Residents of the working-class neighbourhood of Los Pumitas in Rosario ransacked and vandalised the homes of suspected drug-traffickers on Monday as they responded angrily to the death of an 11-year-old child killed in a drive-by shooting over the weekend.
The vigilante ransacking of the dwellings occurred after neighbours first tried to attack the occupants, whom they blamed for the death of the child. The alleged drug-dealers were evacuated by police, who initially intervened to protect their lives.
Rosario, more than 300 kilometres north of Buenos Aires, is Argentina's most violent city.
Last week the crime-ridden city dominated headlines when two unknown assailants fired shots at a supermarket owned by the in-laws of national team captain and star footballer Lionel Messi. They left a threatening note mentioning the world champion, though the origin and motive of the attack have yet to be determined by investigators.
Investigators: Attackers of Messi's in-laws’ supermarket seeking ‘intimidation’ and ‘public impact’
Last Saturday night, 11-year-old Máximo Geres was murdered while playing with three friends a few metres from a kiosk where drugs were being sold. Four individuals in a car drove by and opened fire.
Geres died of his injuries, while another 13-year-old teenager was shot in the chest, local prosecutor Adrián Spelta, who is investigating the case, told news outlets.
"All limits have been crossed," Spelta told the Radio 2 local radio station over the weekend.
Criticism rains down on Argentina’s security minister after he admits ‘narcos have won’ in Rosario
According to the prosecutor, "there is a territorial dispute between a gang that has been in the area for some time and another that is not from the neighbourhood, over the sale of narcotics. In these attacks between them, four boys were playing near the main target and one died," he added.
Police launched a series of raids in response to the killing, arrested two women and two men on Monday. During one operation focused on a house where the alleged perpetrators of the attack were hiding out, a machine gun with silencer and a pistol were seized. Bloodstains were also found on a vehicle.
The killing, the latest in a long line of homicides over the last two months has prompted anger and indignation among local residents, who launched a vigilante-style attack on homes where a number of alleged drug-traffickers reside.
In images caught by local and national television crews, residents of Los Pumitas were filmed carrying sticks and weapons and wearing face-coverings as they forced their way into one home, ransacking it and smashing it to bits. They then attacked a second home, stealing the belongings and attempting to set the home on fire, forcing the intervention of riot police and the fire brigade.
"This is a demonstration of how fed up we are as a society. Here we have the death of a little boy, who was shot dead," admitted Claudio Brilloni, Santa Fe Province's security minister, who accompanied the police operation protecting the neighbourhood.
In klater statements to the press, he said that violence "is exacerbated by the accessibility of firearms for drug-gangs."
According to Brilloni, as Argentina's largest agro-exporting port, Rosario "has the characteristics that make it a desirable place for narco-criminal organisations."
He admitted, however, that "one facet is large-scale drug trafficking and the other is the business of drug-dealing and drug-trafficking in the country."
Violence in Rosario has soared over the last two decades as drug-gangs tighten their hold over the region. The city currently has a homicide rate of 22 per 100,000 inhabitants last year, five times higher than the national average.