Deadly Argentina Drug Turf Wars Call Security Strategies Into Question

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A series of killings in Buenos Aires and Rosario, Argentina linked to a booming microtrafficking business highlight ongoing insecurity in those areas, while raising concerns that the government’s security strategy may be insufficient for addressing this issue.

On July 26, seven men barged into a suburban Buenos Aires house claiming to be executing a search warrant. The men then proceeded to kill the owner of the house, Fabiola del Milago Yegro, as well as her son and his friend, with multiple gunshots to the head.

According to Crónica, the working theory developed by local police is that the incident was an act of retaliation in an unfolding turf war between drug trafficking groups. One main piece of evidence supporting this hypothesis is that del Milago was the ex-wife of an incarcerated local drug chief, Carlos Alberto Rodríguez Ávalos, alias “Yeyé.”

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Yeyé was arrested in February 2017 on charges that he was the intellectual author of another triple homicide that took place in a “bunker,” a secured street selling point, in the same area in December 2016. Authorities are also investigating whether del Milago managed the business on Yeyé’s orders from jail while the two other victims reportedly sold drugs.

Meanwhile, the city of Rosario has witnessed eight murders within ten days, La Nación reported on July 29. This wave of killings appears to be part of a drug war between the powerful Monos drug trafficking group and an organization dubbed “Los Schneider.” The two groups have reportedly been killing each other in a tit-for-tat pattern since the June murder of the sister of the Monos’ historic leader, Ariel Máximo Cantero.

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Argentine authorities have argued that the implementation in April 2016 of a program known as Barrios Seguros (Safe Neighborhoods) in the country’s most violent neighborhoods may be destabilizing Buenos Aires’ criminal landscape, thus fueling tensions and turf wars, according to La Nación. The policy, inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Police Pacification Unit program (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora – UPP), involves an initial massive deployment of security forces to retake areas under criminal control, ideally paving the way for a longer-term community policing approach and preventive social programs.

However, Barrios Seguros risks running into some of the same problems that plagued Rio’s UPP program — namely, a lack of follow-through on the socially-oriented initiatives that are supposed to follow the initial security force surge.

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On one hand, the Barrios Seguros policy’s blueprint clearly emphasizes a communitarian approach to policing, while advocating for an integral security policy encompassing social efforts. But at the same time, its launch in violent neighborhoods has been used by authorities to display a military-style show of force, feed alarmist comments to the press and emphasize seizures of weapons and drugs as well as captures of local drug lords.

In Rio de Janeiro, the absence of promised socioeconomic efforts was a major reason for the failure of the UPP program, and the city has seen rising levels of insecurity in recent years as a result of this and other failed policies. If Argentine authorities similarly fail to implement these follow-on social programs, and instead continue to prioritize enforcement-centric approaches to crime, they risk spurring the creation of more brutal splinter groups that could arise in the power vacuum left by dismantled organizations.

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