A shootout between gangs at a brand new public housing development in Buenos Aires has highlighted a deficiency in Argentina’s social plans. Without complimentary security policies, public housing projects can rapidly be taken over by gangs expanding illicit operations and perpetuate insecurity.
On December 4, 2020, the governor of Buenos Aires, Axel Kicillof, inaugurated 364 homes in the town of Moreno on the outskirts of Argentina’s capital. The public housing development was constructed as part of Argentina’s Federal Plan of Households (Plan Federal de Viviendas), a project with the goal of utilizing vacant urban land to build public housing to promote urban consolidation in low-density neighborhoods.
Hardly a month later, on January 11, a gunfight broke out between gangs vying for control of drug sales in the new development. While nobody was injured, the event initiated new residents in a trend all too familiar to Moreno, insecurity and violence.
In Moreno, violence is daily and severe, with criminal groups seeding fear among residents through robberies, assaults, and homicides, according to residents consulted by La Nación. In the face of such threats, local police are unreliable, as constant violence has driven them out of the area and, in the bordering town of Quijote, police are known to collaborate with drug dealers.
Economic precarity in Moreno has led to a proliferation of criminal activity. Drug sales and consumption are prevalent in the area, as are violent robberies and the recruitment of local youths into such activities. In October 2020, a series of targeted operations by Buenos Aires’ special operations force, the Halcón Group, succeeded in disarticulating a local criminal group dedicated to drug dealing in Moreno. However, as violence in the newly inaugurated neighborhood illustrates, local gangs continue to dominate the town.
Violence appears to have soared in Moreno since 2017 when social and religious leaders denounced increasing violent attacks against community members, as local gangs pushed to expand their zone of influence. That year, Moreno registered the fourth-highest number of violent deaths in Argentina.
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Public housing projects across Latin America have long suffered from an absence of complementary security policy – an oversight which, in effect, undermines the ambitious social mission of providing safe dwelling to precarious citizens.
In 2009, under President Lula da Silva, Brazil launched an ambitious public housing project, My House, My Life (Minha Casa, Minha Vida), which sought to construct affordable and secure public housing across the country. However, by 2015 an investigation revealed that residents in 64 complexes – 18,834 families in all – were targets for criminal activity, as criminals used apartments for drug sales, evicted families at will, and subjected residents to beatings, or worse.
Similar dynamics plagued Venezuela’s public housing project, the Grand Mission Household Venezuela (Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela), which was implemented by Hugo Chávez in 2011. While housing complexes provided homes to families living in precarity, residents were soon overrun by local criminal activity; robberies and assaults served as a constant threat, with one resident in the Teatro district of Caracas emphasizing, “security is the most important […] security can’t be bought, it depends on the government taking charge,” according to an article from Crónica Uno.
Argentina’s Federal Plan of Households is the latest example of the complex challenges facing public housing projects across Latin America. While security strategies may fail to entirely combat criminal activity, especially in urban areas long plagued by violence, a lack of robust security planning is sure to furnish criminal groups with new territory to expand illicit operations and reinforce patterns of insecurity for precarious populations.
Despite the incident in Moreno, Argentina’s Federal Plan of Households is set to begin construction on its newest project in 2021 – a development of 600 houses in Trujui, a city bordering Moreno with a similar history of conflict.
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