Foto: Tomada de InSight Crime.

Rosario, Argentina, is facing a severe crisis of violence with high rates of homicides and attacks that have paralyzed the city. Threats and shootings have generated fear and uncertainty among residents, leading to the suspension of public services and activities. The situation has prompted police and military intervention on the streets as efforts are made to restore security and combat drug trafficking. 

By: Flavia Campeis, Jorgelina Tomasin

For over a decade, Rosario, Argentina, has become the most violent city in the country, with homicide rates five times the national average. At the beginning of 2024, the city faced a series of shootings, public worker murders, and mafia threats from drug cartels that triggered strikes, shutting down public transport, services, and schools. Rosario, known as the birthplace of soccer champion Lionel Messi, was thrust into the national and international spotlight.

In 2023, Rosario had a homicide rate of 22.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, making it a city of over one million people located in the central part of the country along the Paraná River, home to South America’s largest agro-export hub.

In early March of this year, the murder of two taxi drivers in a single day, followed shortly by a bus shooting that killed the driver and an attack on a police station, paralyzed the city.

Read: Does Milei’s chainsaw also make its way through Latin America? Here’s how the Argentine president’s verbal attacks on other countries have unfolded

The cessation of taxi, bus, and all public transportation services caused the city to come to a standstill, with schools remaining closed, many people unable to reach their workplaces, and a profound silence descending over the city at night. Rosario, known for its public spaces, expansive green areas, bars, and restaurants, was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty following a series of shootings.

Among the events that had to be canceled was the iconic March 8th march for International Women’s Day, which is always well-attended in the city. This underscored the uncertainty about how public spaces would be used going forward.

Shootings and Threats

By late 2023, there had been shootings targeting businesses, the Penal Justice Center, a bank, as well as a public hospital and school.

The hypothesis was that some of these attacks were related to the start of Governor Maximiliano Pullaro’s tenure, particularly regarding public safety measures. It was speculated that they were responses to operations in a major prison in the province of Santa Fe, where inmates were transferred to a «high-profile» section for increased scrutiny.

In March of this year, violence escalated with three attacks that resulted in the deaths of public service workers within a little over 24 hours—two taxi drivers and a bus driver. The social and political impact was so significant that Rosario’s mayor, Pablo Javkin, had to suspend the opening sessions of the Deliberative Council, and many activities were paused during those days.

The strongest hypothesis explaining this surge in violent crimes was the provincial government’s dissemination of images from a provincial prison raid, showing inmates shirtless, looking down, and surrounded by heavily armed police.

The accompanying text of these photos was titled: «Things will only get worse.» In it, provincial authorities expressed: «We have a Security plan, we know how to move it forward, and we are working towards that. Orders come out of prisons to make life impossible for Santafesinos (people from Santa Fe). (…) The inmates are imprisoned; we will not accept any extortion, and if they do not understand this, things will only get worse.»

These photos triggered a series of crimes leaving threats aimed at both Governor Pullaro and the Provincial Minister of Justice and Security, Pablo Cococcioni.

On the night of Saturday, March 9th, a gas station worker was murdered by a hitman. A note addressed to Governor Pullaro and Minister Cococcioni was found at the crime scene. The message read: «We don’t want cellphones; we want our rights to see our children and families respected. We don’t want to negotiate anything; we want our rights. This is for all prisoners, cell blocks, and jails. Pullaro and Cococcioni bear the burden of innocent deaths.» It was signed: «Atte. North Zone, South Zone, and West united.»

This message was linked to Governor Pullaro’s announcement upon assuming office that he would reinstall mobile phone signal jammers already in prisons. Additionally, he suspended the entry of food brought by families to prisoners and said: «Drug lords and hitmen will return to high-profile cell blocks, allowing us to have better control over these inmates. The goal is to prevent crimes from prisons; this means if an inmate committed a serious crime from jail, they will communicate with family and lawyers through a glass and will be monitored 24 hours.»

On March 11th, the National Security Minister Patricia Bullrich (former presidential candidate for Together for Change), along with Defense Minister Luis Petri, Governor Pullaro, and Rosario’s mayor Pablo Javkin, held a press conference to discuss the Crisis Committee they decided to implement in the city, aiming to restore internal security and eradicate narco-terrorism.

The National Security Minister stated that any act of violence perpetrated in public or within public places would be reported as «terrorism.» In the early hours of March 12th, provincial authorities found a new death threat mentioning the governor.

Journalist Carlos Del Frade, now a provincial deputy, has been investigating drug trafficking and crimes across the region for decades. He specializes in analyzing the violence plaguing his city and stated: «Rosario is the most important city in Argentina after Buenos Aires. Here, a series of events linked to neighborhood-based narco-police gangs have occurred, some with significant economic and firepower but rooted in the neighborhoods. According to a report presented in the Provincial Legislature, there are 46 such gangs currently, but there are likely more due to the constant subdivision at the lowest links of the drug trafficking chain. This is one of the most severe crises Rosario faces because it is suffering these murders at the hands of lower-level drug traffickers.»

Del Frade explained: «These murders of young workers are a form of minimal terrorism, and the national, provincial, and municipal governments have labeled it narcoterrorism to implement U.S. programs that turn the Armed Forces into national police, thereby increasing social control combating a business, like any other, based on money circulation, such as drug trafficking.»

Regarding proposed measures by the national government to militarize the city, Del Frade indicated: «The proposed measures are even worse because they want to send the Army to Rosario under the pretext of combating drug trafficking to subsequently impose social control. This has already happened recently in Mexico from 2007 to 2019 with horrifying results, including thousands of deaths and increased drug trafficking and violence. It also happened in Brazil and, of course, for a long time in Colombia.»

As a solution, Del Frade believes that it is crucial to eliminate corruption in the Police and Penitentiary Service while tripling the budget for work, education, culture, and sports. This would prevent young people from quickly succumbing to the lure of drugs and weapons, another major business imposed by the system that has spawned these gangs.

Meanwhile, Rosario’s streets are teeming with police, their flashing blue lights dazzling; in the city’s poorest neighborhoods’ access points, National Gendarmerie tanks and armed officers are visible with their submachine guns. The incessant sound of helicopters passing through the Rosario sky, day and night, serves as a constant reminder of the state of alert in which the city exists.


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