Friday, August 29, 2008

Gabe Suarez’s article on Argentina

Argentina. It is probably one of the most dangerous countries on earth, and like Colombia and South Africa, very beautiful.

I landed there after a grueling 10 hour flight complete with snoring passengers and shrieking babies, to be met by my host Jorge Baigorria.

Jorge picked me up and with one look announced that I needed some sleep. A mind reader as well as one of Argentina's best shooters...competitively and otherwise.

I slept most of the afternoon at my digs in Buenos Aires, and awoke just in time to go to dinner. There is one thing about B.A., there is no shortage of food...in any quantity. Same goes for the beer.

We got right to work. The course was The Ultimate Combat Skills and it was populated by tough men from all over the region. We had military guys whose eyes spoke of plenty of nasty encounters, and bodyguards whose lives are as cheap as a dinner in any town in the USA.

We had civilians. Quite a few. Unlike the so-called free states of New York and California, citizens in Argentina can carry guns.

We had cops too. Cops in B.A. are killed weekly. While I was there at least four were murdered on the job. An environment like that makes for motivated learners.

There are men here whose personal scores of dead bad guys make the likes of Jim Cirillo look pedestrian. I am humbled that they wanted to listen to what I had to say, and that they invited me back.

We crammed the entire CRG program into one whirlwind day and shot so much ammo you could not walk from one end to the other without walking on brass.

The next day we worked on fighting with knives. Not the defensive stuff so popuylar here in the US in some circles, but material borrowed from my knife instructor Tom Sotis.

Here in Argentina, you don't get one to three attackers like in the USA. Here you get twenty thugs! They call them "Barra Brava".

So the fight may begin or end with a knife. Surrender and they will likely stomp you to death, throw you under a train, or worse. You dare not let them take you alive. Everyone fights here.

Next came Force On Force. Hard force on force as we did not have the liability issues we face in the USA.

If someone broke their hand, or lost a tooth, we had a doctor nearby to fix them up and bring them back to class. Seriousness with a latin sense of humor.

We workewd on long range shooting as well and the majority of the class shot out to 90 yards. The last day we discussed integration of weapons with the pistol as well as the ever popular Vehicle Gunfighting program.

In Argentina, a carjack means they kill you and take your car. They wait for you to arrive at home and situations where wives and kids have seen their fathers bleed to death from wounds inflicted by the carjackers are common. Noone is immune so everyone takes this very seriously.

As an interesting note an anti-gun politician whose famous quote of "Insecurity is only a sensation" was shot in the head by criminals while I was there.

He is presently in a coma. Perhaps the bullet lodged in his skull is also just a sensation. Who knows?

(Edited by FerFAL to add: I remember that! It was pathetic the way his wife, even with her husband brain dead, insisted that BA isn’t dangerous. Pathetic and ironic all at once)

After the training we spent some days sight seeing. One of the places I went to was perhaps one of the worst places on earth, the Puerta Yerro area, a makeshift shanty town reminiscent of what we saw in South Africa.

There only the thugs rule and everyone is armed. Life is as cheap as a cigarette, and you'd better make sure you kill your adversary and anyone who appears to be with him.

This may be hard for law abiding american CCW folk to swallow, but if you have to shoot or stab an attacker here, you run like hell before their friends, or the police arrive.

It is just that kind of place. I was told that not long before I arrived a 12 year old girl was raped to death there, shot in the head and partially eaten by rats before the police found her. The bad guys were dealt with...off the books. Things are different here.

I left all my knives, holsterts, and weapons with the guys in B.A. I can get more, and they may need what I left tonight. Places like this really make you appreciate where we live and how we live. Let us never forget that, and specially not next November.


I took a couple classes with Jorge Baigorria and respect the man a lot. He’s a terrific instructor, has a lot of street gunfighting experience, and “EL Negro” is just the funniest guy you’ll ever encounter.

One small correction thought. Generally speaking, people here can’t carry firearms. You have to: A) Own a millionaire company, that moves a lot of cash B) Have important political or police connections C) Be rich enough to make up a company that justifies you owning a gun. Yes, THAT rich.

Other than that citizens here can’t carry weapons.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some Q&A

Ferfal - thanks again for this great blog. As inflation is a major problem in Argentina, I was wondering how do people buy big-ticket things these days? Like a car or a house? Or even a new refrigerator? Is there still credit now (as you knew it) before you currency blew-up?

It’s very hard. Credit is back now but we spent several years without credit of any kind after 2001, and still in some places ( like gas stations) no kind of plastic is accepted, cash only.

It’s not uncommon to see commercials on TV about loans and credit for buying a camera or a TV.

The TV add shows a really old couple watching TV, and then the same couple in a much younger version “Don’t wait until you are too old! Buy your tv/camera/Jacuzzi now!”
Things that aren’t really that expensive in most places, are a big deal here, and something you think carefully about because you’ll be paying it for years.

Something as simple as an average car repair is something that sets you back considerably. The parts alone are very expensive.

Something like a fridge or TV?
There’s still credit yes, but the price/salary ratio will be hard on most medium class people, maybe spending an entire year to pay for the credit on the fridge. Poor people can’t even afford it.

A car? IF you get credit, (big if) most people here spend years paying for an old car that costs just one average 1st world monthly salary.
The same car that costs maybe 2 or 3 months worth of average salary in USA or Europe, costs anyway from 2 to 5 years worth of average salary here.

A home? Forget it, average people can’t afford to buy one these days.
No credit for normal people for that kind of expenses.
You slowly save money for years before you dream of walking into a bank and asking for a loan.

Most people I know of either rent or live in places owned by friends or family.

Almost no one has what it takes to buy a house here these days.

The market is slow, its normal for a house to spend several years on the market, unless it’s really cheap, a real steal.

Ferfal, I also have a question for you: Do you think a safe deposit box is a safe place to store valuables like most of your "gold fund" jewellry or golden coins? What happened to the contents of safe deposit boxes during the conomic collapse and the time the banks were closed? Were the contents still safe? I figure in normal times a safe deposit box is one of the safest places to put valuables because bank robbers seldom try to open them and almost never succeed in opening them, but I'm pretty sure the bank manager could open them if he wanted to.

Not as safe as you’d think.

In some cases, orders have been given by judges or officials to open private safety boxes to see if there’s cash or gold (screw our Constitution and the right to intimacy and private property)
It’s also a common target for bank robbers, knowing that there’s where the money really is.

Some years ago a spectacular robbery took place, involved a tunnel, and inflatable raft going through the sewers below the bank and the city for miles, and finally escaping through the river in jet sky.

Many times bank employees are involved in the robbery of the safes.

It’s safer than a bank account in my experience, safer than a vault in your home probably, but don’t think that your stuff is 100% safe or out of the hands of the gov. crooks.
It isn’t.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bad guys and soft targets

This was brought up in THR forums and it turned into an interesting thread.
There was one point thought that I very much disagree with. Sometimes I see similar ideas or notions by other people, that the person that doesn’t fear to be killed is better off some way or another.

(10) Lose your fear of dying! There are no guarantees in this life, and, end the end, we're all dead anyway. [Those] Who look for "fairness" in the way the world is ordered, do so in [vain]!

Definitely no, Do NOT lose your fear to die, or kid yourself into believing that or behaving as if you do.
Not only is it BS ( no one sane wants to die) but it’s also a bad decision that will get you to make stupid mistakes.

There’s a BIG difference between not letting fear control you ( agree 100% there, fear freezes you up when you need to act quickly) and not fearing death.

Good for you if you don’t fear death. I do. I’m afraid I’ll die and leave my wife and kids without a husband and a father to look after them, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It is for this reason that I do what I do to make sure I come back home everyday.

I don’t let fear control me but heck I wanna live.

It’s ok to be scared as long as you don’t let the fear control you, specially freeze you when you need your brain to act 1000mph and come up with the best course of action in 1/10 of a second.
Want to know a little secret?
After living in fear for some time you get used to it, it becomes something you finally accept without even realizing it and that makes you more prepared for when bad things happen. It doesn’t catch you off guard, because you’ve already expected that or something very similar to happen a thousand times.

As time goes by fear gets replaced by acceptance. You accept that that bad thing you used to fear will eventually happen, and when that happens you do what you have to do.
Once you get used to living with fear, you could say that the fear pretty much disappears.

About being a soft target

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. All my 85 year old grandma can do is grab her purse tight with both hands, turn away when she sees suspicious looking people, be VERY cautious of the places she goes to and at what times of the day she does what she needs to do.
She will usually go to the grocery store in the morning when the streets are full of people, and there’s some police presence, and she will only go to known places just a couple of blocks away.
Not perfect but it has worked for her so far, my dear grandma is one cautious old lady. :)

Of course that if you are not 80 there are things you can do so as not to get targeted.

Looking like one of those dumb Emo freaks sure is an invitation to get pushed around.
Hell, I’m a nice guy and even I feel like kicking their asses myself when I see them! A person that is outspokenly proud of its weakens, and makes it clear for everyone to see will certainly invite aggression in a violent society.

There are other more subtle things bad guys see, maybe even without realizing it themselves clearly. The way a person walks, the way he carries himself. The clothes he wears, if he looks shy or weak in any way.
Clothes that looks a bit more “feminine”, things like hippie-like sandal or bags, or pastel colored clothes, and thing that can be read by these predators as a sign of possible weakness is working against you.

I can tell you without a doubt, any person that cares to observe will see a difference between the way people dress in, high end neighborhoods and the rest where middle and poor class live.
Around the Bs. As. suburbs where I live, they’d eat those so called metrosexual guys up.

Even things like glasses are seen as signs of weakness. I only used glasses for a while when I was younger and quickly changed to contact lenses because of this, and finally got LASIK surgery done.

Awareness is by far the most important thing. Wont give you much to brag about with the guys but the confrontation you avoid is always better than the one you win.
Humans must the only creature that managed to suppress it’s instinct.
Don’t be ashamed of turning if you feel someone behind you, or turning 180 ยบ the other way and leaving if something looks like an ambush. Hear, smell and see your environment. You should always know what’s going on at least half a block in front and behind you.

Not much to do if you are too old, but for a young person looking strong and fit does make you look like a harder target. And it’s not just looks, you probably ARE a harder target if you are strong and fit.

It’s also about the way you carry yourself, the way you walk, the way you keep your head high, looking confident.
I don’t go around staring people, but I don’t avoid eye contact either, it’s a sign of weakness.
Just look into the person’s eye long enough to let them know you acknowledge him and go on.

Being armed, at all times, makes a huge difference if things turn to worst. Don’t hesitate to use them. Someone asked me if I brought out my gun to threaten people.
I said, no, just a logical step before shooting him!
It’s not about playing dare or bluffing. Never bluff with a weapon. If you bring it out, be ready to use it. If the person turns and leaves when he sees you are armed, of course, it’s no longer self defense, and shooting someone in the back never looks good, specially in court.

Also, and this may be a bit more difficult, train yourself mentally to react violently when surprised. This is so important.
It’s similar in some ways to gun safety rules, when one fails, if the other one is kept in mind you generally are still safe, or at least you have a plan to fall back to.
Same here. You should be aware and avoid being surprised by criminals, but if this fails your reaction must be instant and violent.

Think of the last time someone surprised you, or grabbed you, pushed or touched you in the subway or some other crowded area.
Most people react by sheepishly moving away quickly from what surprised them. You should mentally prepare yourself to react pushing the threat away from you, ready to punch, kick and shoot as necessary.

This isn’t easy but you can change that with proper mindset. Just like your awareness level, it’s always there in pilot more, ready for reaction.

As long as no one is trying to stop me, surround me or stand in my way, big mouth and smartass remarks mean nothing to me. If a person feels more manly by insulting others or shouting challenges to me on the street, that’s fine. Got better things to do than getting into fights with losers, and I’m sure you do to.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A succession of violent events

These last few days, crime and violence was the main topic on the news.

Not that people didn’t get killed almost on daily basis here in Buenos Aires city before, but the amount and more noticeably, the needless violence involved in these robberies is something to worry about.

The mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Marci, publicly admitted that there’s no safe place in Bs. As. City.

Some of the incidents aren’t well covered by the media, and I don’t want to go into every single detail, don’t have the time right now for that, but some of the things we can learn from them:

1) Anyone is a potential victim. A noticeable higher economical level makes you even more desirable in the eyes of the bad guys, but don’t think for one second that you will be spared because you aren’t rich, or just because you are poor. Poor people are getting robbed and killed for whatever can be found in their pockets.

2) There’s no “safe” time of the day. You can get killed at 12 AM, 6 AM or 9PM just the same. Nights are a bit worse because some bad guys prefer to operate in the dark, but the worst kind, the most brutal ones don’t care at all.

3) Surrendering does not ensure that you wont get killed. One of the persons killed these last few days cooperated with the bad guys when they robbed his small library, and when they were leaving one of them turned and shot him three times in the chest and one in the head with a .32 S&W long.

4) Meanwhile, a man fought back when he saw his wife and son being attacked in front of his house.
One of the bad guys had a gun to the teenage son’s head, while the other two hit the mother in the face with their guns and kicked her on the ground.
The husband acted out of desperation and started shooting with a 22LR, fatally wounding one of the criminals in the chest with a single shot.
The 3 bad guys managed to get into the car but the corpse of the one that got shot in the chest was dropped later in front of a hospital.

One guy armed with a 22LR vs. three armed criminals that already have the drop on you are not chances I’d like to take, but sometimes an aggressive reaction like this one sends vicious criminals running, tough you should never count on that happening, and even thought the 22LR killed the BG in question, you should really arm yourself with something better.

The woman’s face was disfigured because of the beating and she’s in the hospital, but the son and husband weren’t harmed.

5) Many of the persons killed these last few days got killed inside their cars.
Cars offer NO protection of any kind against any caliber. You’d do well to remember that.
If you ever end up using your car as a weapon, better go as low as you can in your seat, trying to use the engine a protection, since car doors and windows offer none, even against 22LR.

6)22LR, 32 S&W Long aren’t much to brag about but they can still kill you very much dead. Still, you should go for something more respectable for self defense in case they shoot back instead of running.

6) Most of these cases occurred when the person was either entering or exiting the house. This is, by far, the most dangerous moment, when you are more vulnerable.

7) Personal note here.

Guns are what you end up using when you fucked up and failed in your awareness.
I’ve been coming back home late at night again everyday at the same time.
Yesterday some guys tried to cut me off but when they saw that I was a) armed and b) not slowing down, but rather accelerating, they moved away fast enough.
Today I took a different route, and I’ll be using different ways back home so as to avoid being ambushed like that.
These things happen often, and being armed and not stopping or the combination of both always got me trough. But when they target you they may use other resources like setting traps like stones on the street or throwing bricks at your windshield to force you to stop.

Better to avoid these things and make sure they can’t figure out your route and schedule.

It may seem that for a blog intended on urban survival, I concentrate a lot on self defense.
Believe me, there’s a reason for it.
If things in USA keep on going down hill, expect crime to get worse even in small town America, and be ready to change your everyday habits


Thursday, August 7, 2008

More on gold and other concerns

Hi FerFal,

I'm posting this here, although it should go under the "gold and jewellry" discussion. I just wasn't sure if you can see the posts on the older topics and reply to them...

I'm just looking to buy some gold on my savings (given that the price of gold is skyrocketing anyway). You suggested buying a bag of golden rings formerly, but also said that a necklace is easier to be split up if needed. I shopped around a little and compared the prices of jewellry to the global gold price. I found that the price of golden jewellry can cost even 5-6 times more, than the price of its gold content. Obviously it depends on the specific product. Simple rings, like wedding rings are cheaper, as are the jewellry made from bigger chunks of gold like bracelets. Necklaces seem to be quite expensive, however - taking only the gold content into account. Buying these toys and selling them later at the price of scrap gold is not the greatest idea. I also looked at buying scrap gold on the first place: I cheched out a refining/casting company to see how much they ask for jewellry gold. It is available in even 9 carat wires, which I think would be the most appropriate for this purpose (them come in any profile you want; you can have them in a thin enough diameter to make it possible to be rolled up, and later cut off the promptly required amount with simple pliers). 9 ct gold is the purity used most commonly here in New Zealand for manufacturing jewellry, so it would be just the thing I'm after. On the phone they quoted a quite reasonable price for the gold wire (less than a 20 percent cost for refinement). However when I went to buy some, it turned out that it is GST exclusive (Goods and Services Tax, or VAT in Britain; I don't know what it's called in Argentina; you know the shit...) Adding the GST on top of it makes it a much less nice offer: it comes to about a 36 percent of extra cost altogether - we have a 12.5% GST rate.

A guy at the refinery company suggested buying internationally recognised gold coins instead (I just told him I'm after some form of investment); the coins are pure gold and they are not GST taxable; also everybody knows what they are. This takes us back to the original problem you already talked about: good quality coins are hard to sell (?) at their actual value after the SHTF (well; even in peaceful times...), and you can't chop them up as you like.

What do you think about all this? (I have some savings to devote some money to secure it, but paying 36% is too painful for me; I'm not a rich guy).

However, I'm also convinced that in the not too distant future the world will be facing a global economic crash. I know you said you wouldn't worry too much about peak oil, because your country has enough crude. Even then, I don't think ANYONE is able to measure the consequences of it (don't be sure your country will be the one enjoying the remainder of its oil...). I'm sure Argentina is a tough place to live in, but what you guys have been experiencing for the last couple of years is just the beginning... Even though I live in a well-off country like New Zealand, I wasn't born here: I'm from a country going through a breath-takingly similar curve to that of Argentina (first being the richest country of the region, then free trade came along, the devastation of local enonomy, diminishing mid-class, unemployment, deepening poverty, famine). Thus I know what hard times are like, and try not to underestimate the End Of The WHOLE WORLD.

So. I know the 36 percent is nothing if we consider a potential 500-600% inflation rate, but still it feels painful to cough up when everything seems so peaceful... What do you think?

Btw. I'm a big fan of you; this blog is really invaluable. I especially respect you for putting peace and freedom above the cheap work due to the misery of others (I'm referring to your post about your aunt... :)
I wish you all the best! Sorry about my verbal diarrhea... ;)


August 7, 2008 12:40 AM

Hey Joe, thanks for the compliments.
Hope it’s ok I posted this here in case others have a similar doubts.

I understand New Zealand is a beautiful place. I have a friend living there, works as a “consierge”(?spelling) at a Hyatt hotel.

He says he fit well there ( he’s a very nice, outgoing kind of guy) and he says he gets greats tips for his ability to get things done. (also acquires tickets, reservations, “good company”, he’s the guy) It’s a nice skill to have, I guess.:)

Joe, nothing I say should be taken as written on stone, it’s mostly advice, things I do myself, but also things that work given the right context. You still have to come up with your own conclusions.

In places such as your country, of course, jewelry will have an added cost because of the craftsmanship involved.

Over here it’s pretty different. The “art” involved adds little cost to jewelry, unless you are talking about a real intricate item with n undeniable artistic value, because artisans make little money and have to charge little for their work, at least in most cases.

Things like chains and weeding rings ( mostly 18 k here) are bought and sold calculating its gold content plus a relatively small premium.
That’s why I said that I’d get a small amount of wedding bands if I could go back in time to pre 2001 times.

In shanty towns and improvised markets, people often buy and sell, (mostly sell) this kind of jewelry. People pulling a gold ring from their finger and selling it is something common around here, specially right after the crisis, and even now several years later.
You’ll rarely ever see a gold coin among the more common folk.

I understand that in America you can sometimes find wedding bands in pawn shops for little money, but, if this isn’t your case, then definitely DO NOT pay for jewelry gold when you have to pay so much for it’s artistic value.

The smaller gold coin or bar (there are some 1g peaces, very small) or better yet silver, would be more appropriate.

One other thing. Don’t confuse buying gold for a form of investment. It really isn’t. It’s more of a form of protecting your savings, which still is a good thing.

An investment generates money for you. May it be a small investment pool or portfolio, an apartment you rent, a cab you bought and hire someone else to drive it, or a 25% share in a small drug store down the street. It makes money for you.

About peak oil and the end of the world, I try not to worry much about it.
Other than having food stocked, having investments that generate money for you, having a home and plan B in some other country, I’m not going to run up the hills and set camp there waiting for the end of the world. :)

Mostly I’d worry about adapting appropriately to the changes on our current world.

Even among survivalists and prepers, I often find people that got robbed because they left their car, even their house! with unlocked doors.

Today, you get robbed.

Tomorrow, you make that same mistake and you’ll pay it with your life.
Sucks to sound all melodramatic but it’s the true. A mistake like that in a place like Argentina has cost the life of more than a few.

It’s not about being paranoid or anything, it’s about being cautious, and doing what we as a specie are designed to do:

Adapt to the new reality our world has become.
Everything is more expensive?
You need to make more money, find a way to get that done.
Things aren’t that safe any more?
You need to move somewhere else safer and have means to defend yourself and so on.

You can still enjoy the heck out of life and do these things at the same time.:)