Rosario violence: opposition calls for fewer phones in jail, more border cops

Criminologists say banning phones and jailing gang leaders won’t stop the violence

Opposition leaders are calling for a crackdown on cellphones in prisons, more border police, and the relocation of the national Security Ministry to Rosario. 

Their comments come after a week of violence in the city: on Sunday four children were shot, one fatally, and last Thursday bullets were fired at a supermarket belonging to football superstar Messi’s in-laws.

Macri’s former security minister Patricia Bullrich, who is expected to run for president, demanded tougher controls on phones in prison. Policies banning the devices were relaxed in some provinces, although not Santa Fe, during the pandemic.

“President Fernández: by a law of our government, communications in prisons are forbidden. They break the law, and you do nothing,” she tweeted at him, asking whether he had “given up, like your security minister?”

Last week, a raid in a federal prison ward at Coronda prison in Santa Fe found 52 cellphones used by inmates. According to a report by the province’s Penitentiary System, 3,656 illegal phones were found in prisons in 2022. 

Luis Schiappa Pietra, the prosecutor who oversaw raids on federal prisons after the attack against Messi’s in-laws supermarket, told C5N:“There’s an influx of cellphones into prisons that’s embarrassing,” adding: “there’s obviously complicity between part of the Penitentiary System” to allow it. 

“Banning cellphones doesn’t stop the flux of information in and out of prisons, because they find their way to communicate anyway,” said Enrique Font, a University of Rosario criminology professor. “What inmates do doesn’t have one system, they can either pay for the penitentiary employees to help them communicate, they can get their information through the visit system,” he added. 

He added that sending gang leaders to jail doesn’t usually stop gang crime. “It’s a mistake to think that gangs work like a pyramid and that by putting a leader in prison you’re fighting them – gangs work as networks, so they keep functioning,” he said. 

Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who officially launched his presidential bid last month, visited Rosario’s mayor over the weekend and tweeted a series of proposals for the city afterwards. “We need prisons that isolate those running businesses within them, and communication with their criminal organizations has to be forbidden,” he wrote.

His other proposals included the relocation of the Security Ministry from Buenos Aires to Rosario, the freezing of the criminals’ property as soon as they have been detained, the implementation of surveillance technology, and the deployment of more border police in areas “occupied by narcos”. 

He promised to open an office in Rosario if elected.

According to the Public Security Observatory of Santa Fe, 288 intentional homicides were committed in Rosario in 2022 and 26 in January 2023. There were 88 in Buenos Aires in 2022, a city nearly three times larger. 

Praise for El Salvador

Font warned that failing to stem the violence in Rosario could prompt a hard right political turn, with people calling for policies like those of President Nayib Bukele in El Salvador.

The Central American President declared a state of exception in 2022 after a spree of gang murders. He arrested tens of thousands of suspects, including some who appeared to simply be young men with tattoos. Some suspects have died in custody without ever standing trial and there are widespread reports of human rights violations.

Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni, of Frente de Todos, said in an interview that Bukele’s actions were “music to his ears”, adding that the Salvadoran had “copied what I’ve been thinking of for many years”.


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