Photo via Wikemedia

You’re a man between the ages of 26 and 35, living in one of the multiple slums or informal settlements in Buenos Aires Capital. You owe money to a guy from the same slum. You don’t get the money together and, to settle the score, he shoots you at dawn on one of the slum’s cramped streets.

This is one of the most likely scenarios for intentional homicide in Buenos Aires Capital, according to the 2015 Homicide Report for the City of Buenos Aires. The report, prepared by the Judicial Powers Research Institute with data compiled from trial records, demonstrates that, when it comes to murder, geography is everything.

In total, 175 people were intentionally murdered last year in Buenos Aires City, a rate of 6.05 for every 100,000 inhabitants, and an 11% decrease on the previous year. However, it is also feasible that this figure is in fact lower, as the total population in the study is based on data from the last census.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

However, if you dig in deeper, a different story emerges. Even if the overall rate is not that bad, it spikes sharply in certain areas, particularly in the slums or “villas de emergencia” clustered throughout the city. Here, the murder rate jumps to 49.45 for every 100,000 inhabitants.

A Tale of Two Cities

The report splits the city into two zones, A and B, where A has a greater concentration of homicides and B has a lower concentration. Zone A roughly corresponds to the southern part of the city, plus the east and north east (Retiro.) A disturbing but perhaps expected picture emerges: the vast majority of homicides are committed in Zone A, the economically poorer part of the city, and the site of the majority of slums.

A tale of two zones. Zone A, home to 73% of all intentional homicide
A tale of two zones. Zone A, home to 73% of all intentional homicide

The report makes clear that murder is much more likely in shantytowns, where economic and social vulnerability, cramped and unsafe living conditions, and a largely absent state create the perfect conditions for violence. In 2015, 47% of all murders were committed in slums (82 of 175 victims), and in the vast majority of cases, both victim and perpetrator were from the same slum.

Zooming in a little, an image emerges showing that the neighborhoods of Flores (40 victims), Retiro (30 victims) and Barracas (18 victims) are the heaviest hitters for homicide. However, while the homicide rate in Barracas decreased by 47% in comparison with the previous year, the rate went up in Flores and Retiro.

Retiro, in particular, is a cause for concern – the homicide rate more than doubled from 2014 to 2015. The majority of these homicides (29) occurred in Villa 31 y 31 bis, the sprawling, overcrowded slum alongside Retiro train station, which sprung up in the 1930s and has resisted all government efforts at development.

Concentration of homicides in Villa 31 and 31 bis
Concentration of homicides in Villa 31 and 31 bis

Around The World

How does this compare to other homicide rates? Slightly worse than the national average (5.5 for every 100,000, though that stat is a little out of date), equal to countries like Saudi Arabia and Albania, worse than the United States (5) and almost double that of Chile, according to World Bank Data. But it’s also more or less the world average and much better than the regional average of 15.6.

Some context in the form of statistics

  • 83% of victims were between the ages of 18 and 50, and 32% between 26 and 35.
  • 47% of all homicides were committed in a slum
  • 66% in a public street
  • 35% in the early morning (proving my mother’s saying that “nothing good happens after midnight”)
  • The majority of victims were Argentines (61%), though 30 Paraguayans were killed in 2015.