AMERICA/VENEZUELA - El Tren de Aragua: the transnational gang that exploits Venezuelan migrants

Thursday, 21 December 2023 criminality   banditry   migrants  

Ministero dell'Interno del Venezuela

Caracas (Agenzia Fides) - Among the transnational gangs of Latin American origin, El Tren de Aragua is the only one born in Venezuela that also operates in several countries of the Southern Cone. The group, which emerged in the Tocorón prison, in the State of Aragua, owes its name to a union of workers who worked in the construction of the Aragua railway but who were dedicated to various criminal activities, including extortion of subcontractors. Imprisoned in Tocorón, they continued their activities from the penitentiary center. At the head of the criminal syndicate is Héctor Rustherford Guerrero Flores, alias 'Niño Guerrero', who has turned the Tocorón prison into one of the most notorious in the country, largely due to the Venezuelan government's unofficial policy of giving up the control of some prisons, including Tocorón, to criminal bosses known as pranes. The freedom granted by the government and the gang's criminal income allowed the construction of a zoo, a swimming pool, a playground, a restaurant, a cockfighting arena and a nightclub inside the prison. From prison, controlled with an iron fist by the criminal gang, El Tren de Aragua began to extend its activities first to the neighborhood and then to the entire country, co-opting or allying with other criminal gangs or taking over from others destroyed in harsh street clashes. The transnational expansion of the Tren de Aragua was consolidated around 2018, when the gang established itself on the border between Venezuela and Colombia, specifically between the Venezuelan state of Táchira and the Colombian department of Norte de Santander. In this context, they faced important Colombian criminal groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC). The fight focused on the control of clandestine border crossings and illicit businesses such as drug trafficking, smuggling and illegal migration. Unlike larger Colombian groups that focused primarily on drug trafficking, the Tren de Aragua specialized in the systematic exploitation of Venezuelan migrants. This exploitation involved extortion through smuggling to and through Colombia, in addition to taking control of various nodes in the human trafficking market for sexual exploitation. Between 2018 and 2023, the Tren de Aragua built a transnational criminal network by establishing cells in Colombia, Peru and Chile, and even expanding to Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil. There are indications that some members of the Tren de Aragua in a single year, between October 2022 and 2023. In September, Venezuelan authorities carried out an assault on the Tocorón prison, managing to regain control. During the operation, security forces seized sniper rifles, grenades, explosives, rocket launchers and various ammunition. They also found computers intended for cryptocurrency mining. However, 'Niño Guerrero' managed to escape, and at present, it is unknown if the loss of his bastion will mark the decline of the Tren de Aragua. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 21/12/2023)