The ladron lay on the cobblestone street in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a small crowd started to gather. Rusting iron, or rather the smell of it, started to come from the blood that was tracing down the courses between the bricks.
A few yards away, a woman sat on the curb. Bent over, she was still clutching her purse with the broken strap. Next to her was an older woman whispering comfort.
Two men stepped up and asked if she was ok. Nodding, unable to talk because of the cascade of tears on her face, she indicated she was all right.
Stepping away, the two men disappeared through the crowd and down the cobblestone street. They had just caught, and punished, a purse snatcher and they felt their job was done.
What you’ve just read is real. It happens often in Buenos Aires. The pace is picking up. As people get increasingly frustrated with the corruption and inefficiency of the policia, more people are taking matters into their own hand and forming their own brand of justice. Vigilantism.
Law enforcement in Argentina is either corrupt, inefficient or both. Statistics say that 2 of 3 are on the take, in league with the mafia, or an inept Barney from Mayberry.
A full 72 percent of the population say the police in Buenos Aires are the most corrupt organization within the city according to several studies.
The police in Argentina have always been a borderline group. Walking the gray area somewhere between justice and corruption, they have often struggled against a system that tolerated corruption at the highest levels of government.
Their descent into evil took a big swing during the dark days of Argentina in the 1970s. From 1976 until 1983, the period known as the “Dirty War,” 30,000 people were “disappeared by a military dictatorship that wouldn’t tolerate opposition. Kidnapped from their homes late at night, or taken from the street in broad daylight, the victims would be taken to EMSA and tortured. When the government was done, the victim was flowing out over Rio de Plata and tossed from the plane.
The instrument used in these kidnappings was the police.
In 1983, when an elected, but still corrupt, government was put in place, the fear of the cops was still palpable in this city of 13 million. Determined to never allow the police to function in such a role again, the government capped public spending on law enforcement at 25% of their budget. The rest the cops had to raise themselves.
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see the doors opened to graft, and bribery.
Government in Argentina is seen as inherently corrupt. Presidents who steal from the public trust are just seen as getting their due.
Jorge Lanata, a noted investigative journalist, recently did a series of stories about the corruption in which the current president is involved.
With documentation and interviews with well-placed people, Lanata kept the nation transfixed for three nights as he detailed Cristina Kirchner, as she flew million s of dollars out of the country on her private jet, made sweetheart deals with construction company owners in her home province of Santa Fe and got rich. According to paperwork filed by Kirchner with the government, she will leave the Casa Rosada $700 million dollars richer than when she first entered it as the First Lady to her late husband, and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.
Argentines watched the shows and then yawned and looked away. Corruption is part and parcel of life in Argentina.
But things are changing. Faced with a police force that is somewhere between impotent and unwilling, the population is starting to take matters into their own hands. The last weekend in March 2014, the news reported of three separate incidents in the city where purse snatchers, robbers and thieves were caught by a crowd and beaten in retaliation.
One thief was killed on the street for his crime. Despite a crowd of witnesses numbering in the dozens, the police couldn’t find anyone that saw anything.
In mid-March, Kirchner lit the fuse the to the dynamite when she announced an 80 percent cut in utility subsides. The fuse is burning and citizens aren’t interested in business as usual. The normally laid back and passive Argentines are taking matters into their own hand.
And on the cobblestone street, a young man, a ladron, a thief, lays dying as a crowd gathers.
In Argentina, it may not be business as usual anymore.
Editorial by Jerry Nelson