal freedom (14.1 percent), simple assault (11.05 percent), and robbery (10.63 percent). 

The Buenos Aires Province’s Ministry of Security reports that overall reported crime in the Province has dropped 5.67 percent (http://www.mseg.gba.gov.ar/mjysseg/libros/EstCriminal1-32011.pdf). In the first quarter of 2010, there were 171,342 reported crimes, and in the first quarter of 2011, there were 161,620 reported crimes. The types of crimes are generally crimes of violence such as murder, rape, kidnapping and theft. 

The Federal Ministry of Justice's website (http://www.jus.gov.ar/areas-tematicas/estadisticas-en-materia-de-criminalidad.aspx) on crime statistics produces a variety of studies. One study put Buenos Aires' 2009 homicide rate at 4.92 per 100,000, which would put it between Toronto (2.47) and New York City (5.6). Another study examined homicides in 2009 and found that the majority of the victims were males between the ages of 18 and 34 (48 percent) who were killed by a firearm (51 percent), in a public area (51 percent) or in a home (34 percent). Another section of the report detailed chargeable deaths in transit accidents, with 1,197 persons killed in vehicle-on-vehicle collisions and 394 killed in vehicle-on-pedestrian collisions.

Crimes reported to the U.S. Embassy by American citizens reveal they are most often victims of theft or non-violent robbery, principally in the tourist neighborhoods.

Road Safety

Traffic accidents are common, especially in Buenos Aires. Pedestrians should be vigilant when crossing streets and remember to look in both directions, even if the street is designated a one way.

Traffic laws are not routinely obeyed, and vehicles often travel at excessive speeds. A recently published report produced by the non-governmental organization Luchemos por la Vida (www.luchemos.org.ar) states that there was a decrease in traffic deaths throughout the country – 7,659 people died in vehicle accidents during 2010 as opposed to 7,517 deaths in 2011. In Buenos Aires, the number of fatalities also decreased from 159 deaths (2010) to 141 (2011).

Political Violence 

Historical Perspective 

The government of Argentina (GOA) or its agents have not committed any politically-motivated killings. There were reports that police were involved in killings involving unwarranted or excessive force. Authorities investigated and, in some cases, detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved.

Despite the negative perception of various U.S. government policies, Argentines are friendly to Americans, and visitors are unlikely to experience any anti-American sentiment.

Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime

There have been several minor bombings since August 2009 that purportedly involved indigenous anarchist groups that share ideological similarities with Chilean and Greek anarchist groups. These bombings have occurred during the early morning hours and have resulted in one death and two injuries.

Pipe bombs or incendiary attacks attributed to or claimed by anarchist groups have been used. Targets have included bank branches, municipal or public utility offices, and other commercial businesses. In 2010, there were 11 known attacks in Buenos Aires, mainly focused on foreign banks but also included a foreign embassy, foreign airline office buildings, and local police facilities. The majority of the explosions result in property damage and generally occur during the very early morning hours. Personnel are always advised to maintain vigilance while paying particular attention to any unattended baggage and suspicious behavior.

International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism 

There is no recent and significant operational terrorist activity in Argentina, but 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. 

Individuals and organizations providing financial support to extremist groups reportedly operate in Ciudad del Este and along the tri-border area between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Civil Unrest

There are frequent demonstrations in greater Buenos Aires and frequent demonstrations in other major cities. Most protests are related to domestic economic and political issues including labor disputes. U.S. interests are occasionally targeted based on current events, such as U.S. military presence in the region, the Haiti earthquake response, or policy toward Cuba. U.S. companies are also sometimes the target of labor protests. The largest and most disruptive protests, ranging from dozens to thousands of participants, usually feature "piqueteros" (a collection of social activist groups whose main tactic is to block roads).

In Buenos Aires, demonstrations most commonly occur downtown and often end up at the Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Congress, or the obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio. Protesters generally come from labor unions, unemployed/underemployed/landless movements, student groups, and the political left. While most protests are peaceful, there are hooligan elements that periodically show up to fight the police and/or engage in vandalism. Furthermore, the use of sound systems, fireworks, and musical instruments is a common occurrence, as is the burning of effigies and flags.

In addition to organized demonstrations, there are occasional, spontaneous protests by groups of displaced workers, unemployed persons, unpaid pensioners, people upset by electricity service disruptions, etc.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Argentina experiences occasional flooding along the coast, including parts of Buenos Aires, and in low-lying parts of the interior, such as Santa Fe Province. Western/northwestern provinces, such as San Juan, Mendoza, Salta, Jujuy, and Tucuman, periodically have earthquakes.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

Road conditions are moderate, but traffic is fast throughout the country and heavy in the big cities. Almost all highways are two-lane with no separation between traffic traveling in opposite directions. Drivers are very aggressive and often oblivious to lane designations and many other traffic laws. The accident rate is very high.

Kidnappings

Express kidnapping (short duration/low ransom) occurs occasionally with conventional mugging. Extortion kidnapping for ransom is relatively rare and has mostly affected well-off Argentines. The true rate of kidnapping is unknown but believed to be considerably lower than elsewhere in the region. 

Virtual kidnapping, a telephone scam in which the caller claims to have kidnapped someone who is simply not at home, continues to occur. There are many variations of the virtual kidnapping scam. One such variation, which appears to be on the rise, is the caller claims that a family member has been involved in a horrific accident and personal information is needed by on-scene medical authorities. Once personal information is divulged, the caller becomes more aggressive and uses the newly acquired information to extort valuables. Such calls often come from jails, and the callers ask for prepaid phone cards, which are a form of money inside prisons.

Drugs and Narco-terrorism 

Argentina is a transshipment route for cocaine from Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia intended for Europe and other destinations. The counternarcotics efforts in Mexico and Colombia are pushing traffickers into Argentina, according to Argentine officials. Large seizures of cocaine in Europe have been linked to Argentina, and individual carriers of small quantities from Argentina to Europe are regularly discovered. There is evidence of increasing use by traffickers of light aircraft to bring drugs into the country across the long northern borders with Bolivia and Paraguay. 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 United Nations Office of Drug Control's (UNODC) World Drug Report 2011 cites 2008-2009 treatment center data to list the primary drugs of abuse among persons treated for drug problems in Argentina as the following: cocaine based drugs (45.4 percent of users in treatment centers, which includes the cocaine base known as “basuco” or “paco”); cannabis/marijuana (37 percent); and inhalants (7.6 percent). Marijuana continues being the most widely abused drug. According to the UNODC’s World Drug Report 2011, 7.2 percent of the population between the ages of 15-64 consumes marijuana (based on 2006 data), a significant increase from the three percent reported in 2007 (based on 2005 data). According to 2007 survey data used in this report, 10.9 percent of Argentine teenagers (ages 13-17) have ever smoked marijuana. In addition to being widely abused, marijuana is also the most frequently trafficked drug within Argentina seized by Argentine law enforcement authorities. In September 2009, Argentina's Supreme Court issued a ruling acquitting a group of young men convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Statements by members of the Court made it apparent that the ruling was intended to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of marijuana and that it may be applied to other drugs as well. Convictions of the drug dealers in the same marijuana case were upheld. This court ruling is expected by many observers to result in an overall increase in personal drug consumption, especially marijuana. 

Cocaine trafficking is the most challenging drug threat faced by Argentine authorities. The UNODC's World Drug Report 2011 reported that between 2006-2007 the annual prevalence rate for cocaine consumption among Argentines aged 15-64 was 2.6 percent, a significant increase from 0.3 percent reported in 2004 and almost as high as the U.S. consumption of 2.8 percent reported for 2007. A by-product of the base-to-hydrochloride cocaine conversion process is increasingly abused in Argentina and Uruguay and known locally as "pasta base" or "paco." Pasta base is readily available on the streets, costs approximately one peso (approx. US$0.25) a hit, and produces an inexpensive, yet brief, intense high when smoked in pipes or mixed with tobacco. Argentine law enforcement officials and local press report that a rise in street crimes has been fueled by a corresponding increase in pasta base consumption. 

According to official Argentine government figures, DEA reporting, and open source information, significant amounts of cocaine HCl are imported into Argentina from Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. The UNODC's World Drug Report 2011 cites numerous surveys indicating that cocaine use has risen in South America overall, especially in the neighboring cocaine source countries such as Bolivia and Peru. Since 2000, this increase in cocaine is parallel with rising levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production regionally. The use of cocaine products has increased concurrently as the country has increasingly been used as a transshipment zone for cocaine from South America to supply expanding cocaine markets in Europe, Africa, and to a lesser extent, the Far East.  

Police Response

In Buenos Aires, the Tourist Police (office within the Argentine Federal Police) are generally very responsive and assist many tourists with language services to file police reports.

Checkpoints are common, especially around Buenos Aires, and drivers must have all documentation, including 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 GOA generally observes these prohibitions; however, there are reports of the police arresting and detaining citizens arbitrarily.

Expatriates can generally expect better police response and less harassment than in many other Latin American countries. Individuals detained by the police should ask to contact the Embassy or consulate. Any irregular police procedures (demands for bribes, etc.) should be reported to the Embassy. 

Where to Turn for Assistance if you Become a Victim of a Crime and Local Police Telephone Numbers

Local Police Contact Information

For all police emergencies (Capital Federal and Buenos Aires Province): 911

Argentine Federal Police: 4383-1111/2-9; Av. Morneo 1550, Capital Federal

Prefectura (Coast Guard): 4318-7558 or 4318-7400; Av. Macacha Guemes 150, Capital Federal

Tourist Police: 4346-5748; Corrientes 436, Capital Federal

Bomberos (Fire Department): 100 or 4951-2222, 4381-2222, 4383-2222; Av. Moreno 1550, Capital Federal

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Local Hospitals and Clinics

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

SUME (For-fee ambulance service, for transport to a private hospital): 0810-222-5222 or 4860-7000

Hospital Fernandez: 4808-2600; Cervino 3356, Capital Federal

Hospital Aleman: 4827-7000; Pueyrredon 1640, Capital Federal

Sanatorio Trinidad: 4127-5555; Cervino 4720, Capital Federal

Buenos Aires Province (San Isidro, suburbs):

San Isidro: 4512-3700; JJ Diaz 818, San Isidro

San Lucas: 4742-8888; Belgrano 369, San Isidro

Sanatorio Trinidad: 4898-6700; Av. Fondo de la Lengua 851, San Isidro

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Theft of Valuables

Carry Cash: US$100-$200 or $300-$400 Arg pesos. Criminals frequently resort to violence if they perceive a victim is being uncooperative or if the target does not have anything worth stealing. The people most likely to be attacked or beaten are those without any money. If confronted, offer no resistance and immediately hand over everything demanded.

Do not wear Rolexes or other flashy or expensive jewelry that draws attention. Do not show cell phones, cameras, or other expensive equipment. Do not flash large amounts of cash, or carry expensive-looking bags, briefcases, or laptop cases in public. Women should safeguard their purses while walking and when eating in restaurants or cafes. If you are in a restaurant or other business that gets robbed, follow the instructions of the robbers and hand over valuables on demand.

Criminals are often well-dressed, and crime can occur anytime during the day at any location. Use common sense and remain vigilant. Travel in groups when possible. Always stay in well-lit, populated areas and avoid parks after dark. Be alert to pick pocketing in tourist and shopping areas. Do not carry your important documents in your wallet or purse. Carry a photocopy of your passport.

Use ATM machines located in public places like the hotel, shopping mall, or event venue. If the booth has a door, make sure it closes behind you. Pay with exact change as much as possible. If you pay for a small item with a large bill, you risk being shortchanged or getting counterfeit in change. Only take pesos as change. Use credit cards only at the hotel, major stores, and restaurants. Watch your bills carefully for fraudulent charges.

MUSTARD ON THE BACK SCAM: Unknown to you, a liquid is squirted on your back. After a few steps, someone, often a middle-aged woman, will inform you that you have something on your back and offer to help clean it off. Meanwhile, she or an accomplice picks your pockets. This scam has been used regularly in tourist areas such as San Telmo, La Boca, 9 de Julio, Recoleta, and Florida Street. Fortunately, this is one of the least confrontational crimes; just say "NO" and walk away.

Forms of Transportation

Remises (hired car and driver) are the best and safest form of public transportation. They normally charge by the kilometer and are reasonably priced. Hotels, many restaurants, and shopping centers can call one from an established service. Radio taxis are the next best choice. Taxis are black and yellow in the capital, and white with blue lettering in the provinces. Avoid black and yellow taxis with the word "Mandataria" on the door. These taxis are rented on a daily or hourly basis and are often involved in criminal acts. Do not take rides offered by people on the street or outside an airport. The following, in order of preference, is recommended:  a) Call for a remise or taxi, b) take one from an established stand, c) hail one on the street (but not in front of a bank).

Use the seatbelts, lock the doors, and keep windows up. Do not place your purse or other valuables on the seats, in plain view from the outside or unattended.

Subways, buses, and trains are safe but watch out for pickpockets and be ready for work stoppages. Watch your bags at airports, bus, and ship terminals.

Further Information

Regional Security Officer: RSO Wade Burton at 54-11-5777-4298/4337; RSOBuenosAires@state.gov 

Embassy Operator: 54-11-5777-4533/4534

Consular Affairs: Consul General Daniel Perrone at 54-11-5777-4310; BuenosAires-ACS@state.gov 

OSAC Country Council

Buenos Aires has an active OSAC Country Council that meets regularly. For information on upcoming meetings and how to join please contact the RSO Wade Burton at 54-11-5777-4298/4337 or RSOBuenosAires@state.gov or OSAC’s Country Council and Outreach Coordinator for the Western Hemisphere at 571-345-7747.