Drug gang-linked violence has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the past five years in this gritty port city, Del Frade said.
Last year, the homicide rate in Rosario was double the national average of seven per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a report from the Ministry of Security of Santa Fe province, which includes Rosario.
In the Las Flores neighborhood, just behind the City Center complex, Los Monos holds virtually total power, according to Del Frade, who said the gang amounts to the “de facto government” there.
Historically, Rosario has long had a strong working class, and today’s violence stems largely from widespread unemployment, political scientists and economists say.
Messi’s father, a metalworker here in the 1990s, emigrated with his family to Barcelona in 2000, amid the grave economic crisis then facing Argentina.
Today, the government in Rosario says it feels confident the safety of the illustrious visitor and his guests can be assured, regardless of the high crime rate.
“Rosario is prepared for the wedding,” city administrator Monica Fein told AFP. “Lionel chose to come get married here because it is his hometown and he feels comfortable here and we will do everything in our power to make it so.”
For now, the details of the planned security operation remain closely guarded.
Last week, local officials met with representatives of the Messi family, but no information leaked out, including on the location of the meeting itself, which was changed at the last moment to keep journalists away.
Gustavo Leone, a Rosario official, explained that this was “a private event.”
He added that if some guests want to visit Messi’s city a private tour will be arranged, but only under conditions of strict security and confidentiality.
Some local residents, people who know every twist and turn in the city’s streets, cannot understand the decision by the soccer star – who made some 70 million euros last season, according to the Eurosport sports network – to hold his wedding celebration in such an unsafe area.
“The truth is, I’m surprised they’re doing it here, considering that Messi is one of the best-paid players in the world. I just can’t believe it,” Micaela Llane, a 24-year-old secretary here, told AFP.
Locals have been following the preparations as if they were all expecting to be invited, so they know all about last-minute changes to the plans.
“The other hotel (the five-star Puerto Norte, where the celebration was to have been held) is in a much prettier area,” said Ariel Vallejo, who works for a private security firm.
And everyone dreams of showing off the best parts of the city where the soccer superstar – five-time winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or award – was born.