Buenos Aires, Mar 9 (EFE).- Argentina’s security minister on Thursday defended the government’s efforts to combat a wave of violence unleashed by drug-trafficking gangs in the northeastern city of Rosario.
In an appearance before the Interior Security Committee of the lower house of Congress, Anibal Fernandez said that after assuming his position on Sept. 20, 2021, he undertook to establish an “immediate presence” of federal forces in Santa Fe province and “specifically in the city of Rosario.”
“We presented 575 personnel (on Oct. 4 of that year), seasoned men and women. There were no young people, but rather people with a lot of experience for conducting all those raids. It was a huge and robust effort,” the head of the security portfolio said, adding that 2,077 arrests were made.
Of the 17.6 billion pesos ($88 million) the national government designated for security last year, Fernandez said 8.9 billion pesos ($44.4 million) were earmarked for Santa Fe province, “with the immense majority specifically destined for the city of Rosario.”
He also referred to a nationwide reduction in the intentional homicide rate, saying it fell from 4.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021 to 4.3 per 100,000 in 2022, the lowest figure of the past 20 years.
“The effort really has borne fruit, and it’s not an issue that’s my exclusive domain. We’ve been … working and exerting pressure to get the numbers (down),” he said.
But the security situation remains grave in Rosario, the birthplace of soccer great Lionel Messi, where at least 65 people have been killed thus far this year amid a turf war among rival drug gangs.
Although Argentina’s third-largest city has been plagued for years by violence attributed to drug traffickers, its problems became international news on March 2 when shots were fired in the wee hours at a supermarket run by Messi’s in-laws.
No one was hurt in that incident, in which the attackers left a threatening message addressed to the star: “Messi we are expecting you, (Rosario Mayor Pablo) Javkin is also a narco, he won’t protect you.”
Though the 35-year-old Messi has spent his entire professional career abroad, playing 17 years with Barcelona before joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, he makes frequent visits to his home town and was in Rosario for Christmas after leading Argentina to victory in the 2022 World Cup.
Two days later, the death of an 11-year-old boy in an attack on a birthday party sparked the ire of local residents and family members, who looted and destroyed the house of the alleged gunman after he was arrested by police.
On Tuesday, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez gave the go-ahead to increase the number of federal forces in Rosario to 1,400 and approved the deployment there of the army corps of engineers, whose main task will be to accelerate urban development projects in the city’s slums. EFE