Argentina’s incoming security secretary has called for the creation of an “elite force” targeting hardcore soccer fans known as “barras bravas,” illustrating the serious threat posed by gangs that have blurred the lines between sports hooliganism and organized crime.
President-elect Mauricio Macri’s chosen security secretary, Eugenio Burzaco, recently told local media outlets that Macri has ordered him to “dismantle these mafias that are the barras.”
According to Clarin, the new administration considers the barras “illicit associations,” and plans to combat them by modeling intelligence-gathering and investigative efforts after those used by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Their aim, said Burzaco, was to put an end to the Barras extortion activities, and that this should not be delegated to the soccer clubs but must be done by the state.
The move against the barras comes as part of a wider anti-crime crackdown planned by Macri’s incoming administration, who made security a central pilar of his election campaign.
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President-elect Macri will have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the impact of Argentina’s barras bravas as the president of the popular Boca Juniors soccer club between 1995 and 2007. Over the years, the Boca-supporting barra “La Doce” has gained a reputation as one of the most powerful and dangerous barras in Argentina. Bocas Juniors’ fans were known for being so fanatical that fans from opposing teams were sometimes barred from attending the Bocas’ home games due to safety concerns.
The propensity of Argentina’s barras for starting riots and brawls certainly generates concern among security officials. An Argentine organization called “Let’s Save Soccer” estimated that dozens of people have been killed in soccer-related violence in recent years. However, many barras have evolved beyond being mere violent thugs and it is likely that it is the barras’ involvement in ticket scalping, drug running and other criminal activities, combined with their sizeable political influence, that has drawn the attention of the new government.
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However, reining in the barras will be no easy task. Many have garnered enormous influence within the power structures of the clubs themselves, and the club hierarchies have been known to use them as security, to rig club elections and intimidate opponents. Without cooperation from the clubs, the security forces will struggle to dismantle groups that evidence suggests are becoming ever more organized and powerful.
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