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Argentina targets drug gangs in violence-hit Rosario

March 9, 2023

The Argentine government has launched an offensive on gangs in the agricultural hub city of Rosario, bringing in hundreds of extra security personnel after a surge in violent attacks.

Members of Argentina's Gendarmerie patrol the neighborhood "Los Pumitas" in the north of Rosario
Police reinforcements to combat drug trafficking in Rosario came in reaction to escalating violenceImage: AFP/Getty Images

Argentina's security minister on Wednesday hailed the deployment of some 575 security personnel after a string of gang-related deaths in Rosario, the country's third-largest city.

The inland river port has had an increasing reputation for gang violence rising to roughly one murder per day this year, including that of an 11-year-old boy.

A menacing threat against Argentine football star Lionel Messi — delivered alongside gunshots to a supermarket belonging to his wife's family — gave additional prominence to the climate of fear.

What did the security minister say?

Accompanied by local officials at a public event in Rosario, Security Minister Anibal Fernandez said federal agents in the city, whose number will increase to 1,400, were "absolutely committed" to the fight against drug trafficking.

"It is imperative that we go into each of these places and get to the root of it. It is an undesirable situation," Fernandez said.

"We have to clean up our neighborhoods so that the kids can walk down the street without fear of being hurt. We have already seen too much, much has already happened."

"We have brought federal forces with enough might to take action all around the city. We have come to do that, to work together and without ceasing to get to the root of the issue."

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez also said the government would install 600 new surveillance cameras with facial recognition software in the city, and open a new branch of Argentina's anti-money laundering agency.

Violence garners wider attention

On Sunday, an 11-year-old boy was killed and three other children, including a 2-year-old, were injured in a shooting believed related to turf wars among rival gangs.

Prosecutor Adrian Spelta said the fact that children had become victims of the violence showed that "certain limits that used to exist have been crossed."

Border police agents patrol in Los Pumitas neighborhood
The deployment came after particular anger over the killing of an 11-year-old boy amid a turf warImage: Rodrigo Abd/AP/picture alliance

The violence in Rosario came under the spotlight earlier this month when two people on a motorcycle fired at least a dozen shots at a store in the city belonging to the family of Messi's wife, Antonela Roccuzzo.

They left a message: "Messi, we are waiting for you."

Although it was unclear why gang members had targeted Messi and his family, officials speculated that it was an attempt to intimidate the whole community.

Speaking about the threat to World Cup winner Messi, Fernandez said the issue was something far wider.

"We are talking about neighborhoods that suffer from this presence because the gangs steal, because they pressure people, because they squeeze people and because they hurt people," he said.

rc/jsi (Reuters, dpa, EFE)