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What is “El Tren de Aragua”, a gang in Venezuela targeted by the Maduro government’s mega-operation with 11 thousand agents

The gang “El Tren de Aragua” (The Train of Aragua, in free translation) drew attention after a police operation carried out on Wednesday (20) by the Venezuelan government.

The country’s authorities assured that they concluded with “complete success” the operation of the Aragua Penitentiary Center, in north-central Venezuela, where the criminal organization was based.

To carry out the task, they sent 11 thousand civil and military agents and explained that the prison will undergo a restructuring process.

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What is El Tren de Aragua?

El Tren de Aragua is classified as the largest and most powerful criminal gang in Venezuela, according to reports from the Insight Crime organization and the United States government.

Insight Crime adds that the origin of this megagang, which, at least until the operation, was based in the Tocorón prison, dates back to 2005, with the union of workers who were involved in the construction of a railway project that would unite the States of Aragua and Carabobo . Hence its name, ‘Trem de Aragua’.

According to the NGO report, the union began by charging for jobs and extorting contractors in exchange for security. Gradually, he expanded his criminal activities.

In 2013, with the arrest of Héctor Rustherford Guerrero Flores, aka “Niño Guerrero”, Tren de Aragua began to ally with other gangs to expand their domains.

They began to control the San Vicente neighborhood, located in Maracay, capital of the state of Aragua, according to Insight Crime and reports from the Venezuelan Violence Observatory.

In its expansion project, El Tren de Aragua has faced conflicts since 2017 with gangs such as El Tren del Llano, in the state of Sucre, in eastern Venezuela, due to drug trafficking to the Caribbean, according to Insight Crime, and even with the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla in the north of the Santander region, for crimes such as human trafficking.

In fact, the US Government indicates that, according to an investigation report published this year, El Tren de Aragua and the ELN operate sex trafficking networks on the borders of the city of Villa del Rosario, in the north of Santander.

Transparencia Venezuela, the Venezuelan branch of the non-governmental organization Transparency International, reports that, since 2021, El Tren de Aragua has been in conflict with the ELN over control of the border with Colombia.

Where does the criminal group operate?

Insight Crime highlights that El Tren de Aragua is present in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

Meanwhile, Transparencia Venezuela claims it is also present in Brazil and Costa Rica.

The NGO adds that the criminal organization is located in the following states of Venezuela:

  • Aragua
  • Laura
  • Yaracuy
  • Bolivar
  • Sucre
  • Miranda
  • Táchira
  • Guarico
  • Carabobo
  • Trujillo
  • Hurry
  • Zulia

Who commands it, how many members does it have and what are its main crimes?

Transparency Venezuela explains that the organization is dedicated to the illegal extraction of minerals, the trafficking of drugs, weapons and scrap metal, and the collection of “cause” – the fee that, apparently, each detainee must pay in prisons – robberies, kidnappings and trafficking of people.

This last crime, point out both the NGO and Insight Crime, boosted the expansion of El Tren de Aragua, following in the footsteps of millions of Venezuelan migrants to other countries.

She guarantees that the megagang has more than 4 thousand members. Among them, Héctor Rustherford Guerrero Flores, aka “Niño Guerrero”, is the main leader.

The organization explains that there have been reports of “Niño Guerrero’s” criminal career since 2005, when he was arrested for a murder.

In September 2012, when he was detained in Tocorón prison, his escape was reported. “Niño Guerrero” was recaptured in 2013, in Barquisimeto, in central-western Venezuela.

“According to information at the time, he had been working in the region for two months and was carrying a false identity,” comments the NGO, adding that, although he was initially sent to the Los Llanos Penitentiary Center, he returned shortly afterwards to the Tocorón prison.

On December 15, 2016, a lower court in the state of Aragua sentenced Guerrero to 17 years and two months in prison for being responsible for twelve crimes, including intentional homicide, prison escape, concealment of a weapon of war, drug trafficking and association to commit crimes.

Guerrero never gave interviews or referred to the sentences of the Venezuelan justice system.

Insight Crime points out that “Niño Guerrero” was in Tocorón prison; However, he left the prison days before the government operation, according to the Venezuelan Prison Observatory.

The Venezuelan Prison Observatory guarantees that the Government’s operation to take over the Tocorón prison was discussed and negotiated in advance with “Niño Guerrero” and other close collaborators, who, according to this version, would have left the establishment days before, without informing the prison population.

A CNN was unable to independently verify this information.

In a press conference called on Thursday (21), the Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace, Remigio Ceballos, did not comment on this version.

When asked about El Tren de Aragua, he replied that in the operation “members of criminal groups operating in the state of Aragua and other parts of the country” were captured. He did not mention the gang by name.

*with information from Osmary Hernández, from CNN

*published by Tiago Tortella, from CNN

Source: CNN Brasil

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