Venezuela said yesterday it had seized control of a prison from the hands of a powerful gang with international reach, in a major operation involving 11,000 members of its security forces.
The Tocoron prison in the northern state of Aragua has served as the Tren de Aragua gang’s headquarters, where it had installed amenities such as a zoo, a pool and gambling rooms, according to an investigative journalist recently interviewed by AFP.
In a statement, the government congratulated law enforcement officers for regaining “total control” of the prison.
“This prison will undergo a process of restructuring and will be completely evacuated,” read the statement, adding the operation had “dismantled a centre of conspiracy and crime.”
Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos told state broadcaster VTV the inmates were being transferred to another facility, as images were shown of handcuffed prisoners sitting in rows on the ground.
It appeared some may have escaped during the operation, as a later government statement announced a “second phase” of the operation for the “search and capture” of “fugitive criminals.”
Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s most powerful local gang, is involved in crime countrywide and has spread its tentacles to neighbouring nations. According to an investigation by Venezuelan journalist Ronna Risquez, the gang has some 5,000 members.
It emerged a decade ago, and is involved in kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking, prostitution and extortion. Tren de Aragua is also involved in illegal gold mining.
A relative of an inmate is comforted by a member of the Bolivarian National Guard after authorities seized control of the Tocoron prison in Tocoron, Aragua State, yesterday. (AFP)