Pressure is building on Security Minister Aníbal Fernández after he controversially declared Thursday that the “narcos have won” in Rosario.
Figures from both the ruling and opposition coalitions slammed the remark, which was delivered in the aftermath of an attack on a supermarket in the Santa Fe Province city owned by the family of superstar footballer Lionel Messi’s wife, Antonela Roccuzzo.
Shots were fired at the establishment by two men in the middle of the night in a mafia-style attack, while a threatening message – directly mentioning Argentina’s national team captain and Rosario Mayor Pablo Javkin – was also left behind.
Responding to the minister’s defeatist tone, former president Mauricio Macri and a number of opposition presidential hopefuls criticised the minister and slammed the national government’s failure to combat increasing drug violence in Rosario. Last year, local police registered a record 288 homicides in Greater Rosario. With 19 homicides this January alone, the violence shows no sign of stopping.
Macri, who was photographed a few days ago with Messi and Roccuzzo at a gala organised by world football governing body FIFA, was the first to voice his opinion on the crime, taking to Twitter to blame the national government for the attack.
"This is terrible. Another warning to the National Government and the Government of Santa Fe that you can't coexist with drug-traffickers," tweeted the former head of state. "We have to fight it decisively. At the end of the year this will begin to change. All my support to Leo, Antonela and their families."
Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, one of the frontrunners to be elected president in this year’s elections, also made public his criticism of the government, which he described as "absent."
"The people in Rosario want and need to live in peace. My proposal is a national government that is present and busy taking back the streets, with 3,000 border guard officers chasing drug-traffickers while the armed forces shield our borders," he said on his social networks.
PRO party chair Patricia Bullrich, who visited Rosario just days before the attack on the supermarket, took aim at what she sees as Aníbal Fernández’s lacking approach and suggested the Armed Forces be deployed to curb the city’s crime wave.
"Two days ago I said it in Rosario: we have to use all the forces to recover the city from drug-trafficking. To think that some people still refuse to do so," said Bullrich, a former security minister in Macri’s 2015-2019 administration.
"There is no room for half solutions and incremental responses. The fight against drug-trafficking has to be head-on and without respite. We must use all the means of the state to defeat them, including the Armed Forces," said the PRO leader, who is known for her hardline approach to security issues.
A number of government allies also expressed exasperation at Minister Fernández’s comments in posts on social media sites.
Minister of Security’s Defence
Aníbal Fernández, who answers to President Alberto Fernández, argued that the situation in Rosario has been complex "for 20 years" and said that during 2022, under his leadership, 2,050 operations had resulted in 2,077 detainees.
"We are working very hard, ready to continue to do so, financed by the national government," he said.
"This took 20 years to be established, it is not going to be dismantled in 20 minutes," said the security minister, who occupied the same post from 2007 to 2009 during former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's first term in office.
Fernández also said that he had called Mayor Javkin after the attack and ordered his chief-of-staff, José Lucas Gaincerain, to act as a political liaison between the national and provincial governments.
The security minister indicated that he maintains daily communication with the president on the issue and clarified that crime and security is one of the president's top priorities.
"I spoke to the President several times today and it is an issue that really worries him," he said.
Earlier in the day, Fernández used a radio appearance to turn the criticism back on the opposition, questioning their actions and success during Macri’s single term in office.
"They governed for four years, what did they do during those four years? Nothing," he concluded.