Nearly half of the murders that occurred in the first 26 days of January in Rosario, Argentina, were committed by hired assassins, a sign for many that the drug trade is embedding itself deeper in the country's pores.
According to regional prosecutor Jorge Baclini, bands of "sicarios" -- hired assassins -- charge between $600 and $1,200 each for their services in the northeastern Argentine city. And at least 12 murders have been committed in January by pairs of assailants riding on a motorbike -- a common tactic employed by hitmen throughout the region, whereby the passenger shoots the victim before the driver speeds off -- reported La Nacion.
Daniel Erbetta of the Santa Fe province Supreme Court said under half of homicide cases in the city get resolved, contributing to the popularity of this method of resolving disputes. Many of the murders are linked to fighting over drug turf between groups such as Los Monos, one of the city's more-established gangs, according to La Nacion.
The wave of murders in January, which has seen 28 people killed so far this month, including five in 48 hours over the weekend of January 26, represents a significant increase on January 2013, when 23 murders occurred throughout the month, reported Clarin.
The annual number of homicides in the city grew by 57 percent between 2010 and 2012 -- from 119 to 188. In 2013, a year of record homicide numbers in Rosario, the 264 registered killings represented a rise of 76 percent compared to 2012. Much of this spike was attributed to a violent territorial struggle as the weakening of two of the city's main gangs allowed other groups to step into the local drug trade.
InSight Crime Analysis
Argentina accounts for one-quarter of cocaine use in Latin American and the Caribbean, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It is also a key transit point for drugs moving internationally.
It is in this context that Rosario itself has become an important drug transit point in Argentina in recent years. This is facilitated by its location at the end of the Ruta 34 -- Argentina's cocaine trafficking highway -- and its many points of access to the Parana River, which is used to traffic marijuana from Paraguay.
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Transnational criminal groups from Mexico and Colombia have also established a significant presence in the city, and have begun using it as a drug production and distribution center. Simultaneously, competition from local drug gangs has grown, bringing with it a rise in violence. In addition to the gang violence, local officials have been attacked and threatened.