With a wave of violence tearing through Argentina's city of Rosario, indications point to the country's largest criminal group, Los Monos, fighting to hang onto their hard-earned territorial control.
By the end of October, the city had already reported 171 homicides in 2020 surpassing the number reported for all of 2019. And the uptick in violence was particularly strong in September, with 17 murders between drug trafficking gangs registered in just 15 days.
Drug trafficking in Rosario and the province of Santa Fe has long been dominated by the Cantero crime family, known as Los Monos, but with a number of key arrests in 2018, it had been hoped the group's power would be curtailed.
These hopes appear to have been in vain. On September 23, amid the rise in violence in Rosario, Los Monos' former leader, Ariel Máximo Cantero, alias “El Viejo,” was released from prison on probation, after serving a five-year sentence.
And at the end of October, Marcelo Saín, the security secretary for Santa Fe, stated that current Los Monos leader and El Viejo's son, Ariel Cantero, alias "Guille," was coordinating the group's actions in Rosario despite being in prison.
SEE ALSO: Los Monos Profile
The national government has also chimed in on the matter. In October, the federal government announced a plan in collaboration with provincial authorities to counter the criminal gang's power in the city. This plan includes more economic resources to finance a boosted security presence in the city and new operation centers for authorities across Santa Fe.
While Los Monos have primarily been focused on microtrafficking and money laundering in Santa Fe, they seem to have innovated during the coronavirus pandemic. In July, members of the group were connected to a surge in illegal casinos due to the lockdown, run in collaboration with corrupt officials. The group was also accused of extorting "blue dollar" merchants, black market currency dealers whose business has also boomed in recent months.
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After Los Monos' grip on the lucrative criminal economies of Rosario appeared to slip in 2018, other clans appear to have moved in, contesting control of microtrafficking.
Old enemies, such as Los Funes or Los Ungaro, have sought to take advantage of this momentary weakness. Earlier this year, Dylan Cantero, the youngest brother of the Cantero family, was shot in the leg, sparking a wave of retaliatory violence.
"Many of the homicides between competing criminal groups in specific areas are for the supply of illegal substances, drugs or stealing from houses," explained Saín, the security secretary.
Rosario has been Argentina's most violent city for a number of years. But this year's homicide rate has not been since 2013 when the murder of Los Monos member, Claudio Cantero, alias "Pájaro," and the ensuing drug war led to a record 264 dead.
SEE ALSO: Los Monos Coverage
The current levels of violence is also a blow to Argentinean prosecutors. The arrest and prosecution of Los Monos leaders and many members was due to a great effort by the Argentine justice system, with the investigation covering the heads of the clan to their street-level operatives.
Nevertheless, Los Monos have dominated the criminal underworld in Rosario for more than 20 years, largely thanks to close ties with security forces, businessmen and politicians. Those ties are proving fiendishly difficult to erase.