Earlier this month, widespread looting broke out in “at least 19 of Argentina’s 23 provinces” when mobs took advantage of strikes by police demanding pay raises to match inflation” by “shattering glass doors and stealing everything from mattresses and mobile phones to prams and beer,” according to news reports in the Guardian and elsewhere. Twelve people were reportedly killed during the week of looting.
A confidential source on the ground in Argentina told Heritage that the wave of looting and destruction of property began in Córdoba (Argentina’s second-largest city), instigated by the leadership of the local provincial police department itself (Policía de Córdoba). According to our very credible and knowledgeable source, police chiefs in Córdoba are involved in narcotics trafficking and are facing criminal prosecution.
The police strike was fueled by unhappiness over low wages in a country where the actual annual inflation rate exceeds 25 percent—the average monthly salary for a beat cop is barely equivalent to $450.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government cynically manipulates official inflation statistics to reduce interest paid to bondholders and artificially constrain the size of public-sector pay increases. As Bloomberg reported, “Doubts about the accuracy of official economic data led the International Monetary Fund to censure Argentina in February.”
Eventually, the demands of the police led to the strike which later deteriorated into the generalized chaos on the ground. Corrupt elements of the police force took advantage of the situation to boost the claims of the strikers—and to do some looting themselves.
With the police off the streets, many unscrupulous Argentines took advantage of the lack of security and began looting for food and other items. Store owners and law-abiding citizens defended themselves with handguns and shotguns.
In Córdoba the lawlessness was stopped only after the provincial governor, José Manuel de la Sota, pushed through a 100 percent pay raise for the police. De la Sota is one of President Kirchner’s political opponents within the Peronist party. Earlier Kirchner had refused De la Sota’s request for help from the federal government to put an end to the violence.
The high real inflation rates and the corruption and lack of rule of law that spurred these outbreaks of violence and looting are reflected in The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom (co-published with The Wall Street Journal): Argentina’s score in the Index has been in a steady decline for more than a decade.