Armed Forces deployed to Rosario to quell upsurge in violence

The move is meant to combat the spike in drug trafficking and gang-related violence with critics concerned about its effectiveness

Two weeks after an unprecedented escalation of the organized crime security crisis in Rosario, Defense Minister Luis Petri launched a military operation on Tuesday to provide support to the national and provincial security forces in the city.

“There is an unwavering commitment to fight against drug trafficking,” Petri said on Tuesday, in front of Rosario’s Monument to the Flag. Petri was joined by the heads of the Armed Forces, Santa Fe Governor Maximiliano Pullaro, and Rosario Mayor Pablo Javkin.

“All available resources both from the Security Forces and the Armed Forces, within the framework of the Homeland Security Law, will be used to guarantee tranquility and peace in Rosario,” Petri said. Argentina’s Homeland Security Law outlines the ways in which the Armed Forces can supplement security forces nationwide if requested. 

In early March, four people with no apparent ties to organized crime were murdered in crimes that have been linked to drug trafficking gangs. The killings came after authorities released photos of prisoners being forced to sit topless on the floor, tightly packed one behind the other during a raid. The killings halted most activity in Rosario — for instance, the city’s march planned for International Women’s Day was suspended.

The move, which emulated Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele’s harsh and controversial anti-crime tactics, was criticized by Bukele’s Security Minister, the Clarín newspaper reported.  “You can only do it when the gangs are neutralized and you have total control of the street,” the minister said to Bullrich’s team.

Petri also said that, together with Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, the government will present a bill that according to him will represent a “180-degree turn concerning what has been the criminal prosecutions and the approach in the fight against drug trafficking.”

As of Tuesday, Argentina’s Air Force will start to monitor the city with five helicopters, while Hercules aircraft will transport troops, weapons, and logistic tools. The Navy provided a multipurpose vessel and several Guardian boats to assist the Naval Prefecture patrolling the river. The Army provided the military police with twenty vans to support the federal forces.

Some media outlets reported that 120 members of the Armed Forces would be deployed to Rosario, but a spokesperson for the Ministry said they could not confirm the exact amount due to security concerns.

Of the vehicles and weapons provided to support provincial operations, only the helicopters will be piloted by members of the Armed Forces. At the same time, the security forces already in the city will operate the rest of the vehicles, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry told the Herald.

On March 8, President Javier Milei and Bullrich created a Crisis Committee at the request of Pullaro to respond to the spike in violence in the city. The Committee sent the country’s security forces —  federal, navy, and military police — to the city, and requested assistance from the Armed Forces, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry told the Herald. The Defense Ministry will deploy further support only if the Committee asks for it, the source added.

Rosario-based investigative journalist and politician Carlos del Frade called the move “a show” that reminded him of a similar operation in 2014 by then-Security Minister Sergio Berni, which he said amounted to nothing. “The show is very big but very modest in terms of supplies, both the materials and the people who are going to participate,” he said.

Del Frade, who is known for his investigations into drug trafficking and mafias in his province, called the move a “big set-up to involve the army in the supposed fight against drug trafficking.”

“What is at stake here are 47 neighborhood narco-police gangs that should be ended with the elimination of the niches of corruption of Santa Fe’s police and the penitentiary service,” he added. He said that getting a weapon in Rosario is easier than getting a job and that the national government could fight that, and also control what comes in and out of the city’s ports. 

He said that violence has increased since there is “a reconfiguration” of the gangs after some arrests, but that they only happened “in the lowest links of the drug marketing chain.” 

“The big drug trafficking business remains completely untouched,” he said.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald