Argentina: The Links Between Hope and Crime

Crimes in Argentina have now become more violent than ever before, and experts have been keen on studying the problem and trying to provide an explanation for the situation. Sociologists, politicians, and other specialists have explored the issues of drug abuse, poverty, lack of quality education and many more, and they have come up with extremely valuable analyses. However, they do not seem to take into consideration the discouragement that stems from all of those aspects that may be present in the poor person’s life, and the role it plays in the increase of violent behaviours. The governments’ neglect of the economy of the country has resulted in the frustration and lack of hope for the most economically disadvantaged, thus contributing to the surge of violent crime.

Argentina has never taken the economy as seriously as it should. The country has defaulted nine times: 1827, 1890, 1951, 1956,1982, 1989, 2001, 2014 and 2020; I am 19 years old and I have already seen my country cease payments to its creditors three times. Somehow, Argentina has always managed to sort out these situations and, after every devastating crisis, a decent economic recovery has followed. This has given the idea to many people, even numerous politicians, that the economy can always be fixed; debt can always be negotiated and the country will be able to move on eventually.

While it is true that economic problems can usually be patched up, the case is much more complex when it comes to the social issues that economic downfall brings with it. Whole generations have fallen out of the education system, poverty rates do not stop rising and homelessness has become a central characteristic of the country’s capital, Buenos Aires. There are also many other highly populated areas of the country such as Rosario and Resistencia, where many people move in an attempt to find a job.

Today, when lockdown in Argentina has lasted more than 150 days and does not seem to end any time soon, the economic consequences are devastating. Governments of all sectors of the political spectrum seem to ignore, or perhaps are unwilling to address, the connection between crime rates and the lack of hope caused by economic downfall. Recession has brought serious social violence-related problems. It is expected that, by the end of the year, 58,6% of children will live under the poverty line and the consequences of this are showing clearly; crime rates are escalating worryingly quickly, and the violence involved in these crimes is higher than ever. Prisons are completely overcrowded; there are approximately 44.840 people in Buenos Aires’ prisons, with a capacity to only house 29.000. Nevertheless, crime rates continue to escalate fast, which is evidence that more and more people are turning to crime.

While it is easy to fall into the narrative that poor people are inherently violent, and as a consequence, they will devote their lives to robbery and other crimes, this is just a dogmatic representation of poverty coming from the hegemonic discourse. It seems more accurate to think that what leads people to engage in criminal activity is a desperate feeling that they cannot do any better. This loss of hope is incredibly clear, especially when we look at the number of first-time offenders that have been recorded during the lockdown.

It is the lack of something to look forward to, it is not being able to see beyond the current unemployment, it is staring at an empty plate every day that leads many people to criminal activity. It is the lack of access to quality education that results in the absence of opportunities to get a proper job, forcing many to work in the informal sector of the economy that is in constant expansion but which deprives workers of their basic rights. It is being unable to make ends meet, and the despair that this produces that makes many young people think that they have no other choice – and that they will never have another choice. And when this idea remains long enough in someone’s mind, there is no turning back.

It is important to remember, just for the sake of clarity, that this does not mean that criminals should not be punished, or that they do not deserve any punishment. This is just an insight into what goes on in the minds of those living in some of the most relegated areas of the country. Taking a closer look helps us understand the issue better, and realise that the solution here is not just having more police force on the streets, as politicians have systematically argued time and time again, or allowing people to get guns for self-defense. Violence breeds more violence, and the fact that people feel that they should defend what is theirs at all costs is really dangerous. Those who do not have anything at all will do everything in order to steal anything – no matter how violent or cruel their behaviour needs to be – and those who are still able to make ends meet are willing to do anything it takes to protect their belongings.

What people need is hope, a foreseeable path ahead of them, and the certainty that there is something to look forward to in life. This should lead governments to invest in education and other social policies that actually help people improve and provide opportunities, and not just keep them merely fed; once that is done, we will be able to glimpse how, little by little, everyone’s quality of life improves as they’re able to lead more positive, much less violent lives.

Words by Valentina Ferraro

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