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Reframing illegalities: crime, cultural values and ideas of success (in Argentina)

Abstract

The expansion and entrenchment of insecurity, organized crime and violence in Latin America has involved the participation of public officials. Without this participation, it would be impossible to create the necessary niches of impunity to enable the growth of organized crime and violence. Using a hermeneutic-interpretative approach, this essay shows how the norm of legality has lost its moral persuasive power as a categorical imperative while certain illegalities have acquired social and political legitimacy. The purpose of this article is to reflect on the under-examined impact of cultural values on criminality. It also describes how the dominant narratives surrounding illegality and policies designed to reduce criminality are limited by a lack of consideration of the way that broader cultural values are permissive of corrupt and illegal behaviour. This article considers current social norms, interests, values, ideas of success, and the lack of legitimate pathways to achieve prosperity and social recognition to provide a fresh perspective on the discourse surrounding illegality. For the purpose of illustration this essay uses examples, evidence, interviews and discourses drawn from the context of Argentina. Far from being an anomaly, illegality is a fundamental part of both social inter-relations and has become institutionalised as a part of the behaviour of state entities. Illegality has become not only the norm but is seen as an effective and legitimate means to gain social success and prestige.

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Notes

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jnruh1E8HhU (min. 2:06)

  2. Ibidem. (min. 3:58)

  3. Author’s own translation from Spanish.

  4. For a list of them see: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=parodia+la+banda+del+mill%C3%B3n

  5. In 2014, 2015 and 2017, I carried out a string of interviews with informants that corroborate the statements put forward in this essay. Sources include Argentine politicians and diplomats, officers and officials of the security forces and the justice system, journalists, and businessmen and businesswomen. I have also had informal conversation with European businessmen and investor in Lisbon about their practices in Argentina. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, most of the interviewees asked to remain anonymous.

  6. For instance, the ministry of Education, Esteban Bullrich, has considered that the money that young men receive as part of social or unemployment programs might be used for buying “bullets” [24].

  7. Author’s own translation from Spanish.

  8. Author’s interviews, General Director of an Audio-visual company, Buenos Aires, November 2014.

  9. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eVY-bXXRvM&t=2349s (min. 51:42)

  10. Author’s interviews, Peronist press adviser, National Parliament, Buenos Aires, November 2014.

  11. The discourse analysed in this section [79] starts at minute 10:05.

  12. This is a regional problem. According to Oxfam, between 2002 and 2015, Latin-American multimillionaire fortunes grew at an annual average of 21%, six times more than regional PBI. Most of this wealth is located in foreign tax havens [80].

  13. In Spanish, the President refers to “los que más tienen” ([79]: minute 14:54).

  14. The decision against the tax amnesty is accessible on line in: http://estaticos.elmundo.es/documentos/2017/06/08/sentencia_amnistia_fiscal.pdf (accessed 09/06/2017)

  15. Author’s interviews, Peronist ex deputy, Lisbon, March 2017.

  16. Carlos Pagni [93], for instance, considered that the justice system “was not designed for the criminals to be punished. It was designed to make them leave. That sarcastic confession of a prosecutor who goes through these federal courts explains why, in Argentina, in addition to corruption, impunity reigns”.

  17. Author’s interviews, Provincial prosecutor, Santa Fe, December 2014.

  18. For this sort of paradoxes in Argentina, see Siemens affair [102], Bribes in the Senate affair, or the last detention of ephedrine trafficker Pérez Corradi.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (SFRH/BPD/109364/2015) that enabled the affiliation of the author to the Centro de Estudos Internacionais ISCTE-IUL (UID/CPO/03122/2013). The author wishes to thank all key informants that he had the opportunity to interview in Santa Fe, Buenos Aires and Neuquén (Argentina) and Lisbon (Portugal). Their insights and information proved to be crucial for writing this essay. He also wishes to thank Markus Schultze-Kraft, Fernando Chinchilla and two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. At different stages, Schultze-Kraft and Joe Gazeley helped with the English language editing of the paper.

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Moriconi, M. Reframing illegalities: crime, cultural values and ideas of success (in Argentina). Crime Law Soc Change 69, 497–518 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-017-9760-9

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