August 20, 2014
Bulldozing the crime problem
No authority seems innocent when it comes to presenting gesture politics as effective solutions to the crime problem which heads the national agenda, whether one likes it or not and quite irrespective of its objective importance in any relative terms — if a dozen days ago it was Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli whose grandiloquent declaration of a “security emergency” boiled down to recycling previous announcements such as placing more policemen on the beat, allocating more funds, expanding jail space, speeding the introduction of municipal policing, etc., in this Easter Week it has been the turn of national Security Secretary Sergio Berni in bulldozing Rosario drug-trafficking bunkers with minimal impact on either the drugs or the traffickers. While Berni’s sound and fury has done little to displace Rosario as a national crime capital, his initiative does seem to have had a significant political impact in driving a wedge in Socialist ranks between an applauding current Santa Fe Governor Antonio Bonfatti and his harshly critical predecessor Hermes Binner, a heavyweight among 2015 presidential hopefuls who surprisingly insists on defending a former police chief imprisoned for alleged ties to drug-trafficking — this fallout offers an interesting precedent for playing off the main national opposition contenders against their stand-ins in their provincial bases.
Whatever the criticisms which can be aimed at Berni, his descent on Rosario with his Border Guards marks a new approach on the part of the national government which is already discernible in that other key problem area, the economy — namely, assuming responsibility. Last year there were forecasts of a lame duck government allowing the economy to slide in order to create a mine-field for its successors, only to be confounded by the January devaluation followed by a string of unpopular orthodox measures. By the same token it would be all too easy for the national government to blame Rosario’s plight on a “narco-socialist” provincial administration (and as recently as the week before Scioli’s announcements Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich among others insisted that security was a provincial responsibility) but now we see Berni stepping into the breach.
Nothing wrong with giving priority to the fight against crime unless it becomes an excuse for socially divisive policies which defeat that purpose but are we seeing genuine crime-fighting or politics raising its ugly head?