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Criminal emergency in BA turns lethal

BA Governor Daniel Scioli (left) is seen alongside his Security Minister Alejandro Granados.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
A civilian is killed in one of every five clashes between alleged criminals and police, CELS reports

Crime in Buenos Aires province has long been a concern but despite of political differences, human rights organization and opposition politicians agree on something: four months after Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli declared the state of the emergency in the province, nothing has improved.

Last week, the Buenos Aires Provincial Commission for Memory (CPM) — led by former prosecutor Hugo Cañón and Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel — filed a request before the provincial Supreme Court to rule the state of emergency declared by Scioli unconstitutional. In line with the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) —an organization usually critical of BA Governor—, the CPM considered that Scioli has been implementing “old unsuccessful recipes.” The groups expressed their concern because the clashes between police and alleged criminals have killed more civilans than ever before.

The CPM also filed a request before the BA provincial Legislature to summon Justice and Security ministers for questioning.

On April 9, Scioli declared a criminal emergency in the province for 12 months, a move that allows the governor to recruit former police officers —including those who were dismissed from the force — and to take those who were doing office work out in the streets to patrol. The measure also included increased control for those riding motorbikes.

For the CPM, Scioli does not seek a democratic security policy, saying the governor’s policies are based on an idea of war. “For them, the good results can be calculated by the number of injured or killed criminals,” the organization said in their report. For its part, the CELS explained a civilian is killed in one of every five clashes with police.

‘There are more confrontations because there are more police officers deployed on the streets,” ruling Victory Front (FpV) provincial lawmaker Guido Lorenzino, who leads the Buenos Aires provincial Lower House Security Committee, told the Herald in response to the criticism from human rights organizations.

Statistics, however, appear to tell a different story. Even though confrontations between the police and alleged criminals decreased, more people have been killed, the CELS explained in a report issued this week. According to the CPM, if rates continue increasing, around 290 people could die in these types of clashes in a province which has a homicide rate of 9 per 100,000 inhabitants, about 65 percent over the national average.

As reported by CELS, there were 992 confrontations with alleged criminals leaving 104 fatalities in 1999, figures that dropped to 677 and 45 deaths in 2005 but saw a huge leap to 388 clashes and 76 deaths between April and August of rhis year.

Human rights activists insist that the idea of war remind them of the narrative used during the last dictatorship when the executions of illegal prisoners were presented as clashes or the victims as casualties.

The Security Ministry also reported that 18,000 “preventive operations” were held but according to the CPM that is a euphemism to explain how police forces take actions without judicial warrants. The agency led by provincial Security Minister Alejandro Granados also reported that so far 13,000 crimes have been cleared but, as the group led by Cañón and Pérez Esquivel point out, police officers are not expected to lead investigations, which should be in the hands of prosecutors and judges.

Granados also issued a resolution on May 20 that allows the use of cells in police stations to hold for long-term holding of inmates, something that was seen as contradictory with the so-called Verbitsky ruling issued in 2005 by the Supreme Court, which urged to put an end to overcrowding in jails and police stations.

According to the Register of Inmates in Buenos Aires Province, the number of inmates in the province has been increasing since last December, when 29,928 people were arrested. According to the same source, there are currently 33,166 inmates in the province.

From the CPM’s view, the real problem is not the number of people in jail but their living conditions. “Police stations are facilities where people are tortured or where suicides are reported as a way to cover up murders,” the report said.

“We are working. We are planning to build another eight facilities to hold inmates,” Lorenzino explained. When? That’s something that is going to be discussed during the last months of the year or in 2015, when general elections will be taking place.

Elections

Crime was a central issue in last year’s legislative elections, when Scioli played an important role in promoting ruling Victory Front (FpV) candidate Martín Insaurralde and it probably will play an important role next year, when Scioli is likely to run as one of the hopefuls to replace President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Last year, the governor wanted to make it clear that he had heared the message from the polls after his dauphin’s defeat in the midterms against Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa: he divided the Security and Justice ministry to give the first a more prominent role and he appointed a mayor with a tough-on-crime narrative, Granados, as his minister.

But for the main opposition political force that has not been enough. Last week, members of the Renewal Front said that it was time to take other actions. “The state of emergency is a failure and we want the Border Guards back on the streets,” provincial senator José Luis Pallares said. Last year, the national Security Ministry deployed more Border Guards in some areas of the province to fight crime but this year the majority of them were sent back to the country’s borders.

“Criticism from Massa’s lawmakers is only for the cameras. They promote a bill to create a municipal police but then they do not want to vote it,” Lorenzino, said dismissing criticism.

Last year, Massa had the creation of municipal police forces as a hobby-horse, which was then adopted by Scioli and his allies, including Granados, who created a system of municipal patrol cars system, which was harshly criticized by progressive sectors.

Despite the criticism, Scioli’s allies understand that dealing with crime is fundamental in order to launch a successful candidacy for next year’s presidential elections.

“Our security policy is based on four principles: prevention, avoiding recidivism, fighting drug-trafficking and disarmament,” Lorenzino explained. “Prevention is what we need to strengthen because we want to protect decent and working people.”

@LucianaBertoia

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