The New Wave of Poverty and Crime in Buenos Aires

October 13, 2016

Ever since the economic collapse in 2001, Argentina and the capital city of Buenos Aires have been experiencing a resurgence in poverty that hasn’t been seen since the first wave of migrant urban workers in the 1930’s. In the southern region of Buenos Aires shanty towns are expanding and engulfing private and unused land. These shanty towns are known as “villas miserias,” which directly translates into villages of misery, and share characteristics of slums all around the world. Houses are built by the future residents and lack clean water, gas, electricity, and proper city infrastructure. In 2001 there were 107,000 people living in the villas, now there are 275,000, a 156% increase in population between the years of 2001 and 2014.1 The people living in the slums, who are known as “villeros” make up 10% of the population of Buenos Aires, and since they are coming from neighboring countries such as  Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay, the numbers will keep rising as long as migration between these countries continues to be lax.

Along with mass migration into the city for jobs, the villas miserias are also a hot bed of drug use and crime. The most well known villas, villas 1-11-14 and 21-24, which are named after the zone of the city in which they are located, are now being policed 24 hours a day by a group of police known as the Prefectura.2 The Prefectura was put in place after a rise in homicides in the villas due to narco-trafficking violence. This past June, Argentina declared a state of emergency in public safety after rates of armed robbery, homicide, and drug trafficking dramatically rose within and outside of the villas.3 The rise in crime throughout the city is being linked to the rapid and unmonitored growth of the villas miserias. For the most part, these villas are not made up of drug lords and thieves.  Rather, most of them are migrant workers who are looking for a legitimate job and place in society, but a stigma still exists. Most residents of the villas will not use their villa address when applying to jobs, but addresses of friends or acquaintances who live in Buenos Aires proper.

What the villa residents want the most is urbanization.1 They believe that having proper infrastructure, gas, electric, and running water, will eliminate the tension between residents who are all competing to get any resources they can. Proper roads and transportation in and out of the villas can link them to parts of the cities where they can find work and allow them to use their own street addresses without fear of being stigmatized. But, it seems that the government is more concerned with monitoring the villas and dealing with the crimes after they are committed, rather than urbanizing them. Instead of implementing policy to combat crime and begin urbanization, the government recently decided to create a day commemorating heroic members of the villas, while a recent film named The White Elephant (starring Argentina’s most famous and successful actor, Ricardo Darin), romanticizes daily life inside the villas.4 This means that without government action, the crime, drug use, and rapid expansion will continue to wreak havoc on the city. If the government continues to ignore a growing 10% of the population, the cycle of poverty will continue and Buenos Aires could see these shantytowns becoming permanent fixtures of the city landscape.



1) Irigaray, Juan Ignacio. "Buenos Aires Se 'chaboliza'" ELMUNDO. N.p., 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <

2) Peregil, Francisco. "La Pobreza Se Enquista En Buenos Aires." EL PAÍS. N.p., 11 July 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <

3) Irigaray, Juan Ignacio. "Estado De Emergencia En Buenos Aires Por La Ola De Crímenes." ELMUNDO. N.p., 6 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <>.

4) Ossona, Jorge. "El “pobrismo”, Otro Credo Lanzado Desde El Gobierno." N.p., 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <>.

About Author(s)

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Sophia Winston
Sophia Winston is a Spanish and Urban Studies major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is also pursuing a certificate in Latin American Studies and a minor in Portuguese. She has spent a semester abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is currently a senior.