Venezuelan Army seized control of gang-run prison

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Venezuela’s government has announced the successful seizure of control over a prison that was previously held by a powerful gang with international influence. This operation involved the participation of 11,000 members of its security forces.

Remember “La Catedral”, the prison built by Pablo Escobar for himself? Like “La Catedral”, Tocoron prison had functioned as the headquarters for the Tren de Aragua gang, which had transformed it into a facility with extravagant features including a zoo, a swimming pool, and gambling rooms.

In an official statement issued on Wednesday, the government commended law enforcement officers for regaining “complete authority” over the prison in the northern state of Aragua. They emphasized that the operation effectively “dismantled a hub of conspiracy and criminal activities.” President Nicolas Maduro praised the operation as a “significant success in the battle against criminal organizations.” Witnesses reported security officers removing motorcycles, televisions, air conditioners, and microwaves from the facility.

Following the government’s announcement of a full evacuation of the prison, Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos informed the state broadcaster VTV that the inmates were being relocated to another facility. Many relatives who had been residing within the prison alongside sentenced inmates gathered outside, unsure what to do next. The prison served also as a luxurious hideout for gang leaders, complete with a bank, baseball field, restaurant, and nightclub.

Tren de Aragua, known as Venezuela’s most influential local gang, is implicated in criminal activities throughout the country and has extended its influence into neighbouring nations. The gang boasts approximately 5,000 members and emerged about a decade ago. It is involved in various criminal activities, including kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking, prostitution, and extortion. Tren de Aragua is also linked to illegal gold mining.

The gang “exploited” Venezuela’s economic and political crises over the past decade to expand its operations and is now active in at least eight other Latin American countries.

The gang’s leader, Hector Guerrero Flores, who was serving a 17-year sentence in prison for murder and drug trafficking, was reported to have had significant freedom of movement in and out of Tocoron before the operation.

Before this operation, the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons had reported that the country’s prisons were suffering from overcrowding of over 50 percent and dismal detention conditions.

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