By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook
In the middle of August, large groups invaded and looted supermarkets and stores in the suburbs of the capital Buenos Aires and the provinces of Mendoza, Córdoba, Neuquén, and Río Negro. Though the situation has improved, I’ve been receiving direct reports from Argentinian locals saying attacks are still happening. As I write this post, more than 200 people, including minors, were arrested in more than 150 violent events.
“At least 20 people were arrested on Tuesday in Córdoba for the looting of at least 12 shops, provincial police said in a statement. In Mendoza, seven were detained, with unrest also reported in Neuquén. In the nation’s capital, Buenos Aires City, an attempt to loot shops in Barrio 1-11-14, Bajo Flores, on Monday night was prevented by residents.
Those incidents came less than 24 hours after a large group attempted to loot a supermarket in Río Cuarto, Córdoba Province. At least ten people were arrested for the incident, seven of whom are minors.” [source]
According to the authorities, the looting was organized and called for on social media by known groups. Indeed, former social union leader and presidential pre-candidate Raúl Castells said in an interview with a TV channel that “people are going after food, and we’re calling them to take everything they can to trade for food, but not to take money nor destroy property.”
The attacks brought back memories of 1989 and 2001 when the economy collapsed, and the population revolted during the governments of former presidents Raul Alfonsín and Fernando De La Rúa. Unlike those instances, though, this time, part of the population mobilized to stop the looters and defend commerce. Images of owners loading firearms and preparing to protect their stores circulated everywhere, too.
From bad to absolute hell
The context, however, is very similar: inflation is above 100%, one of the highest in the world, and 40% of the population lives in poverty (some say it’s even more than that). The government is desperate and running out of time and to unlock a US$44 billion credit deal negotiated with the IMF, it agreed on a 21% devaluation of the Peso, causing an immediate 30% rise in prices of… everything. The unofficial ‘blue dollar’ skyrocketed in the black market. According to analysts, the cost of living might reach two digits in the next months.
There’s a crisis in habitation reaching unimaginable levels, too. Homeowners and investors are waiting for the revision of the Ley de Alquileres, or rent laws, which were approved in 2020 during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, they’re now marking rents in USD rather than Pesos, which added to the pressure of inflation. To make matters worse, there are almost no real estate listings in Buenos Aires and other large cities.
On the political front, President Alberto Fernandéz declared the looting “organized” and asked for “the preservation of social peace and democracy.” Fernandéz won’t run for office in the October presidential elections. Still, his Peronist party seized the opportunity to flood the press with declarations against the opposition for an alleged “public discourse that is trying to destabilize democracy.”
The main target of the Peronistas is right-wing Javier Milei, who gained a lot of attention and support after winning the August primaries with 30% of the votes. He declared, “It’s tragic to see images of looting after 20 years; poverty and plundering are two sides of the same coin.” (Brazilian legacy media has been trying to destroy Milei just as they’re doing with Bolsonaro and Trump – professional journalism is dead.)
Democracy under attack, or the social fabric undoing?
The barrage of criminals invading stores and leaving with bags of stolen goods unbothered has become a common sight in the US and other developed nations. In Europe, migrants attacking and raping residents in the streets for seemingly no reason is a daily occurrence in many countries as well.
Last weekend in Rio de Janeiro, 500 people got arrested during a free concert at Copacabana beach for trying to steal smartphones from attendees. I’ve already addressed the widespread issue of unprovoked violence, another recent phenomenon (and how to prepare for it).
The authorities in Argentina are treating the attacks as a criminal initiative.
“There have been arrests by the police and judicial authorities, and many of the organizers are citizens with previous convictions. We don’t see in this a social reaction, but rather acts that deserve the full weight of the law,” added Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi on Tuesday. (source)
The same authorities are taking a political stance by trying to pin the “anti-democratic discourse” onto their opponents, who in turn are firing back by associating the looting with past crises of a different nature and dimension.
In my opinion, both are right in their assessments but consciously omit part of the issue in an attempt to defend their agendas or profit politically from these events. These events are a mix of crime, political manifestation, and social revolt. It’s an expression of discontent with the corruption, the economic situation, the gaslighting, the loss of freedom and political expression, and more.
The present crisis is more profound and broader, rooted in complex causes. Identifying all those components – and possibly many others – in the wave of looting in Argentina is possible, as well as in the current crisis my country is going through, and also the US, Canada, Europe, and most others in the Western world, with some differences and particularities.
An important takeaway is that there seems to be no solution in sight, so the odds are these events will become more frequent and violent. Trends in motion tend to remain in motion and even accelerate toward the end (and we’re far from the end).
Another aspect to pay attention to is the natural developments. Governments will act to squash these and any popular movements. This response is never linear: typically, they downplay, under-react, then overreact. That’s the script every single time, and we, the people, pay the price either way, so better prepare.
So, is Argentina on the verge of social collapse?
Or is it something else? And why should you and I care?
Because something similar may happen in the future where we live for the same or different reasons. It may or may not be exactly the same, but it doesn’t matter much. I’m talking about dynamics.
Most First World residents look at Argentina and see just another Third World sh*thole that seems to never get out of the pit, a banana republic forever struggling with poverty, corruption, and shrouded in populism. That is hard to argue and a common perspective even in many of its neighbors.
However, Argentina is a big country, once the most prosperous and still the third largest economy in South America. Before WW1, its per-capita GDP compared to Germany’s, and Argentina shows marks of that period to this day. For instance, the education level of its population ranks higher than neighboring countries even after decades of erosion and decadence.
The reason I mention that is twofold: 1) Argentina may be a proxy of developed countries as well as of developing or poorer ones, and 2) How things can completely turn upside down and the circumstances change so drastically, given the right (or should I say wrong) conditions.
The events in Argentina are a lesson in “can’t happen anywhere” we so often talk about, and something to keep in mind.
What are your thoughts?
Have you followed these events? Do you see the parallels between the crime waves in large American cities and these events in Argentina? Have you given thought to how you can protect yourself if you’re present when something like this occurs? Have you seen a local uptick in crime where you live?
Let’s discuss it in the comments section.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor