Authorities in Rosario warned this week that the narco violence plaguing the city has reached “critical” levels, with as many as 90 drug-related homicides recorded this year already.
The call, which followed another weekend of mafia-style killings and even a baby’s death in a drive-by shooting, is being echoed by local residents. Citizens are demanding authorities take action and combat the escalation of violence throughout the province.
In one of a string of gruesome killings, scenes of horror gripped the city neighbourhood of La Tablada last weekend after locals stumbled across the aftermath of a mafia-style killing. The lifeless and bullet-ridden corpse of a middle-aged man was both hogtied and blindfolded.
A 911 call at 5am sent police authorities racing to the scene of the crime, where officers reported finding a “blindfolded” corpse “bound hand and foot” with “multiple gunshot wounds.” Numerous spent cartridges littered the surroundings.
The dead body also carried a message, scribbled on a sheet of paper next to the yet to be identified corpse. It read: "Que peleen, sino que corran.” Fight back or flee.
Rosario, the largest city in Santa Fe Province, has a murder rate that is fourfold the national average. Across the region, a total of 136 murders have been recorded since the turn of the year, with 90 in Rosario alone. Some 30 homicides were registered in April. That followed tallies of 26 in January, 22 in February and 13 in March.
Of the homicides recorded this year, 84 percent were the work of firearms and 77 percent were previously planned, while around half fitted into a context of organised crime disputes within the underground economy, according to the categories employed by Santa Fe’s Observatorio de Seguridad Pública, a public body that classifies crimes.
These figures come to light in the midst of a security crisis in the district and, according to the provincial ministry responsible, they aim at reflecting "some preliminary data which permit the description of certain essential characteristics" of this kind of crime.
After Rosario, the provincial capital of Santa Fe City is the jurisdiction with the second-highest number of homicides reported with a total of 28, followed by San Lorenzo with four, while murders have also been registered in seven other departments.
According to Santa Fe Province Prosecutor-General Jorge Baclini, the situation is "critical." This month’s murders almost treble those the previous April, he told Rosario’s Radio 2 station.
Even more worryingly, Baclini explained that the number of murders in Argentina’s third-largest city, mostly "linked to territorial disputes between drug-trafficking gangs," has now exceeded the number of cases assigned to the prosecutors who must investigate them.
In Rosario, there are a total of eight prosecutors for homicide investigations who work in weekly rotations. The system can only process six cases at a time, he explained.
Nevertheless, in recent times that total has been completed before the week is out, thus showing up both the increasing ferocity of organised crime and the lack of prosecutors with 20 vacancies, added the official.
Santa Fe’s chief prosecutor considered that when crimes go unsolved, "that increases the odds in favour of similar things continuing to happen."
The Observatorio de Política Criminal, an NGO based in Buenos Aires City, has been digging into the circumstances explaining Rosario’s drug violence. In a recent report, it concluded that factors such as the dispute for the monopoly of force between the police and organised crime, and the withdrawal of the state from its tasks of social contention were behind the surge in violence.
That is why one of the solutions proposed is the intervention of federal forces, taking complete charge of public security throughout the province and thus displacing the Santa Fe provincial police in their entirety.
The study, called Rosario, un sueño de paz (“Rosario, a dream of peace”), was directed by the civic security specialist Ariel Larroude. The city, Larroude concludes, has naturalised illegality and violence to the same degree with which it is suffered.
Violence knows no limits in Rosario. Some days before the terror in La Tablada, in the northeastern neighbourhood of 7 de Septiembre, four men descended from a white Ford Ranger van and strafed a parked car before rapidly taking flight.
Aboard the bullet-riddled vehicle was a man aged 26 with a one-year-old baby, both of whom were killed instantly. In the same attack the mother of the baby was wounded. She remains in hospital in a reserved state of health.
The attack is believed to have been related to a vendetta between drug-trafficking gangs which has been brewing since the start of the year, according to police sources.
At least four hitmen fired at the victims, who were in an Audi A4. The men escaped, according to the first eyewitness accounts obtained in the area, and their van was afterwards found burned out very close to the scene of the crime.
According to the local newspaper La Capital, as a consequence of the fatal volley, the man at the wheel died instantly, as did his small son, a result of the wounds suffered.
The assailants fired at least 30 shots and escaped from the scene of the double crime. They are still being hunted by the police.
“The kind of criminal we have today is very deplorable, for the kind of violence they use and because they do not respect life,” said the newly installed chief of the Unidad Regional II police force, Margarita Romero, as she addressed the press last Monday.
Consulted about the recent attacks, Romero said the death of a baby was “a very ugly feeling.”
Detailing the extent of the crisis facing the local forces, she called on local residents to show “a bit more patience, since we are working on reopening various police stations which had been closed down, as well as awaiting new patrol cars.”
Patience may be possible, but for some, time has already run out. In the neighbourhood of Empalme Graneros, a 33-year-old woman and a 33-year-old man were both shot and killed this week in separate incidents that took place just five blocks away from each other. One was killed Tuesday, the other the following day.
"They can confuse you. They can believe that you are selling [drugs[ like them and they shoot you," one unnamed local resident told La Capital.