Argentina battles police strike and criminal looting

"There is social fear, now we have to heal the wounds of the people," said Catholic Bishop Luis Armando Collazuol of Concordia following more than a week of violence in over 16 cities in Argentina. The bishop assisted negotiations between Governor Sergio Urribarri of Entre Ríos province and representatives of striking police officers who have barricaded themselves in their barracks and appealed for better wages.
 
 In Entre Ríos, as in other provinces in Argentina, looters have taken advantage of the absence of police on the streets by sacking businesses and homes and setting automobiles on fire. Bishop Collazuol send in a note to the media that he wants to "help dialogue between the parties." He added, "We now have another tough task to carry out and that is to heal the wounds of the people".
 
According to Bishop Collazuol, "Yesterday (December 9) we were very sad, there was a lot of tension in the city, still looting, violence, neighbors who were armed to defend their premises, while there were no police on the street." While stressing that the police deserve adequate pay, he said “society cannot be left without any protection." The bishop also met with the priests of his diocese to discuss how to guide their congregations during the crisis and promote “dialogue in order to create peaceful, sincere dialogue, but always through institutional channels."
 
The bishop noted that in his diocese, which is in a province that borders Uruguay, that "Now there is mistrust among the people, there is social fear.” Even so, Bishop Collazuol echoed his colleague in the province of Jujuy in that the looting does not appear to be inspired by hunger since household appliances were among the goods stolen from businesses. Rioting in Concordia was quelled by Argentina’s national gendarmerie and coast guard. In nearby Santa and Rosario, approximately 2,200 gendarmes and guardsmen were on patrol to prevent further disturbances.
 
In Mar del Plata, a resort city in the province of Buenos Aires (which encompasses the national capital of the same name), members of the provincial riot police joined with other police officers in the protests. Barricades of flaming tires and rubbish erected by the protesters could be seen near the headquarters of the riot police. On December 11, Argentine Minister of Justice Raúl Lamberto said that his agency has begun an investigation into police involvement in rioting that some observers have likened to a turf battle between gangs consisting of police on one side and criminals on the other.
 
The Catholic bishops of Argentina have weighed in on the crisis. In a statement, the conference of bishops declared "Argentina is in desperate need to stop attitudes that jeopardize safety and social peace. This affects all of us."
 
"One cannot deny problems, but we have to face and solve them through sincere and constructive dialogue, which is an expression of social belonging and friendship. The police strike has created situations of insecurity regarding entire cities that do not agree with the spirit and professionalism of these security forces. We need your presence."
 
During five days of riots, at least twelve persons have been killed in the 20 provinces involved. Millions of dollars of property have been stolen or destroyed. Violence struck in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Chaco, Tucumán, Jujuy, Cordoba and others. The provincial governments have decided to hike the basic salary for police officers of approximately $ 1,350 by almost 50 percent.
 
This is the most serious breach of public safety during President Cristina Kirchner’s term in office. Her cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich said on December 11 that he foresees a “climate of peace and public tranquility,” despite the spilling of blood where police are on strike and criminals loose on the streets. For Capitanich, the “situation is under control and resolved.” During a morning press conference at the Casa Rosada, Capitanich also said that there is “a prospect of normalization in each one of the provinces.” He added that “The police are arguing in a threatening manner,” while he diminished the outrage of some provincial governors that help from national security forces came too little and too late. Said Capitanich, “This is not an automatic thing, that they are requested and then arrive at supersonic speed. When the Gendarmerie is requested it must be noted that the requirement takes some time, for the organization, transport and intervention in the territory.”


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

Filed under crime, politics, argentina, crime, politics, Americas

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