A spike in homicide rates in Rosario, Argentina, and an attack on the home of a judge who sentenced top leaders from a powerful gang has undermined the country’s security strategy and raised questions about how to stop organized crime.

Rosario, Argentina’s third most populated city, has suffered one of the highest homicide rates in the country, mainly due to disputes between local criminal groups.

Homicides decreased by 9.5 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, according to figures from the Santa Fe Province Attorney General’s Office. However, La Nación reports that Rosario has already registered 93 homicides this year, putting 2018 on track to see an increase from last year.

A May 29 attack on the home of a judge who sentenced leaders from Santa Fe province’s most powerful gang, the Monos, also underscored the problem of persistent violence.

The shooting took place just hours after a federal court confirmed the transfer of the Monos leadership from a prison in Santa Fe — where they continued to manage their gang activities — to a federal prison in the south of the country.

In response to the wave of violence, Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich announced on May 28 the deployment of 300 members of the gendarmerie to Rosario.

These new officers add to the 2,000 already stationed in the city for the past two years, according to La Nación.

InSight Crime Analysis

Argentine authorities appear to be facing serious difficulties in halting violence in Rosario.

In the wake of increased violence in 2018 after 2017’s overall improvement, both the provincial and federal governments seem to be taking one step forward and two steps back in their efforts to curtail organized crime activities.

In 2017, not only did homicides decrease, but judges handed down significant prison sentences to top leadership from the powerful Monos as well as several police officers who belonged to the group.

But the uptick in violence in Rosario in 2018 should not be surprising. And there are at least three clear reasons why Argentina is failing to address the issue effectively.

First, federal authorities, in conjunction with provincial governments, are focusing their strategy almost entirely on the gendarmerie, even though militarized approaches to security challenges have had poor results elsewhere in the region.

Mexico is one prime example. In response to the militarization of the war on drugs, criminal groups came under pressure to increase their fire power. Many abuses by security forces against the civilian population were also reported, further undermining the Mexican government’s strategy. Another example is Brazil, where the government has grown increasingly reliant on the army to confront criminality.

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The second reason is that the Argentine government is not taking direct action against the high levels of corruption entrenched in the local police. The conviction of 13 police officers who belonged to the Monos is a clear illustration, as well as the recent attack on a judge’s home — located a mere 30 meters from a police station.

Criminal gangs cannot function as easily without a police force that not only looks the other way, but also takes action to help criminal activities run smoothly. Furthermore, many police need the economic support these groups can give them.

Experts consulted by InSight Crime think that the government has not addressed this issue because it involves a variety of interests. They argue that police reform would mean disrupting the status quo, in which the violence, until now, has been concentrated on the outskirts of the cities. Going after the police would run the risk of shifting more violence to city centers, where elites live. If the violence is kept to the periphery, it is easier to think of it as simply a conflict between gangs.

Finally, the government is not taking on corruption in the penitentiary system either, which has allowed criminal gangs to freely continue with their operations.

“The politicians argue that the [Monos] fell because its leaders were arrested, and that’s where the government thinks the issue ends. But the situation is more complex than that, and the gangs keep operating from inside prison,” German de Santos, a journalist and expert on organized crime from Rosario, told InSight Crime.

“The leaders get long sentences and are resigned to spending time in prison, but business has to go on,” he added.

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In fact, the drug trafficking case for which the Monos leadership will be tried in federal court is based on wire taps of conversations between the gang leaders from inside prison and their wives, who continued to run the business from the outside.

One of the prosecutors in the case against the Monos, Dr. Luis Schiappa Pietra, told InSight Crime that to find the best way to decrease violence, the cases have to be studied in detail.

“A diagnosis can’t be based on intuition. You have to study the situation empirically to create solutions that work based on facts,” he said.

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