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Monos Leader Continues to Call the Shots from Behind Bars

ARGENTINA / 10 SEP 2021 BY GABRIELLE GORDER EN

Violence is rocking Argentina’s port city of Rosario, just as the leaders of its biggest gang, the Monos, are on trial for allegedly orchestrating a series of attacks against the houses and offices of judicial officials.

Between September 6 and 7, Rosario saw six homicides in a 24-hour period, including a protected witness in the trial of a gang leader and rival of the Monos. The following day, a 74-year-old man on house arrest on drug trafficking charges was also targeted by hitmen. This is an unusual spike even for a city used to violence, with Rosario having seen more than 200 homicides in the last year.

While those behind these latest murders have not been identified, they come as the Monos are making an open show of defiance during their trial.

On August 18, the day before the trial began, two gunmen opened fire on the courthouse, in the very type of attack that Monos leadership has been charged with carrying out in 2018. Two days later, the Monos’ top leader, Ariel Máximo Cantero, alias “Guille,” threatened the judges. Appearing via Zoom from prison, Cantero was asked to declare his profession and responded: “I hire hitmen to shoot judges.”  

Cantero was sentenced to 15 years for drug trafficking in 2018.

SEE ALSO: Los Monos Profile

Suspecting that Cantero had ordered the attack on the court, prosecutors ordered his prison cell at the Marcos Paz federal penitentiary in Buenos Aires to be thoroughly searched. On August 23, it was discovered that a landline phone, which was intended for all prisoners, had been made exclusively available to Cantero in his cell. The line was not monitored, and his conversations were not recorded.

The landline was removed but, two weeks later, an inspection on September 2 found that it had been replaced, according to a statement issued by Argentina’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

While the most recent wave of violence has not been directly attributed to the Monos, the government is not taking any chances. Federal troops have been sent in to reinforce security in Rosario’s high-risk neighborhoods and the courthouse, which has been attacked repeatedly since the Monos trial began in 2018.

InSight Crime Analysis

The incarceration of Cantero and other Monos leaders was intended to cripple Argentina’s foremost criminal threat. That has categorically failed to happen.

In 2018, mere days after Cantero’s sentencing, a gunman opened fire on the former house of one of the judges. This was the first of a series of attacks for which Cantero is now facing another trial.

Since then, the Monos have ramped up violence in Rosario, trying to defend its criminal economies from rivals. A war between the Monos and other local gangs, such as the Funes and the Ungaro, was blamed for homicides reaching a record 212 in 2020.

Marcelo Saín, the former security secretary for the province of Santa Fe, where Rosario is located, directly blamed Cantero for ordering the violence from prison. Cantero has been known to communicate orders via landlines, cell phones and “paid visitors.”

SEE ALSO: Los Monos Defending Their Territory in Rosario, Argentina

The fact that Cantero and other Monos gang members can continue threatening judges and order attacks on court buildings from inside prison show how the gang’s actions have hardly been curtailed.

The Monos have acted the same way for years, with authorities seemingly powerless to stop them. In June 2018, 42 cellphones were found in the prison wing where Cantero and other clan members were held, an area only accessible by prison personnel.

While Cantero faces years in jail, the audacity of publicly threatening a judge during a court hearing and then retaining access to a dedicated phone line show just how ineffective Argentine authorities have been.

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