The security crisis engulfing the city of Rosario, northwest of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has reached its most illustrious citizen. Early Thursday morning, two armed men shot up a supermarket owned by Lionel Messi’s in-laws. They reportedly fired 14 shots at the establishment, which belongs to the family of the Argentinean soccer player’s wife, Antonela Roccuzzo. The attackers also left a message for the player: “Messi, we are waiting for you. [The mayor, Pablo] Javkin is a drug dealer, he will not keep you safe.”
The Roccuzzo family has run a chain of supermarkets in Rosario, Messi’s hometown, since the 1980s. Antonela’s great-grandmother, Eduviges, started with just one small store. She passed on the business to Antonela’s late grandfather, Pascual, who passed away a year ago. The chain is now owned by Jorge Roccuzzo, Messi’s father-in-law. The store attacked early this morning is especially popular because many locals know that the Roccuzzos still work in it some days.
“Nothing like this had ever happened before. I was watching television when I heard [the gunshots]. We all heard them, all the neighbors on the block went outside to see what had happened”, said Oscar, who lives next to the shop. The attack took place around 3.00am, when the streets of the neighborhood were empty. The minister of Security for the province of Santa Fe, Claudio Brilloni, said that they have no hypothesis as to who attacked the store. “We are going to make sure that the supermarket can work normally,” he told the media.
By mid-morning on Thursday, the supermarket had already reopened to the public, at the request of the Roccuzzo family. “I didn’t hear it because I live a little farther away, I heard about it on TV,” said Mabel, another neighbor. “But I’m not surprised. These types of attack have become common in Rosario. Everything started to change when drugs arrived, but something like this had never happened before.”
“It’s such [a] vicious [attack] that I question everything. Even that [it was done by] criminal gangs,” said Javkin, whom the attackers mentioned in their threat to Messi. “It is very clear that it is easy to harm Rosario and that there is no concrete help. How far away is the president from here, half an hour away? I am the mayor of the city, I do not manage the security forces, and when I [have] asked [to do it], they have not let me,” he said.
This is an election year in Argentina, and the political tension is very high. Javkin belongs to the opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change), which aspires to beat the Peronist coalition Frente de Todos (Everyone’s Front) in general elections to be held next October. “This is terrible. Another warning to the national government and to the government of Santa Fe that it is not possible to coexist with drug traffickers. We must combat them decisively,” tweeted the political head of the Juntos por el Cambio coalition, former president Mauricio Macri.
Argentina’s Minister of Security Aníbal Domingo Fernández noted that these types of crimes have become a typical occurrence in Rosario over the past 20 years. When his government came into power, he continued, they promised to install security personnel financed by the national government in the city. “We have 3,500 troops who have made 2,077 arrests. Our vocation is to deepen this task,” he said. Fernández clarified that the authorities usually surveil particular areas of the city and that the neighborhood where the supermarket is located, a quiet and calm area near the city center, was not one of them. No one from the Roccuzzo family has made any public statements, but Messi’s mother, Celia Cuccittini, told an entertainment journalist that they were fine.
Rosario has been in crisis for years due to clashes between drug gangs and the violence of its soccer fans. In the last decade, the Argentine city has become an epicenter of drug trafficking, which has caused a steep spike in violence. Rosario already has a homicide rate five times higher than the national average and there have been over 50 murders in January and February of this year alone.
The popularity of the Roccuzzo family has now amplified a reality that no longer surprises residents of Rosario, who have gradually grown accustomed to drug violence. The prosecutor’s office that will be in charge of looking into the attack is an example of how quickly the violence has permeated this city: it is a specific unit created in September 2020 and tasked with investigating shootings. Provincial authorities have on other occasions asked the national government to send federal forces to curb the spike in crime. However, the arrival in 2021 of 500 members of the military police did not lead to any improvements.
Messi, who lives in Paris with his family, is expected back in Argentina at the end of the month to play two friendly matches with the national team. Expectation surrounding his return is huge because the matches will be the first that Argentina have played since winning the World Cup in Qatar. One of them will be staged in Buenos Aires. The Argentina Football Association (AFA) has not yet announced in which city the second game will take place. The safety of soccer players in Rosario is another factor being affected by insecurity. Less than a month ago, Mayor Javkin spoke out against a coach who blamed a lack of new player signings on the fact that many players’ families refuse to settle in the city.
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