Tag Archive | "crime"

Out Now: El Clan

Afiche El ClanThe most anticipated Argentine film of the year, ‘El Clan’, premiers in cinemas this week. In his first feature based on a true story, renowned filmmaker Pablo Trapero contextualises the horrific crimes of the Puccio family during Argentina’s return to democracy.

The real story behind Pablo Trapero’s latest film, ‘El Clan’, confirms Mark Twain’s theory that truth is stranger than fiction. For their neighbours and friends, the Puccios were just a typical San Isidro family during Argentina’s bumpy transition to democracy in the early 80s. There was the domineering father, Arquímedes; the school teacher and mother, Epifanía; and five children, including Alejandro, a popular rugby player at the Club Atlético San Isidro (CASI) who even played a few matches for the Pumas, Argentina’s national team. At a storefront connected to the Puccio home, the family ran first a takeout place and later, an outdoor sports store that catered to the lifestyle of rich suburban kids.

Yet behind the cozy façade, a very different family business was underway: the kidnapping of rich local residents whom the Puccio family and their cronies knew to varying degrees. After collecting the ransom, the Puccios were thus obliged to kill all of the victims, since releasing them would have been tantamount to turning themselves in to the authorities.

When the clan’s crimes finally came to light in 1985, their final victim, Nélida Bollini, was still chained up in the basement, as her captors had been keeping her in case they needed proof of life to receive the ransom. As police swarmed around the house that fateful night, the neighbours murmured that the Puccios must have been robbed: no one ever would have suspected what was actually occurring.

Trapero’s version of the events gets off to a jumpy and somewhat befuddling start. Archive images of Raúl Alfonsín and Nunca Más are followed by the police raid on the home; the film then goes back to the beginning, that is, the lead-up to the kidnapping of Ricardo Manoukian, the first Puccio victim.


Trapero’s film depicts how Argentina’s terrors were hidden in plain sight

Once the actual story is underway, the film gains narrative strength, shifting seamlessly between the horror of the different rooms in the Puccio household reserved for the “guests”—first an upstairs bathroom, later a basement dungeon—and the everyday lives of an average middle class family: homework, quibbling, family dinners. When one of the kidnappings, that of local businessman Emilio Naum, goes south, Naum’s unplanned murder is spliced with shots of Alejandro going at it in a car with his girlfriend. This is the dizzying flurry of images of the sort that has made Trapero—the director of movies that portray the underside of Buenos Aires like ‘El Bonaerense’, ‘Carancho’, and ‘Elefante Blanco’—one of Argentina’s most exciting filmmakers.

Yet it is not only in the peaks of tension surrounding each of the kidnappings that ‘El Clan’ succeeds. The film boasts an exquisite choice of songs by the Kinks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and rock nacional bands like Virus and Serú Girán; as David Lee Roth croons “I’m just a gigolo”, Bollini is swept into a van by one of the clan members and driven off. Such songs—not to mention the brilliant sound editing by Vicente D’Elía—hint at both the delirious happiness that accompanied the return to democracy as well as its inability to muffle the horrors of the past.


The sinister story of the Puccio was all over the media when the story broke in 1985

The film’s actors—all of whom look eerily like their real-life counterparts—also deserve praise for bringing such implausible characters to life. Guillermo Francella, a comic actor who proved his capacity for dramatic work in the Oscar winning ‘El secreto de sus ojos’, is the patriarch Arquímedes, controlling his sons with nothing more than a bone-chilling gaze. For his part, former teenage TV star Peter Lanzani gives a tortured and sensitive portrayal of Alejandro, perpetually torn between his desire to live a normal life and the obligation to fulfil his father’s mandate.

Occasionally, Trapero’s abundant energy works against him. A story this dense would have benefited from a more linear structure as opposed to Trapero’s jumping all over the timeline, and the scenes with less dramatic tension seem to drag on a bit. ‘El Clan’ is laudable, though, for what lies on the fringes of the Puccio story: the hiding of Argentina’s terrors in plain sight and people’s choice to simply hurry past any sign of horror. “What happened with the Puccio—and with Argentina—was possible because of people’s indifference,” said Trapero in a recent interview with La Nación. Adriana, the youngest of the Puccios, is unable to ask her father to tell her who is moaning in the basement and instead surprises him with a kiss on the cheek. And the clan’s kidnapping victims—hooded, chained, and filthy, forced to write letters to their families dictated by Arquímedes—cannot help but evoke the disappeared.

The turbid climate during and post-dictatorship is perhaps the film’s greatest merit, one the archive images contribute to recreating. Ultimately, when the children of the last victim opt to ignore Arquímedes’s order to simply deliver the ransom and instead get the police involved, the demise of the Puccio can be read as the triumph of democracy in Argentina and the return of the state.



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Venezuela: Government Legislator Robert Serra Killed

Robert Serra casting his vote in 2010, when he became the youngest member of the National Assembly (photo courtesy of Robert Serra's official facebook page)

Robert Serra casting his vote in 2010, when he became the youngest member of the National Assembly (photo courtesy of Robert Serra’s official facebook page)

Venezuela’s Justice Minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, has announced that Robert Serra, a legislator from the governing United Socialist Party (PSUV) had been found dead in his apartment in the capital Caracas along with his partner, María Herrera.

Serra, a 27-year-old criminal lawyer, was the youngest member of the National Assembly. A prominent lawmaker with close ties to President Nicolás Maduro, he was widely known as a pro-Chávez youth leader, and also for his strong statements in the assembly. He was elected in 2010.

In a press conference this afternoon, Rodríguez Torres confirmed that the murders were “intricately planned” and that they were not a result of a regular criminal act, such as a robbery, but seemed to be pre-meditated assassinations. Both were killed using “long stabbing objects”, although further details have not been given.

Maduro reacted to the news, paying tribute to Serra via Twitter: “We’re immensely sad about the murder of Robert Serra, Bolivarian pro-Chávez leader. May God lift you to His glory […] Robert, we will continue your example, loyal and steady on the path of the Revolution that you always defended passionately.”

The murders took place at around 10pm last night. Rodríguez Torres said that further details could not be disclosed until a full investigation had taken place. He also refused to give a possible motive for the killings.

In 2012 Serra’s bodyguard, Alexis Barreto, was killed. His body was found in a hill in the capital Caracas, and it was confirmed to have been a targeted assassination, as neither the money he was carrying nor his gun were taken.

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Central American Leaders meet with Obama about Migration Crisis

A section of the US-Mexico border fence (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

A section of the US-Mexico border fence (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador today met with the US president Barack Obama to address the Central America-US migration crisis. The meeting comes a day after the presidents met with representatives from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Organisation of American States to discuss the subject.

On the agenda for today’s meeting is a Honduran initiative, which may involve screening children there to determine if they are eligible for refugee status in the US. If it is successful the programme could be expanded to other Central American nations.

In a surge that has overwhelmed US border authorities, some 57,000 youth, mostly from Central America, have been detained trying to cross the border between the US and Mexico since October, many of them fleeing organised crime and violence. Obama has asked Congress for US$3.7bn in emergency funds to mitigate the crisis by hiring more immigration judges and border agents, but Republicans in congress have thus far resisted granting the full funding requested. Some of the money will also go towards judicial costs, as a 2008 law grants unaccompanied children from countries that do not border the US an automatic asylum hearing, thereby preventing their immediate removal from the country.

However, the US has started deporting the children, the first flight of deportees arriving last week in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, the city with the highest murder rate in the world. The migrants were captured at the US-Mexico border after a 25-day journey.

Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina said yesterday that in order to stem the flow of migrants the US would have to implement a plan similar to ‘Plan Colombia’. He dubbed ‘Plan Centroamérica’. He also asked that Guatemalan nationals also be granted Temporary Protection Status, a condition that is granted to Hondurans and Salvadorians, who are not able to return to their countries due to civil conflicts or natural disasters in their countries.

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Argentina News Roundup: 24th April 2014

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich announcing the discontinuation of publishing of poverty statistics (Photo: Ricardo Ceppi/Prensa Jefatura de Gabinete/Télam/jc)

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich announcing the discontinuation of publication of poverty statistics (Photo: Ricardo Ceppi/Prensa Jefatura de Gabinete/Télam/jc)

Government Discontinues Publication of Poverty Statistics: The National Institute for Statistics and Censuses (INDEC) will not be publishing the results of the ‘Permanent Homes Survey’ (EPH) for the second semester of 2013. Cabinet Chief, Jorge Capitanich, said this morning that the results would not be made public as there were “methodological problems” due to the updating of some ways of calculating the information, which has led to the data being “lacking”. He said that the new federal consumer price index, introduced in January, had caused the issues, as calculations had changed from being a provincial to a country-wide in some areas. Capitanich went on to say that when the figures were deemed to be correct, they would be published once again, although he could not give a date as to when that would be.

Critics have called the decision political, saying the government is deliberately hiding the numbers as poverty has increased. Former director if INDEC, Graciela Bevacqua, told InfoBAE that she believes the number of those living in poverty in the country could be over 20%. The EPH published in October, which gave figures for the first semester of 2013, showed 1.2m people lived below the poverty line, and 367,000 in extreme poverty, representing 4.7% and 1.2% of the country’s population respectively. The figures also showed a decrease in the numbers living in poverty from the previous year. However, these numbers were widely disputed by private consultants, some of whom put the numbers at closer to 5m and 1m respectively, whilst others said the number living in poverty is around 25% of the country’s population.

Buenos Aires Province Crime Statistics Published: The official Attorney General’s report on 2013 crime statistics in Buenos Aires province was published today, and shows a rise in crimes in many areas. Around 70% of the cases occurred in Greater Buenos Aires, where 12m of the province’s 16m inhabitants reside. Last year, 1,295 murders took place, an 8% rise on 2012. Of these, 76 were a result of robberies. The total number of robberies and thefts also rose, from 124,000 in 2012 to 143,000 last year, an increase of 15%. There were also 52 kidnappings for ransom, 18 more than the previous year. The one area where the numbers were down on 2012’s statistics was in the case of rape and sexual violence, which saw a 13% fall. Of the crimes reported, two areas of Greater Buenos Aires saw a large number of the crimes – Lomas de Zamora experienced 15% of the total number of crimes, followed by San Martín, at just over 10%. Earlier this month Governor Daniel Scioli declared a “security emergency” in the province, and invoked special measures for a period of 12 months, including the recall of 15,000 police officers from retirement.

Deputies applaud as the agreement becomes law (photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam/jc)

Deputies applaud as the agreement becomes law (photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam/jc)

Agreement with Repsol over YPF Expropriation Becomes Law: After almost 16 hours of debate in which over 120 speeches were made, deputies have signed into law the agreement with Repsol over 2012’s renationalisation of 51% shares in Argentina’s YPF oil company. The vote, which took place in the early hours of this morning, had 135 votes in favour, 59 against, and 42 abstentions. Repsol and the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed the settlement on 27th February, which consists of a fixed package of three types of sovereign bonds with a nominal value of US$5bn, and a complementary package of three other bonds worth a maximum of US$1bn, to cover any reductions in the market value of the first package. Opening yesterday’s debate, president of the Energy and Fuel Commission, Mario Metaza, said that the agreement with Repsol over YPF “strengthens confidence in the country” and confers “a favourable climate for investment”. The Senate ratified the agreement in March, and with last night’s vote in Congress, the deal has officially become law, ending the country’s two-year quarrel with Spain over the expropriation.

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Editorial: On Lynchings, The Media, and Missed Opportunities

It began on 26th March. “18-year-old thief lynched by locals in Rosario dies”, read the headline in La Nación. The ‘thief’ was David Moreira, who succumbed to severe head injuries four days after being beaten by a mob of up to 50 people who accused him of snatching a handbag from a young mother in the street.

Lorena Torres, David Moreira's mother holds a photo of her murdered son (photo: Carlos Carrión / Indymedia)

Lorena Torres, David Moreira’s mother holds a photo of her murdered son (photo: Carlos Carrión / Indymedia)

In the days that followed, reports started coming in of similar incidents around the country. Then, on 29th March, a Twitter user gave a vivid account of another brutal mob attack on a suspected mugger in Palermo, catapulting the issue to the front pages and opening a national debate.

Analysing the causes and psychology of collective violence is beyond the scope of this article. But before the news cycle moves on, it’s worth reflecting on some of the things we have seen and heard over the last week, and adding a bit of context and perspective to the hyperbole.

Modern-day lynchings are not a new phenomenon, nor unique to Argentina

Lynchings are already an established phenomenon in other parts of Latin America, especially in Guatemala, which reported 488 cases (and 47 deaths) in 2013 alone. However, these typically take place in rural areas and display more ritualistic tendencies, such as dragging the victim to a symbolic public place and burning or torturing them. There are more lines of comparison between here and Brazil, where a similar national debate is underway after a 15-year-old boy was beaten, stripped, mutilated, and chained to a lamppost with a bike lock by a mob who accused him of stealing in a middle-class neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro.

There is no official data on lynchings in Argentina, but one university study found 24 cases reported by the media between 1997 and 2008, while an online search reveals sporadic recent examples, including an almost identical case in November 2012 on the same corner where Moreira was murdered.

Experts signal that there are also likely to be other cases that are not reported at all. Sociologist Javier Auyero, co-author of ‘La violencia en los márgenes‘ (Violence in the margins) spoke on radio about how violent revenge attacks are not uncommon in the shantytowns and poor urban neighbourhoods, yet the press pay little attention. When it comes to crime and security, says Auyero, the media focuses overwhelmingly on that which affects the middle and upper classes, even though it is the poor that suffer from it most on a daily basis.

There is a disconnect between crime rates and the feeling of insecurity in Argentina

When Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri recently expressed relief that his daughter spent 2013 living in San Francisco, he probably had not checked that the murder rate was higher there last year than in Buenos Aires. Yet Macri is not alone: according to Latinobarometro, 35% of Argentines consider crime the biggest problem in the country, more than any other Latin American state except Venezuela and Uruguay, despite data suggesting it is relatively safe.

National crime statistics have not been published since 2009 – a major problem in itself – but in the province of Buenos Aires, the most populous and most affected by crime, the murder rate in 2013 was an estimated 9.7 (per 100,000 people). This is among the lowest in the region, according to UN data, with only Chile and Uruguay enjoying significantly lower rates. Even localised spikes in violence – the homicide rate in Rosario reached an alarming 22 last year – remain far below the worst affected urban areas of Brazil, Colombia, and most of Central America. The same UN report does show that Argentina has the highest rate of robberies in the region, though it has not changed significantly since 2005.

Rosario has seen a surge in violent crime related to drugs gangs (photo: José Granata/Télam/ef)

Rosario has seen a surge in violent crime related to drugs gangs (photo: José Granata/Télam/ef)

Argentine sociologist Gabriel Kessler, author of the book ‘El sentimiento de inseguridad’ (‘The feeling of insecurity’), says this disconnect comes from a mix of relatively high and risings rates of victimisation (the number of households that have been a victim of crime, mainly minor offences), and the media exposure of the most violent crimes and murders. This generates fear about the potential to be a future victim, centred especially on the arbitrary nature of street crime.

None of this is to deny the existence of violent crime or diminish the emotional impact it has on those who suffer its consequences. But a legal system exists precisely to strip emotion from the judicial process – everyone has a right to demand a better judicial system, but not to circumvent it. And if there is to be a considered debate on the problem, it should be based on objective reality and not a feeling of persecution.

Condemnation comes in shades of grey

One thing that has resonated is the public response to this outbreak of lynching attacks, today more visible than ever thanks to social networks. Opinions in newspaper comments and social networks range from outright rejection of violence to unashamed celebration at the death of a ‘criminal’. Of course, virtual anonymity tends to bring out extremist views, and there has also been a strong online campaign rejecting vigilantism under the slogan ‘No cuenten conmigo‘ (‘Don’t count on me’). Yet a softer version of this ‘uno menos‘ (one fewer) mentality seems to have at least a foothold in the social conscience: two separate surveys published late last week found that around 30% of respondents support the use of violence against suspected criminals.

Media pundits and public figures have been almost universal in condemning the lynchings, though this is often nuanced with understanding for those that took part in them. Meanwhile, subtle judgements are cast through the select use of language: the person being beaten to death remains the ‘criminal’ while the mob is made up of ‘locals’ who are taking ‘justice’ into their own hands. The word ‘murder’ is largely missing from the coverage of the Moreira case, even though at least two Supreme Court judges and several prosecutors have made it clear that this is the only way it can be treated by the law.

Efforts to empathise are also one-sided. Talk of social frustration, suffering, and injustice is directed at the ‘normal’ people who resort to brutality out of ‘desperation’. The background story and social context of the person they are beating is largely irrelevant – he is defined solely by his alleged criminal act, and disregarded as just another anonymous thug from the slums.

Lurking behind it all is an undercurrent of racism. Even though in Spanish, the translation ‘linchamiento‘ does not have the same connotations as the English original, there is a clear profile of the dark-skinned, cap-wearing criminal that is reinforced by the media. It is this type of stigmatisation that led to a group of taxi drivers in Rosario to chase down, shoot at, and beat up a young man on a motorbike last week because he looked like someone who had just robbed their office. If we are talking about the feeling of insecurity, what about those of a certain complexion who now have to fear being wrongly accused by an angry mob?

Talk about an ‘absent state’ is misleading

Politicians have also weighed in on the debate, with opposition leaders Sergio Massa (Frente Renovador) and Macri (PRO) quick to point the finger at an ‘absent state’, as though Alto Palermo were South Sudan. This media-friendly soundbite is designed to appeal to those who demand a quick solution to the problem of crime via more police, more prisons, and harsher sentences.

This call to get ‘tough on crime’ has been heard before. But the state has long contributed – through corrupt or abusive security forces – to the violence that exists in the marginalised areas most affected by crime. In 1999, ex-governor of Buenos Aires province, Carlos Ruckauf, boasted about how his police would “use bullets” on criminals, effectively legitimising a type of lynching in uniform. News this weekend of current governor Daniel Scioli’s knee-jerk declaration of a “security emergency”, and the reincorporation of 15,000 retired police officers, is not going to be comforting to all.

A protester outside a villa dresses up as the grim reaper in a police uniform (photo: Kate Stanworth)

A protester outside a villa dresses up as the grim reaper in a police uniform (photo: Kate Stanworth)

The demands for sterner punishments are also selective: last week, there was an outcry over the swift release of the adolescent who was allegedly caught stealing and ‘lynched’ in Palermo, but no one seemed too concerned in September after the acquittal of five men who took part in the beating to death of 15-year-old Lucas Navarro in La Matanza in 2010 after he attempted to rob one of them with a toy gun. Meanwhile, little is being said about the fact that no one has even been arrested for the murder of Moreira.

The real state deficit in these “factories of violence”, as Auyero calls the slums and impoverished suburban enclaves, is the failure to provide public education, social services, and work opportunities. Those who were cut adrift in the rampant neoliberal reforms of the ’90s and have not felt the benefits of the so-called ‘decade won’ under Kichnerism know more about injustice and helplessness than most. As the villa-based cooperative magazine La Garganta Poderosa surmised last week: if inequality does not justify anyone going out to steal, why do some claim that insecurity justifies some people going out to kill?

An opportunity is being missed

Amid tragic circumstances, there is an opportunity to discuss seriously the complex and sensitive issue of crime, justice, and security. However, this discussion needs to be balanced and without prejudices: if we are going to try and understand social violence, we need to examine all of it. If we only ask ourselves whether it is acceptable or not to lynch a certain type of criminal (no one is talking about lynching people who cause road accidents or businessmen who steal), it will inevitably reinforce stereotypes and social divisions.

A full debate cannot exist without more voices from the margins, like those of La Garganta Poderosa or César Gonzalez, the former teenage drug addict and mugger who is now a publisher and filmmaker, and perhaps the most powerful argument against those who support lynching. “The demand for more security is shared by all,” said Gonzalez on one radio show last week. “But it’s only a certain social sector that ends up getting beaten.”


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Latin America News Roundup: 8th January 2014

President Nicolás Maduro addresses the governors and mayors at the government house (Photo: AVN/Télam/dsl)

President Nicolás Maduro addresses the governors and mayors at the government house (Photo: AVN/Télam/dsl)

Venezuela: President Nicolás Maduro called for the creation of a “model of democratic authority” in order to address the high levels of crime in the country. Maduro held a meeting today with Venezuela’s governors and mayors, as a response to the public outcry caused yesterday by the murder of a former Miss Venezuela and her husband. In the meeting, the president stated that the current model of “war against criminals” has failed, and that it must be replaced by a new model that is “integrally humane, that guarantees protection, but also brings peace and substitutes the anti-values of violence and disrespect towards life.” He proposed a number of measures, including the alignment of all the country’s police forces and a national plan to disarm criminals and integrate them into the labour market.

Chile: The country’s Supreme Court closed the investigation into the death of former President Salvador Allende, stating that there is no evidence supporting allegations that Allende was murdered. The case was brought before the Chilean justice in January 2011, when prosecutor Beatriz Pedrals challenged the theory that the former head of state had committed suicide. With regards to the alleged participation of military personnel in his death, the ruling considers that such personnel arrived at the scene after the suicide, and that no witnesses were able to confirm the theory of a confrontation between them and Allende.

Brazil: A video was released showing inmates from a prison in the Brazilian state of Maranhao playing with the heads of beheaded men from a rival gang. The video, filmed in December but released yesterday by personnel from the Pedrinhas prison, has reignited the debate over the state of the Brazilian penitentiary system. Pedrinhas is considered to be particularly violent, as a conflict between rival gangs left 62 people dead in less than a year and dozens of family members of inmates denounced being raped upon entering the prison. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the UN, have expressed their concern over the “terrible state” of Brazilian jails, and demanded “the immediate, unbiased, and effective investigation” of the violent incidents that took place in Pedrinhas.

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Latin America: UN Report Reveals that Crime Still Plagues the Region

United Nations flag

United Nations flag

According to a report from the United Nations Development Program, ‘Seguridad ciudadana con Rostro Humano’ (Citizen Security with a Human Face), despite decreasing levels of poverty, Latin America remains the most unsafe region in the world.

“Today Latin American countries have stronger and more integrated economies, there is less poverty, more consolidated democracies and Nation States have taken on greater responsibility in areas of social protection. However, the region’s weak spot remains to be violence, crimes and insecurity,” says the report which bases its analysis on 18 countries in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

According the the report, between 2000 and 2010 the murder rate increased by 11%, meaning than during the decade more than one million people died as a result of criminal violence. In the majority of other regions worldwide, the figure decreased or remained stable.

However, within the region there are exceptions to this trend, notably countries that have experienced armed conflicts or situations of extreme insecurity saw a decrease in the murder rate. Colombia, for example, reduced its murder rate by almost half in ten years and, more recently, the murder rate in Guatemala (since 2009) and El Salvador (since March 2012) experienced a substantial decrease in their murder rate.

In the countries where the relevant information could be obtained, the report reveals that robberies almost tripled in the last 25 years and is now the crime which affects Latin Americans most. Furthermore, one an average day 460 people suffer the consequences of sexual violence, the large majority of the victims being women.

The report also revealed that violence particularly and disproportionately affects young Latin American men. The murder rate of young people – almost 70 for every 100,000 young people – is double that of the rate for the rest of the population. And, although the majority of the perpetrators and victims of these crimes are men, one in every ten murder victims is a woman.

According to a report on Citizen Safety published in 2012 by the Organisation of American States, in Central America 78% of murders are carried out with a firearm, whilst in South America the figure is 83%. Between 42% and 67.5% of the prisoners interviewed for the report stated that they had had access to a gun before they were 18 years old, and a high percentage revealed that they had been given the firearm by the police themselves.

According to the United Nations’ report there are a number of reasons that explain the increase in violence and crimes in the region, such as the economy, which does not provide for the creation of enough jobs and therefore, for social mobility. Secondly, it cites social aspects such as the change in the Latin family structure, with many more one-parent families and, as a potential consequence, school drop outs. Thirdly the report mentions the availability of guns, alcohol, and drugs. Finally, it cites the failure of the State security system such as the police, judiciary, and prisons to confront the problem of crime and insecurity. The report also highlights that social institutions such as families, schools, and the community have become less influential in their role as promoters of peaceful living.

In conclusion, the report stressed the need to address the problem of violence in Latin America on many different levels in houses, schools and in politics, for example, and added that security policies should be periodically evaluated to ensure their effectiveness and impact.

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Santa Fe Robbery Connected to Drug Trafficking

Ana Viglione (photo courtesy of Utrapol Santa Fe)

Ana Viglione (photo courtesy of Utrapol Santa Fe)

The house of Ana Viglione, the Secretary of Complex Crime, was robbed yesterday, a crime that is suspected of being connected with the recent attack on governor of Sante Fe, Antonio Bonfatti, and with the Santa Fe government’s recent investigations into drug trafficking.

Despite Viglione’s house’s security system, which included alarms and cameras, thieves managed to break in last night and steal two computers, a laptop, a tablet and the memory of the security cameras. They took neither money nor other valuable objects.

Vilgione spoke about the theft to Radio Universidad this morning, referring to the possibility that suspects were provoked by her part in the investigation into drug traffickers in the area and her suspicion that the thieves were searching for “information”.

She said: “We are very resolute. We think this could be a consequence of our work. They are trying to intimidate us in our private homes because they have no other way of approaching us. We’re going to continue down the same path that we’re on.”

On 11th October, masked assailants on motorcycles drove past the houes of Santa Fe governor, Bonfatti, shooting at it. Viglione said this morning that advances were being made in the investigation into the attack on Bonfatti’s residence, which is also suspected of being linked to the investigation into drug trafficking.

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The Angeles Case: A Murder-Mystery Reality Show

The case of Angeles Rawson, a 16-year-old girl who disappeared on 10th June and whose body was found 24 hours later in a rubbish disposal site has enthralled the nation for the last three weeks.

Since the case began, 24-hour news channels have kept the audience constantly updated, presenting each new potential piece of evidence as dramatic breaking news, providing more and more details to a captivated audience.

Before long, the media coverage of the case came under scrutiny. Critics began to question the media’s apparent obsession with this case, and to debate the ethics and implications of such invasive, constant coverage.

The Media Firestorm

Despite the fact that little was actually known for the first two weeks, the coverage was relentless, making up for lack of new information with endless speculation about the identity of the killer, possible motives, interviews with anyone remotely related to the case, and, largely, an in-depth dive into the life of Angeles Rawson herself.

The public got to know Angeles, personally, as though she was the main character in her own TV show; all of her friends, family and acquaintances introduced as supporting characters. It became a spectacle complete with broadcast animated analysis of the wound marks on the body and re-enactments using a girl around the same age to demonstrate how the killer may have put her body in the bag.

The Federal Police had to set up a tent in front of the court building to avoid (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam/aa)

The Federal Police had to set up a tent in front of the court building to avoid the intrusion of the press (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam/aa)

Argentine press-watch agency, Ejes de Comunicación reported that “the television coverage of the case consisted of 594 hours on the air between the 10th and the 28th June, the equivalent of 25 days of uninterrupted airtime from a single channel, five times more than the 120 hours of coverage during the election of Argentine cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope.”

On 28th June the intensity of the coverage peaked with the publication of photos by Clarín’s tabloid, Muy, of Rawson’s dead body, wrapped in plastic bags in the trash truck where she was found with the caption, “Photos of Horror”.  Social media exploded, denouncing the publication, calling for boycotts, and expressing general outrage, with hashtags such as #ClarínMUYLacksEthics and #MuyANationalShame trending.

Rawson’s father filed an injunction to stop the photos from being disseminated further, and his lawyer, Pablo Lanusse made the statement: “This is not journalism at all, we respect the freedom of the press, but everything has a limit.  We want a judge to take appropriate action on this case because this needs to be put to a stop. We do not want something like this to happen again.

The Forum of Argentine Journalism (FOPEA), published a statement saying that “media outlets should consider the possible moral damage such content can cause to the victim’s family before publishing, as well the affront it has on a society’s common values,” and the Authority of Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) declared that the treatment of the case was “in violation of the rights of girls and women,” and that it would investigate and apply appropriate sanctions.

The coverage of the story had turned into a story unto itself, sparking a dialogue about the limits of journalism and analysis as to why this case has so completely dominated the national media.

Why Angeles?

“It is a matter of class,” says Liliana Hendel, psychologist and journalist. Rawson was from an upper-middle class family in a nice neighbourhood in Palermo, in the centre of Buenos Aires. Neither the disappearance of Luciano Arruga nor the murder of Kiki Lescano, to provide two examples of lower class teenagers about the same age as Rawson, have generated this type of media fervour.

She was also female. The publication of the photos in Muy was reminiscent of the publication of photos of the naked body of model Jazmín de Grazia found dead in her bathtub by the tabloid Crónica in 2011. Argentine journalist María Florencia Alcaraz writes, “It is no coincidence that images of corpses exposed victims the most resonant most in the media are women… Cultural industries consider themselves owners of females bodies as though they are a territory to dispute.”

Psychologist and journalist Liliana Hendel

Psychologist and journalist Liliana Hendel (photo courtesy of Liliana Hendel)

Hendel agrees, “female victims are subject to the same machismo and patriarchal gaze when they are living as when they are dead.” Rawson’s sexual history and private life was scrutinised, and as is common in a society that views women as either whores or saints, plenty of time was spent exposing her virtue, people lamenting at what a “good girl” she was, “an angel,” “as though had she been less sexually pure her violent murder would have been more justified,” scathes a feminist blogger on ‘Basta de Sexismo’.

In addition to the details of the case, critics looked at the nature of media itself.

“In occasions such as these, we see a dramatic demonstration of the difference between journalism as a right and journalism as a business,” writes Florencia Saintout, Dean of Journalism at the National University of La Plata, in Página 12.  When journalism and media coverage are subject to the whims of the market, Saintout argues, the public becomes a resource to be exploited, “like a cow from which they must extract even the last breath, like a mine in which they must rip out every last mineral, until it is left empty.”

Journalism and the media ostensibly have a role to play in a democracy, one of keeping people informed and exposing the truth, yet when the focus is on the bottom line and generating a profit, media tends to tell a ‘good story’ above all else. In that end, the news tend towards spectacular, ‘gossipy’ topics and coverage, which ends up feeling more like entertainment than information, and feeds into the base emotions and morbid curiosity of the audience.

An attempt to cater to the appetite of the audience by any means can be harmful, crime Journalist Emilio Ruchansky explains, noting that here the media interviewed two young friends of the victim and broadcast it on TV the same day the body was found. “That could have been dangerous if one of them had known the killer,” he says.

Ruchansky also claims it is likely that the justice department was feeding the media tidbits along the way to encourage the publicity of the case, a common occurrence in his line of work. Between the police and the media, “It’s an ‘I’ll help you, you help me’ sort of relationship,” he says. This relationship can be positive when journalists feature specific cases they feel deserve more coverage, but it can also be a rather “dirty business” where journalists go to police for any information they can get and “publish news they’ve been given without having the real sources of the information.”

The Legal Limits 

Because Angeles was a minor, the distribution of her images was called into legal question under laws protecting rights of children. However, putting legal limits on what journalists can and cannot print in general is highly contentious.

The press talk to the porter's lawyer (Photo: Daniel Dabove/Télam/lz)

The press talk to the porter’s lawyer (Photo: Daniel Dabove/Télam/lz)

“Some dead bodies are important,” Ruchansky comments, recounting the photos of Maximiliano Kosteki and Darío Santillán, killed by police ten years ago. “Publishing these photos helped make people aware and less tolerant of police violence everywhere.”

Rather than specific laws, many critics argue, there should be better training for journalists, and a protocol for situations such as Rawson’s.

“There should always be consent with the family of the victim, they shouldn’t be able to use the images without the consent of the family… There will always be a public that consumes this type of material, like there is a public that consumes pornography,” says Hendel, yet she feels that the onus is on journalists and media companies to bring to their profession a level of ethics and a consideration of the consequences of irresponsible reporting. 

As of now, the case seems like it should be wrapping up.  All evidence points to the porter, and the suspicion surrounding the possible sexual molestation motive on the part of her step-father seems to be disproven. In normal cases, the media attention would die off -the shows’s over, folks. However, the coverage is continuing.

Journalist Ricardo Canaletti puts forth a controversial argument to explain this: the public cannot accept that it was the friendly-faced porter. The stern stock photos of the step-father position him as a better villain. The reality show had become so enthralling and the hype behind the step-father hypothesis was so much more intriguing that the public could not leave it alone, This mix of reality and entertainment has created an exciting drama but it did not end how a scripted show would end, so it has left its audience unsatisfied.


What do Argentines think about the media coverage of the Angeles Rawson case? Click here to find out.

Posted in Analysis, Current Affairs, News From Argentina, TOP STORYComments (2)

How safe do you feel in Buenos Aires?

A recent study has shown that Venezuela’s residents feel the most unsafe in the world, while Mexico and Honduras have shown up as the most unsafe countries for journalists. How does Argentina compare, and how safe do the local residents of Buenos Aires feel? Indy reporter Laura Benitez finds out what people have to say on the matter.

Carlos, 55, businessman, Caballito

I really don’t think the crime rate here is worse than in other countries. And I don’t think we have a particular problem here in Buenos Aires. I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous here either, people make it out like it’s much worse than it is. Obviously the city suffers from crime but it’s not a situation that has become any worse then it ever was. And especially when you compare it to other countries in South America such as Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, I think Argentina comes out relatively well.


David, 27, creative industry, San Telmo

For Buenos Aires it’s difficult to judge the crime rate on the whole as there are some areas that are much safer than others. There are some pretty dangerous areas which you would know to be careful of, like in any city. It also depends on if you’re with people, if you have any valuables on you, and what time of the day it is, to how vulnerable you feel. I certainly don’t feel like the crime rate has become worse than it was, it’s not a huge problem that needs to be addressed like in other neighbouring countries like Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela, where women and children are vulnerable on a day to day basis. It’s much worse in these countries than it has been in Argentina. But saying that, I don’t think that the police do that much of a great job when it comes to petty crime in the city.

Ihomeno, 45, tourist, Peru

In terms of how I feel about crime here in Argentina, I haven’t heard anything too extreme, and in the three days I’ve been here I’ve felt very safe walking around as a tourist. It feels the same as it does in Peru, I don’t feel like I’m in danger on a day to day basis. Of course there are zones and areas across Peru where you would be much more careful and where you know it’s particularly dangerous; there are places you’re told not to go to at all. And of course if you go to these places on your own then you’re in trouble, but on the whole, it’s really not that bad, it’s pretty relaxed. But since I’ve been in Buenos Aires the people have been very friendly towards me which has put me at ease a lot.

Camila, 34, businesswoman, Recoleta

You know that crime exists here in Argentina, and in Buenos Aires, but I’ve been living here all of my life and I’ve never had any bad experiences. I’ve always been careful so as long as you’re on the look out it’s fine; I don’t think there are any problems in this country. However, when you look at the US, I think in comparison our crime rate is worse, but then again, compared to Venezuela Argentina is a much safer place to live.

Posted in OpinionComments (0)

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