A police officer dressed in civilian clothes and his girlfriend were traveling on a red motorcycle last Sunday through a street in the municipality of Moreno, province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, when, at 8:32 p.m., they were intercepted by two young men. aboard a similar blue vehicle. One of them got out and threatened the couple, probably with a weapon. The policeman and his girlfriend immediately handed over the red motorcycle and began to drive away from the scene. The thief mounted his new good, put both hands on the handlebars and was preparing to flee when the assaulted motorcyclist turned around, took out his service pistol and fired five shots into his back. Four of them impacted the body of the assailant, Andrés Aníbal Carbonel, 28 years old. He managed to run, but died immediately. His accomplice escaped on the blue motorcycle.
The event can be narrated in detail because it was filmed in close-up, with absolute clarity, by a camera in the municipality of Moreno, a humble town that is part of the suburbs of the city of Buenos Aires.
The sequence first toured social networks and then the six news channels and the five open television channels. The majority of netizens gave free rein to the celebration of death, as usually happens in these cases, in tune with almost the entire media arc that, with few exceptions, circumscribes these situations under the label “justice by one’s own hand” or ” legitimate defense”.
The sergeant of the Buenos Aires Province Police, identified as LM, aged 31, was arrested on charges of “aggravated homicide due to the use of a firearm and for being a member of a security force”, to the outrage of social networks and the vast majority of radio and television presenters. The few journalists who, contrary to the editorial policy of the audiovisual media in which they work, expressed their caution regarding the fact that homicide from behind to prevent the theft of a motorcycle is not part of “legitimate defense”, suffered the bullying common in networks.
A month after the closing of the candidate lists, three of the mandatory primaries and five of the presidential elections, politics did its thing. Patricia Bullrich, the presidential candidate of the conservative alliance Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) —indicated as the one who leads the polls— rushed to declare LM’s innocence and called to support the Police. The same was done by those close to her rival in the JxC primaries, the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, and many other right-wing and far-right voices. But not only them. Sergio Berni, a former soldier close to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Minister of Security in the Province of Buenos Aires, ruled that the police officer acted in his own defense. In other words, the political officer in charge of the police force to which the perpetrator of the shots belongs, endorsed the action.
LM was released on Tuesday night, after testifying, because the prosecutor understood that there is no risk of escape or hindering the investigation. The assailant was found a weapon next to his body, according to the Police of the province of Buenos Aires. In turn, an 18-year-old youth declared that minutes before the event he had been robbed by the same youths who were on board the blue motorcycle, whom he identified when watching the filming.
Omnipresence of the security agenda
Episodes in which a delinquent, generally adolescent or very young, is killed by a plainclothes police officer who “defended” himself from an assault come to light at the rate of two or three per month. It is common for Argentine newscasts on private channels to dedicate the entire space, an hour or an hour and a half, to police events if they are spectacular. The media version and the police version, in general, tend to be identical.
Beyond the “trigger easy” complaints from relatives and human rights organizations, these types of cases are lost on the agenda, except when there are films or numerous witnesses who deny the official story. Sometimes, at least, the judicial process ends up elucidating that it was mere police executions, with a reconstruction of the facts opposite to the one narrated on the news.
It is common for the news on private Argentine channels to dedicate the entire space, an hour or an hour and a half, to police events if they are spectacular. The media version and the police version, in general, tend to be identical
The “insecurity” agenda has long since become a political issue in Argentina. In 2022, the National Criminal Information System registered 4.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, a decrease of 18% compared to 2019. Last year the City of Buenos Aires and the Province of Buenos Aires reported a floor of violent deaths that did not It was recorded decades ago. With this statistic, Argentina is one of the countries in the Americas with the lowest murder rate, just below that of Chile, which has recorded an upturn in recent years. The number, however, is four times that of the developed countries of Europe.
In any case, the place of “insecurity” in the media and the political campaign, although it feeds back into paranoia, is far from exhausting itself into opportunism. Testimonials from inhabitants of Greater Buenos Aires report daily dangers, on the way to work, school or the supermarket, which become exhausting.
Life in Greater Buenos Aires
This immense crescent that surrounds the Argentine capital and closes with the Río de la Plata is a world in itself. Ten million people from all social classes live there, from exclusive communities —with private security— to shantytowns, degraded working-class neighborhoods and typical middle-class neighborhoods; semi-rural streets and crowded industrial cordons; universities, workshops, shopping centers, open-air dumps, polluted rivers and coasts trendy. The worst part of insecurity, by far, is borne by the poorest areas, victims of drug trafficking and police corruption, which usually coincide.
It is difficult to find an Argentinian inhabitant of a big city who does not have to recount an event of which he or someone in his family was a victim in the last decade. Cell phone outbursts or various thefts prevail, from backpacks to bicycles. There are practically no low houses in the Argentine capital and surroundings that do not have their windows barred.
Predictably, Juntos por el Cambio was mounted on this reality. Bullrich dedicated several statements to the subject in the last two days. He first complained that the LM agent had been detained and remarked that, “if he had been the other way around, the motochorro (thief on motorcycle) would be free”. Later, when the policeman was released, he celebrated and argued—falsely—that he had been found innocent.
The homicide statistics are among the lowest in America, but it is difficult to find an Argentine inhabiting a big city who does not have a criminal act of which he or someone from his family was a victim to tell.
Victoria Villaruel, the denialist that Milei is nominating for the vice presidency, tweeted: “If you are a police officer and you are in civilian clothes, you have to let yourself be robbed. If you’re a police officer and you’re in uniform, you have to let yourself be killed. That is the doctrine left by the K (Kirchner)”.
Bullrich, Larreta and former President Mauricio Macri embraced the “Chocobar doctrine” years ago. That paradigm refers to a policeman, Luis Chocobar, who in December 2017 chased and killed a young man who had just badly injured an American tourist in Caminito, near the Boca Juniors stadium, with two shots in the back. After immense pressure exerted by the then Macri government, The policeman was sentenced in 2021 to a light sentence, two years suspended, for “homicide in the line of duty”. Currently, while awaiting confirmation of the sentence by higher courts, Chocobar continues to perform police duties, is armed, runs a foundation, is usually a voice for consultation in trigger-happy cases, and supports Bullrich.
The case of Chocobar is, however, less obscene than that of a butcher from the town of Zárate (north of Buenos Aires), Daniel Oyarzún. In 2016, two people robbed his butcher shop and escaped on a motorcycle. Oyarzún got into his truck and crushed one of them against a post. When he was dying, the butcher hit him. Oyarzún was acquitted because a jury understood that he acted in “legitimate defense.” Last year, the butcher took over as councilor for Zárate for Together for Change.
Kirchnerism, on two sides
Kirchnerism’s position on the security agenda could be described as schizophrenic. On the one hand, in their governments they housed “guarantor” officials, with a human rights perspective, who are often the target of attacks from the right for being “in favor of criminals.” On the other, the management of the police forces during the administrations of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner and their provincial allies was indistinguishable from that of any right-wing government, except for some exceptional periods.
Cristina’s main security reference point is Berni, a man with a walk of sheriff that usually coincides in almost everything with Bullrich. Faced with the alleged murder from behind of the young man in Moreno, last Sunday, Berni told a radio station that he was “totally convinced that it was an act of legitimate defense, at most an abuse of legitimate defense could have occurred.” .
Kirchnerists tend to explain that Berni’s heavy hand is a pragmatic maneuver by the vice president to contain criticism from the right, which tends to annoy the police forces. Cristina supports him to the point that she forced the displacement of national government security officials who were guarantors and members of Alberto Fernández’s circle, who had confronted Berni.
If the rhetoric and policies of Berni and many others like him ultimately prove ineffective in improving security, they at least serve to keep the police under control, the Cristinistas reason.
In a two-way game, Eduardo de Pedro, Minister of the Interior, very close to the vice president and probable candidate for president, dedicated himself these days to criticizing the manoduristas. De Pedro denounced the “contempt for life” and questioned those who “use” insecurity “to campaign.” In keeping with a progressive record, the Minister of the Interior valued the need for social policies and to reduce police corruption as methods to achieve better security.
The political and media tossing around “justice by one’s own hand” does not come free. Atrocious beatings or lynchings of alleged criminals by mobs are frequent. The victims are usually teenagers.
On Tuesday night, a federal police officer shot a “motochorro” who, together with an accomplice, assaulted her when she was walking dressed as a civilian, also in the municipality of Moreno. The woman was returning to her home after work when she was approached by two criminals. According to her, she said, one of the assailants showed a weapon. The police took out theirs, wounded one of them and the other fled. Until now, there is no filming available to ratify the sequence.