A tourist was almost robbed at gunpoint while he was riding a bicycle throughout Buenos Aires. Little did the thief know that his victim was recording his ride with aGoPro helmet camera. The tape has been uploaded to YouTube and has since gone viral, accumulating more than six million views in less than a week.
While thankfully no one was injured and the local police have arrested the perpetrator, the incident highlights how internal security remains a problem inArgentina. In the final year of her presidency, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner must focus more resources to quell the crime wave that is sweeping the country.
Crime and punishment
Alexander Hennessy, a Canadian citizen, is part of the show “Global Degree,” in which a group of young people are trying to visit 195 countries in 60 months. The group has already travelled throughout various Latin American states, like Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru. Upon arriving to Argentina, Hennessy and group mates went for a bike ride throughout Buenos Aires, with Hennessy placing a GoPro camera on his helmet.
While biking through a neighborhood known as La Boca, a man in a motorcycle rode up to Hennessy and, in broad daylight, pulled out a gun. The tape shows the robber demanding in Spanish that Hennessy give him his backpack, but the Canadian does not understand. At one point, Hennessy leaves the bicycle, thinking that that is what the robber wants; however the criminal got off his motorcycle and began chasing Hennessy, demanding the backpack. Eventually the thief realized that they were attracting too much attention and left.
The final moments of the tape shows Hennessy and his group of fellow travelers biking to find a police officer. The Argentine media has reported that the criminal, identified as Gaston Aguirre, has been arrested.
The video quickly went viral and now has over six million views while the Facebook page of “Global Degree” received various posts from Argentine citizens apologizing to Hennessy for his ordeal. Meanwhile, Aguirre’s wife said that her husband “regrets” what he did.
A drop in a sea of crime?
The incident has become a springboard for Argentine citizens to critique the country’s level of insecurity. Apart from critiquing President Kirchner, other targets are Sergio Berni, theSecretary of Security, andMauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires.
Given the lack of confidence in both the government and law enforcement agencies, there has been a rise of vigilante justice. In one extreme case, this past March David Moreira, 18, was beaten to death by a group of people after he allegedly stole a purse from a woman.
Two cities where the situation is particularly problematic are Buenos Aires, a city of eight million people which has several underdeveloped neighborhoods, known as “villas miserias” (“misery villages” or “chabolas”). The other city in trouble is Rosario, known as “the capital of crime” in Argentina.
To be fair, the Argentine government has tried to improve the situation. This past April, Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province, decreed a “public security emergency” in Buenos Aires in order to carry out a plan to improve the security environment. The plan entails using funds to beef up the ranks of law enforcement agencies and acquire new equipment. Meanwhile, Secretary of Security Berni presented 350 new vehicles to the media this past Friday, September 19, which the federal police will have at its disposal beginning this December.
Additionally, President Kirchner has critiqued vigilantism. In a recent speech she declared, “violence always creates more violence.” The Argentine head of state’s term will end in 2015 and she does not want her legacy to be that she left the country in a security mess. Unsurprisingly, the country’s security woes are being exploited for political objectives. Sergio Massa, an opposition congressman and a presidential hopeful, has declared that the country needs “a government that will uphold the law.”
As a corollary to this analysis, it is worth highlighting that Hennessy’s video shows the criminal, Aguirre, holding a gun and waving it at the Canadian. In March, Buenos Aires Governor Scioli declared “for a long time I’ve said that we need to establish a system to control weapons […] if there are no weapons, there are no dead people. Getting rid of weapons and drugs, we reduce the problem.” It will be interesting to see if the Hennessy incident does anything to increase the likelihood for some kind of gun control policy in Buenos Aires.
As for Hennessy, he and his “Global Degree” fellows have pledged to continue their global tour. Hopefully the incident in Buenos Aires will be the only time that their safety is in jeopardy, yet this is unlikely considering that several Latin American states, not just Argentina, face internal security crises.
The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) is meeting in Guatemala to discuss the always sensitivedrug problemin the Western Hemisphere. This high-level meeting, which will be replete of VIP policymakers, will ideally serve to create a united front leading up to a global discussion on drug policies in 2016.
The ongoing meeting is the 46thspecial session of the General Assemblyof the OAS, and its theme is the ambitious statement “Towards a 21stcentury drug policy for the hemisphere.” The objective of the meeting is to create a common ground among the OAS member states leading up to 2016, when the General Assembly of the United Nations plans to review the global drug control system.
The OAS session will be an important event as most OAS member states will reportedly send their foreign affairs ministers or deputy ministers. For example, Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holguin will attend; she has declared that the “drug problem” is also a health problem, and therefore drug users “cannot solely be regarded as criminals.” Also in attendance will be Ruth Dreifuss, a former president of Switzerland and a member of theGlobal Commission on Drug Policy.
Since Guatemala is hosting the event, President Otto Perez Molina is expected to play a prominent role in the proceedings. The Central American country’s security forces have enjoyed recent success in stopping the flow of drugs across its territory. Just this past June, the Guatemalan police seized 1.2 tons of drugs (valued at $15 million USD) in the Quetzal Port. The drugs were hidden in a shipment of bananas that originated in Ecuador and was destined for the U.S.
As for the U.S. delegation, it will be headed byWilliam Brownfield, the U.S. “drug czar.” Brownfield will arrive to the Central American country after a brief trip to Panama. According to the State Department, Brownfield visited “a joint Panama-Colombia security forces base in the Darien” before travelling to Guatemala.
Finally, it is worth noting that this is one of the last major events that will be led by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. The Chilean citizen is currently in his “farewell” tour as next year he will complete his decade-long tenure at the helm of the OAS.
As for drug-related initiatives under Insulza’s lengthy term, in 2013 the OAS published the comprehensive “Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.” The document is important as it called for adebate on drug legalizationin the Western Hemisphere. While in Guatemala, Insulza gave a presentation at the Rafael Landívar University in which he praised the role that the OAS has played in the evolving discussion on drugs; he stated, “we are very pleased because we have changed the dimension of the debate not only in the Americas, but also in the whole world.”
The multi-faceted drug problem
Whether the OAS summit in Guatemala will manage to create a unified stance across the hemisphere leading up to 2016 remains to be seen. This is in part because the “drug problem” is an understandably broad issue and the 34 nations that make up the OAS have different ways of addressing it. The U.S. generally still supports the “war on drugs,” which focuses on law enforcement operations to crack down on drug trafficking, and Brownfield will probably focus on the importance of these initiatives.
As for other nations,Uruguayhas the most progressive attitude as it is currently finalizing the details of how to implement its 2013 landmark ruling via which marijuana was legalized. It will probably start being legally sold in2015.
As for Peru, its major challenge regarding drugs revolve around cocaine. In early September, the Peruvian police destroyed over eight tons of drugs in the northern city of Trujillo. This amount included most of the 7.6 tons of cocaine (valued at over $300 million USD) that the Peruvian police seized in August. This successful police operation is the biggest seizure ever of cocaine in Peru’s history.
Finally, there are reports that countries such as Mexico and Peru are now heroin producers. Hence, it is not just cocaine and marijuana that are an issue in Latin America; the range of drugs produced or trafficked in the region is ever increasing.
It is important that the OAS, the only regional bloc that has 34 out of the Western Hemisphere’s 35 free states as members, has a prominent role in the global debate on the future of drug policies, especially leading up to the 2016 debate at the United Nations. With that said, how much we can expect out of the ongoing meeting in Guatemala is debatable; the Western Hemisphere is a big place, and regional nations have their own priorities and ways of addressing this complex issue.