Government sends federal security forces to Rosario amid violence spike

National and local authorities created a Crisis Committee after criminal organizations killed four people last week

The national government will send federal, navy and military police to Rosario, Santa Fe, to help local forces combat a spike in homicides linked to organized crime after four people were murdered in the past week. 

Authorities will also ask the judiciary to use an anti-terrorism law against gang members, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said during a press conference Monday. The law states that criminals who “terrorize society” can have their jail sentences doubled.

“We have to help Rosario and Santa Fe amid this narco-terrorist attack,” Defense Minister Luis Petri during the conference. “We have to make life impossible for those who commit crimes so we can give well-meaning citizens their peace back.”

The slayings — which appear to have deliberately targeted individuals with no ties to organized crime — came after authorities released photos of prisoners being forced to sit topless on the floor, tightly packed one behind the other, during a raid.

President Javier Milei and Bullrich have created a Crisis Committee at the request of Santa Fe governor Maximiliano Pullaro to respond to the spike in violence in the city. In recent years, homicides in Rosario have skyrocketed as a product of organized crime and the drug trade.

The homicide rate in Rosario was 22 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023, according to Santa Fe province’s Observatory on Public Security — around five times higher than the national average of 4.2 per 100,000.

Since Tuesday, two taxi drivers, a gas station employee and a bus driver have been murdered, apparently by hitmen. A note left next to the gas station worker’s body suggests the murders were meant to send a message from prisoners to the local government for the “humiliating” jail conditions.

The message said gangs from around the city are now united in a “war” against governor Maximiliano Pullaro and local Security Minister Pablo Cococcioni to demand the authorities let them see their families. “Respect us, we don’t want to negotiate anything, we just want to have rights,” the note said. “Pullaro and Cococcioni, you will carry the weight of innocent deaths.”

Federal forces including the federal, navy, military and airport police, as well as the penitentiary service, will aid the Santa Fe police and increase police presence especially between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. The army will provide vehicles including helicopters and SUVs, personnel, communications and logistics support for security operations.

Last week, Pullaro, Cococcioni and Bullrich shared images on social media of a raid in a Rosario prison showing men surrounded by masked officers and sitting shirtless on the floor, tightly packed one behind the other, their heads lowered, a tactic inspired by Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and his tough-on-crime approach. 

The images were taken during a surprise raid at the Piñeyro prison, which houses high-profile inmates. In text released with the image, the authorities promised that matters would “get worse” for the inmates.

Will this stop violence in Rosario?

“[The government] is doing everything they shouldn’t,” said Enrique Font, a criminology professor at Rosario University. “It was a mistake on politicians’ behalf to act like [gangs] are the new Pablo Escobar.” Now, he explained, gangs are strategically targeting workers with no ties to drug trafficking or organized crime. This guarantees protests and social outrage, while paralyzing public transport and fuel supply.

The latest wave of killings has prompted bus drivers to strike, schools to cancel classes, and garbage collection to be canceled in some areas, effectively paralyzing the city.

“People don’t want to leave their homes,” Font said.

Violence in the port city has been escalating for over 10 years. Police complicity and impunity make the problem worse, he explained. “Police officers in Rosario are [not only accomplices]; some are ‘employees,’ associates or service providers of these criminal organizations.”

Font said that Pullaro, who took office in December, is carrying out a Bukele-style “spectacularization of humiliation” of inmates to “gain political leverage.”

“The provincial government got itself in trouble,” Font said. “It’s a show that paid off politically speaking, but the gangs’ response was changing their violence method.” 

According to Font, since Pullaro became governor he has ordered high-profile inmates to be housed together, banned family members from bringing food or medication, and reduced the frequency of visits. Many prisoners are no longer allowed physical contact with their families, he added.

Asked for comment regarding criticisms of how the Santa Fe government has handled the prison system, a spokesperson for Pullaro told the Herald these changes had been approved by the provincial legislature. He also referred us to remarks Pullaro made in the press conference alongside Bullrich and Petri. The governor did not address the critics directly, only offering his reasoning for the surge in violence in Santa Fe. 

“What makes these violent [people] desperate […] is losing control of their organizations because they have no contact with the outside,” Pullaro said, “because of all the measures we took and will maintain in Santa Fe’s penitentiary system.”


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