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ARGENTINA | 09-02-2023 14:41

Santa Fe governor fires security minister as narco violence worsens

Following a week of violence, the provincial governor dismissed Rubén Rimoldi from his post and appointed Claudio Brilloni, commander of the National Board Guard, in his place. There were also changes in local police leadership.

Santa Fe Province Governor Omar Perotti has fired his security minister after less than seven months on the job as the crime-ridden region struggles to cope with incessant narco violence.

Perotti, 63, announced on Wednesday that he had dismissed provincial Security Minister Rubén Rimoldi due to an escalation of violence and insecurity on his watch.

In what some analysts saw as a nod to a more hard-line approach, the Peronist governor appointed Claudio Brilloni, a veteran Border Guard (Gendarmerie) commander, to fill the role and become the third security minister of Perotti’s government.

Miguel Oliva, who had been appointed by Rimoldi to head the provincial police force, has also left his post, local outlets reported. Oliva’s replacement will be the current deputy chief of the force, Martín García.

“He knows the territory, his troupe respects him,” he said. “We need to support, assist and reinforce him,” said Brilloni.

The news arrived in the wake of a string of violent attacks against trade unions, businesses and police stations in Rosario, the city most affected by drug-trafficking crimes. Earlier this month, a local musician was slain and his dead body was used by the perpetrators to send a message to their local gang rivals.

Marcos Corach, Santa Fe's public management minister, summoned Rimoldi to a meeting with the governor on Tuesday evening to inform him of his dismissal as head of the security portfolio. The summons came after the official had led a press conference in Rosario over a shooting attack on the "Emilia Bertolé" Southwest District Municipal Centre, which prompted harsh criticism from Mayor Pablo Javkin.

After the attack, the mayor demanded "5,000 trained officers to combat drug-trafficking now" and aired harsh criticism of the provincial government, asking why there had been no reaction to a recent attack on police premises.

“It's not that I doubt the police. Where are they? How can it be that a police station has been shot at on a bicycle and nobody is pursuing it? The city has been under constant threat for seven days. They shot up the Criminal Investigation Agency and there was no pursuit. How many police are in there? Don't they react to a shooting against them? This has to stop. Let the security minister [Rubén Rimoldi] come and live here."

Following Javkin's remarks, Rimoldi delivered a press conference at the city's Governor's office, where he attributed the string of attacks to the "hard work of the police." 

 

Escalation of violence

The straw which broke the camel's back and led to Rimoldi's immediate dismissal was the high-profile murder of musician Lorenzo ‘Jimi’ Altamirano, who was executed in front of the Newell's Old Boys football stadium on February 1. 

Among Altamirano’s clothes was a handwritten message addressed to members of the Los Monos drug cartel and barra brava hooligans who follow the football team.

Responding to the killing, Rimoldi told local press "this methodology was used in Colombia at other times, that of kidnapping a person to send a message, it's called an envelope."

The murder of Altamirano follows a string of attacks this week that left another two people dead. This week wasn't an anomaly; in 2022, Rosario recorded one of the highest homicide rates in the country, with 287 murders in the entire year, the highest number since official statistics have been kept, according to the Télam state news agency.

When Rimoldi took office in August last year, he had promised a reorganisation of police commands and cadres in order to "speed up response on the streets,” though the bloodshed shows no sign of slowing.

Sparks also flew with prosecutors from the Organised Crime Agency, who also reproached the outgoing minister for having leaked details of a possible raid on the home of Altamirano’s suspected killer.

"In the police force, we are going to organise the command in the right way and we are going to restructure the cadres so that, in the most critical places, we are present for as long as necessary," Rimoldi had promised after his appointment.

Corach on Wednesday said there would be a full restructuring of the security portfolio. “It is necessary to say that we are doing it because this government does not deny reality, it seeks to change it, no matter how difficult it may be,” he said in a post on Twitter. “It does not run away from its responsibility and works without speculation or political calculations.”

"The situation in the south of the province is extremely complex, which is why we are obliged to constantly adjust our strategy and change the pieces necessary to implement it. And we’re not afraid because we do not lose sight of our objectives," he wrote in another tweet.

The violence is also straining ties between the national and provincial governments. On Wednesday. National Security Minister Aníbal Fernández reacted to criticism regarding the violence plaguing the city.

"These complications have been around for 20 years. We are working as asked of us, we’re onto it. Almost 3,500 people are dedicated to this task, financed by the national state without asking for a cent from the province," said Fernández, who said that Perotti’s demand for greater state intervention in the region responds to "his own vision and political stance."

Perotti, however, hit back and called for more support.

"The minister continues to fail to understand the reality and particular circumstances of Rosario, as he has done for a great many years. If that’s all the help he can give, the minister has to be told that it is not enough," declared Perotti.

Both Perotti and Rosario Mayor Javkin have been publicly calling for the presence of national forces on Santa Fe soil with the governor insisting: "We should take the totality of the federal forces that there can be in the province. The magnitude [of the problem] warrants a total national priority."

Perotti concluded: "Argentina cannot permit these things to happen. Rosario and our province is also their territory. No province can possibly face up to federal crime on this scale."  

 

–– TIMES with agencies

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