A violent attack on a courthouse days after the sentencing of 34 members of Argentina’s most notorious drug trafficking organization shows that the culmination of the ambitious case against the group has not taken away its ability to wreak havoc.
On 10 December, armed men attacked the main courthouse in the city of Rosario, home to the criminal organization known as “the Monos,” La Nación reported.
This is the fifth such attack in the space of a few months. The security secretary of the province of Santa Fe, where Rosario is located, said authorities suspect the attack might be related to the closing of a nightclub that was one of the main sources of financing for the Monos.
The attack came just days after a federal court in the city sentenced 34 members of the criminal organization to prison terms on drug trafficking charges for the first time.
The organization’s two leaders, Ariel Máximo Cantero, alias “Guille”, and Jorge Emanuel Chamorro, alias “Ema”, were sentenced to 15 and 17 years in prison, respectively.
In addition, Vanesa Barrios, Cantero’s wife, and Jésica Lloan, Chamorro’s partner were sentenced to 12 years in jail each. Cantero’s mother, Patricia Celestina Contreras, will also spend 8 years behind bars.
The women were accused of coordinating drug production and sales logistics, following orders from Cantero and Chamorro while they were imprisoned in the jail of Piñero, located 20 kilometers away from Rosario. Cantero is now serving a 22-year sentence on racketeering and murder charges; Chamorro is serving 12 years on charges of leading a criminal organization in a different prison.
Prosecutor Federico Reynares Solari said he was satisfied with the latest sentencing and said the courts had reached the “highest levels of the organization.”
The defense lawyer, Fausto Yrure, said he did not believe the evidence presented at the trial proved his clients’ responsibility and confirmed they will appeal the sentence.
The Monos, led by members of the powerful Cantero family, is one of the most infamous criminal organizations in Argentina. They mostly control drug trafficking in Rosario, a strategic port city situated on the Paraná River that acts as a transit point for drug shipments coming from neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay.
They have been blamed for a wave of violence in 2013 that made Rosario one of the most violent cities in Argentina.
More recently, the homicide rate has dropped. But a series of threats and violent attacks against judges, prosecutors, and witnesses involved in the case has raised alarms.
InSight Crime Analysis
The sentence against the leaders of the Monos was expected to be the final nail in the coffin for the criminal organization, but the attacks that have followed their imprisonment show that the group still has a grip on Rosario.
The case against the Monos was without parallel in Rosario. After having actively controlled criminal activities in the city for nearly two decades, the group faced prosecution for the first time. The sentencing of so many members of the group was the culmination of one of the most ambitious investigations taken on by authorities in the South American nation. What's more, the leaders of the group were imprisoned, showing that prosecutors investigated the Monos at all levels, something particularly difficult to do when it comes to family clans.
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The investigation, called “Los Patrones”, unveiled what many knew but had not been able to prove, at least this extensively, until now: police collusion with criminal organizations and high levels of corruption within the prison system that allowed the Monos to operate freely.
When authorities searched Chamorro’s prison cell in 2015, they discovered a landline and a mobile phone where he had saved contact details that included police officers, an anti-narcotics agent, and the chief of Rosario Central’s Barra Brava, who is currently under investigation.
By sentencing, in April this year, a number of police officers who collaborated with the Monos, authorities sent a strong message that corruption within the security forces will not be tolerated. But the wave of threats and violent attacks against judges, prosecutors, and witnesses, allegedly ordered by the group's leaders from within prison, shows their power might still be intact.