Drug crime: Argentina: Messi's hometown of Rosario descends into violence

Máximo Gerez was about to buy a Coke at the corner kiosk when the fatal shots struck the 11-year-old boy.

Drug crime: Argentina: Messi's hometown of Rosario descends into violence

Máximo Gerez was about to buy a Coke at the corner kiosk when the fatal shots struck the 11-year-old boy. The attackers arrived in a black car with tinted windows and opened fire on him and his friends. Máximo was killed instantly, three other children were seriously injured.

A wave of violence is sweeping through Rosario, hometown of Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi. Several gangs are fighting for control of the drug trade, and shootings occur almost every day. Why Máximo had to die is still unclear. The public prosecutor's office is investigating whether he got caught between the fronts in the fight for zones of influence or whether he was the victim of an act of revenge.

The boy's family does not want to wait for the investigation, they think they know who is responsible. After burying Máximo, they attack the homes of drug dealers in the poor Los Pumitas neighborhood of north Rosario. With hammers and steel rods they tear down the drug bunkers made of bricks and set them on fire. "Here they sell drugs and poison our children," said Máximo's father Julio Gerez on television.

Rosario is most dangerous city in Argentina

The man from the indigenous Qom community has lived in Rosario for 20 years and keeps his head above water with odd jobs. He believes that the Los Salteños drug gang was behind his son's murder. "We have never been threatened and have not messed with anyone," Maximo's aunt Antonia told La Nacion newspaper. "We are poor people, but what really destroys us is the pain."

Rosario on the Paraná River around 300 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires is an important industrial and commercial center. Soya, corn and sides of beef are shipped all over the world from here. However, bitter poverty often prevails, especially in the outskirts, where the drug gangs easily find recruits and customers.

The fights between the gangs for the lucrative cocaine market make Rosario the most dangerous city in Argentina. So far this year, 64 people have been killed in Rosario. Again and again members of the drug gangs attack public buildings, prisons and police stations. "The drug dealers won, but we are determined to change this situation," Security Minister Aníbal Fernández recently admitted.

Messi's family was attacked

Recently, even star striker Messi's family has been the target of an attack. Unknown gunmen fired 14 shots at Messi's father-in-law's supermarket in Rosario. They also left a note that read: "Messi, we are waiting for you." According to media reports, the authorities are now working on a security strategy for the end of March when Messi arrives in Argentina for two friendlies against Panama and Curaçao.

"We have police officers, gendarmes and federal police officers here - but what we never see is prosecution," complained Pablo Javkin. "I'm the mayor of this city. To be clear: I don't lead the security forces. And when I asked for it, they wouldn't let me. So whoever is responsible should come here."

In addition, the drug dealers have probably partially infiltrated the local police. "There are people who soiled the uniform, ex-police chiefs are in jail," Santa Fe Governor Omar Perotti said. "We're trying to clean up the institution and support all those who feel truly called to serve."

The government in Buenos Aires announced that it would send additional police officers to Rosario. The number of federal police officers will be increased to 1,400, said President Alberto Fernández. In addition, the army's engineering corps is to help with work to upgrade the slums. "We will restore order in Rosario, guaranteeing a social life of freedom and security. But above all, we will ensure justice. We owe it to the victims of the Mafia and to the children of the city," said the President.