With Argentina set to vote for its next president on October 27, the ongoing campaign has given hints of how the candidates would tackle the country’s evolving criminal dynamics.
The second of two debates brought together the six top candidates to present and discuss their proposals on six topics, including security and corruption.
Although six people were on stage, all attention was on the two favorites, President Mauricio Macri, who secured almost 32 percent of the votes in the primaries, and Alberto Fernández, a former government chief of staff, who secured about 48 percent, according to the official count.
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With the South American country embroiled in a devastating economic crisis, the candidates have not provided much detail about how they would tackle organized crime and rampant corruption.
But a close look at the top two contenders' platforms and public statements show two very contrasting views.
Mauricio Macri: Tough on Crime
Mauricio Macri won the presidency in 2015 on a strong anti-crime and anti-corruption platform. Over the last four years, his government has been keen to showcase its achievements against organized crime and drug trafficking.
While in office, Macri has invested resources in improving the way statistics on crime are gathered, increasing security operations and promoting key anti-corruption legislation.
Under Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, Argentina widely increased drug seizures and arrests, expanded the role of federal security forces and developed a closer working relationship with international partners, including the United States.
Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) coalition has made “drug trafficking networks, the professionalization of the fight against complex crimes such as money laundering, terrorism and people trafficking” the second point of their manifesto.
Amongst the 14 specific proposals, one suggests tougher punishments for crimes including drug trafficking, a new approach to crimes committed by minors and tougher punishments for violent soccer fans, known as “barras bravas.”
The platform, however, lacks specifics on how to tackle growing consumer markets that seem unabated by the rising seizures and arrests, reports of abuse and corruption at the hands of security forces and corruption accusations within their own ranks.
During the debate, Macri used much of the time he was allocated to criticize the former administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) for what he said were failures to tackle drug trafficking organizations and facilitating elite corruption.
"We are different from them. We do not make deals with drug traffickers. We combat the mafias. We lowered homicides. We propose the creation of a modern penal code, one that increases penalties for drug traffickers," he said.
Alberto Fernández: Change of Course
Differing from Macri in almost every economic, social and political issue, it is hardly surprising that Alberto Fernández’s Frente de Todos (Front of All) coalition is proposing broad changes to Argentina's security strategy.
Most of the proposals in their platform seem to be structural – right up to the Security Ministry.
Fernández says that he would establish a Security Council and an independent Public Security Observatory to look at the various security issues affecting the country from a political, judicial and social standpoint. Details on both proposals, however, remained unclear during the debate and on paper.
His platform is also proposing to modernize the federal police, providing work, health, and education for police and security force personnel, particularly women.
And he is touting the creation of a Federal Program to Control Drug Trafficking (Programa Federal de Control del Narcotráfico) to “establish a comprehensive strategy to control trafficking and commercialization of illegal drugs and related violence and criminal economies.”
During the debate, the former government chief of staff said Macri's security strategy was punishing drug users and small-time traffickers without showing any lasting results.
"It's easier to talk about 'iron fist' policies and tougher sentences, but the fact is that insecurity is directly related to inequality. We propose to create a Security Council so security becomes a state policy, allowing everybody who needs to be involved to take part," he said.
His vice-presidential running mate is former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who stood trial for corruption charges earlier this year. Despite this, Fernández sought to distance himself from ongoing accusations of the previous administrations he served in and pointed to ongoing investigations against Macri and some of his officials, as a tit-for-tat game dominated the debate.
During the campaign, Fernández also criticized the current administration for the way it handles the fight against organized crime and even pointed to the potential legalization of marijuana.
“We shouldn’t persecute those who smoke marijuana. The solution is to act with some sense. I’m not referring to hard or artificial drugs, I’m talking specifically about marijuana,” he told Pagina12.