When the rest of the world thinks of Latin American drug trafficking, eyes are inevitably cast towards Argentina’s Andean, Central American and Mexican cousins, rather than the Southern Cone itself. While Argentina has never been the nerve center of the region’s drug culture, traces of the trickle-down effects of narcoeconomy’s bountiful supply are very much evident in the country.
No tale better expresses Argentina’s struggle with drug trafficking — and the violence it brings with it — than that of “Los Monos,” a Rosario-based gang that has long controlled the trade in the city. Reportedly operating in a maze of tunnels under the southern suburbs, Los Monos brought their own brand of violent criminality to Rosario, Santa Fe Province, contributing to it being named in the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world in January this year — with four times the crime rate of any other Argentine city.
Indeed, on November 8th 2015, Roberto Cavalli was murdered in the northeast of the city by suspected members of the gang; while in February this year, 22-year-old Maximiliano Moreno — who also had ties to Los Monos and who had a warrant out for his arrest Maximiliano Moreno was shot dead by two gunmen in the Tablada neighborhood of Rosario. Underlining the bloodthirsty brutality of the upper echelons of the city’s gangland culture, Claudio Cantero, ex-leader of Los Monos was killed by gunfire outside a nightclub in May 2013.
Twenty-one members of Los Monos are already in Piñero prison — about 15 kilometers from Rosario — including the adoptive father of its leader, Ramón “Monchi” Machuca — and two of his brothers. Another brother is dead. Despite these high profile arrests, the gang had largely been able to continue business as usual — until now.
After three years on the run, Monchi himself was at last captured by Federal Police having returned to Rosario to find agents waiting for him. He had been overseeing the operations of Los Monos in absentia with the help of other family members who were still in the city. He has now joined the others in Piñero prison as he awaits trial.
The arrest of Monchi is certainly a breakthrough; but is Rosario’s ordeal finally over? Or will violent crime and drug trafficking continue to plague the city?
Local police have already expressed concern that the power vacuum left in Rosario’s criminal underworld by the alleged disbandment of Los Monos could be filled by an even more ruthlessly violent gang. The rival group in question, Los Cambichos, was founded by youths who had served as foot soldiers for Los Monos. Other groups in the Las Flores and La Granada neighborhoods are also emerging as candidates in the increasingly violent power struggle. It can be assumed that Los Monos are no more — yet those members that haven’t yet been arrested are still out there, and could join other gangs.
The future, therefore, remains unclear. What is certain is that the roots of Rosario’s various criminal groups have grown far too deep for an end to the crime wave to be considered. Violent crime shall surely increase, albeit briefly, as the gangs jostle for position as the new rulers of Rosario’s criminal landscape. The most likely scenario is that Los Cambichos will fill the void left by Los Monos — simply giving gang-controlled crime in Rosario a new face rather than going any way towards eradicating the problem.