This isn’t just for Americans only, so read on.
The US State Department released a “Security Message” today (whatever the hell that is) dictating the proper level of caution Americans like myself should take while spending time in Argentina.
Apparently, “in recent months, U.S. citizens have reported a number of crimes to the embassy.” Including “petty crime, taxi scams (especially at international airports), mugging, snatch-and-grab robbery involving motorcycles and bicycles.” Phew! And I was afraid I’d go an entire day without a reference to Argentina’s most famous motochorro.
The report goes on to say that “occasionally more serious crimes such as express kidnappings, home invasion, carjacking, assault, and sexual assault using date rape drugs.”
Now. If you’ve ever been to a big city in any country on the planet, you’re initial reaction was probably something like “No shit.” Is crime that bad in Argentina that it warrants an official release from the State Department? It’s honestly hard to tell.
The email sent yesterday never cites any actual numbers. State Department officials seem to be relying on non-concrete evidence gleaned from incident reports at the embassy. How do I know? If you head to the official OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council) website like I did, you’ll find their “Argentina 2014 Crime and Safety Report” contains plenty of super accurate words like “occasional”, “appears to be”, “most”, “some” etc.
The thing reads like an email from my mother. Gems like “maintain a high level of vigilance,” (I didn’t know Prof. Moody worked there!) “enhance [your] personal safety”, and (the are-you-fucking-joking tip of the day) “crimes …are significantly more frequent after dark.”
And it just so happens that the most recent statistics available for crime other than homicides in Argentina (according to the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (woo-hoo parenthesis party!))) are from 2008. (Note: it says it was updated on May 15th, but upon opening the spreadsheets, you are presented with 2008 Argentine data) with the most up-to-date homicide stats coming from 2012.
So we don’t have timely “official” numbers to go by. If you ask any local Argentines, they’ll tell you that there has certainly been an increase in crime recently. At any given time you can turn on the TV and hear about how horrible things are here; the most recent robbery/assault/murder filling the airwaves for hours on end.
Many people keep saying the same thing: crime in Argentina is getting more and more out of control. And that may be true. But there’s no reason to panic. At least not yet.
If there’s one thing you really need to be careful with, is your wallets and smartphones. According to a UN study, Argentina is indeed the top ranked country in Latin America when it comes to robbery and theft, with 973 victims for every 100,000 people. Yes, those precious iPhones, MacBooks, digital cameras and Samsung Galaxies attract the chorros like bees to honey. And you need to be careful when pulling them out on the street or even at Starbucks.
Carrying your wallet in your front pocket might also be a good idea. And the truth is that getting mugged in Buenos Aires is now even being considered a rite of passage for expats. It is concerning, but it doesn’t mean we’re living in an episode of The Walking Dead.
Upon reviewing the numbers of the UN study, you’ll find that Argentina is much safer when compared to other countries in Latin America, and even ranked well behind the US in the rate of theft per 100,000 people in 2012.
Is it a huge deal that the US government released a statement suggesting that citizens be more cautious in a foreign country? Not really. In fact, the US government does this all the time in many countries around the world. Even the embassy staff yesterday, when talking to the press, shrugged and said that this is just their standard practice. So there’s no need to blow this out of proportion.
Here’s the rub: Buenos Aires is a big city. Crime happens in big cities, and out of towners are targeted by criminals in those cities. So you have to be careful out there, kids.
However, we’re not in the midst of an apocalyptic meltdown of society. Crime is certainly a problem here, and how local and federal politicians choose to deal with this recent spike in criminal activity may very well dictate the course of Argentine politics over the coming year leading to the next Presidential election.
Be careful. Not paranoid.