The arrest of four police accused of murdering a homeless man in order to boost their image illustrates that although Argentina is one of the safest countries in the hemisphere, police corruption and misconduct remain a serious problem.

On February 10, a Buenos Aires judge ordered the arrest of four policemen for allegedly staging the January 2011 murder of Andres Lezcano, who had been working as a paid informant for police on the outskirts of the capital city. Prosecutors allege that the officers, in an attempt to regain status after losing some of their equipment, shot Lezcano and made it look as if he had been attempting an armed robbery. Lezcano, a lower-class drug addict, was apparently targeted because the officers thought no one would miss him after his death. According to leading Argentine daily Clarin, the case is an example of the “well-oiled mechanism of corruption” within the police force.

This case is not an isolated incident of misconduct. In January, a former intelligence analyst was accused of running a prostitution ring which stretched from Buenos Aires to Cancun, Mexico, which he allegedly protected by paying off 21 federal police. Also last month, six Buenos Aires police were arrested for torturing a motorcyclist who failed to stop at a police checkpoint, while 10 police in the southern province of Chubut were arrested for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl in a police station.

Criminal activity and corruption amongst police has been a recurrent problem for Argentina over the past 30 years. After the country’s return to democracy in the 1980s, civilian governments found it difficult to rein in both the armed forces and police due to a lack of political sway. This changed in 2003, when Nestor Kirchner was elected. In his first year in office, Kirchner made a name for himself as a deft politician and a firm defender of accountability and human rights, vowing to comply with "the political and moral obligation to purify all the country's police forces.'' In response to reports of police collusion with kidnapping schemes in the capital, Kirchner ordered a thorough review of the Buenos Aires provincial force as a part of a broader national crackdown on impunity for officers.

Kirchner was succeeded in 2007 by his wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who swore to continue his attack on corruption. Still, the country’s police continued to be plagued by misconduct, especially in Buenos Aires province. According to the US State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report for Argentina, authorities investigated 13,619 provincial police in Buenos Aires in 2008-09 for "acts of corruption, violence, or irregularities in job performance."

This figure represents one quarter of the provincial police force and amounts to a 75 percent increase in investigations from 2006-07. The State Department also claims that since 2008, 1,172 provincial police officers have been fired and 1,779 reassigned to other positions. In an attempt to address the problem, Fernandez de Kirchner created a new security ministry in late 2010, appointing Nilda Garre as its head. During her time in office, the minister has called for a sweeping reform of the country’s federal police force, replacing the majority of its leadership, and has overseen record drug seizures.

Still, she has called police reform the “most complex and grave challenge” to accountability in the country, and kicked off this month with a vow to purge Argentina's police of corrupt elements. Given the historically entrenched level of corruption in the country, however, this could be a tall order.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.