An armored police vehicle runs past a car on its way down a narrow street in a slum of Caracas, during an operation this Friday to regain control of the place after almost two days of fighting with criminal gangs.
There are no official figures for deaths or injuries in these shootings that began on Wednesday in the west of the Venezuelan capital. Local media report a dozen deaths, including officials, criminals and civilians hit by stray bullets.
“We have made progress in dismantling the crime structures that had been installed in these territories, with clear pretensions of sowing terror and breaking the peace of Caracas,” Interior Minister Carmen Meléndez wrote on Twitter.
“We have freed citizens who had been kidnapped by antisocials,” he added.
Clashes between police and criminal gangs spread terror in the Cota 905 neighborhood of Caracas this week. Photo: AFP
The band of “el Koki”
About 800 officials are part of the operation to capture the Cota 905, a neighborhood where the gang known as “Koki” operates, for whom the government offers a $ 500,000 reward for information that allows it to be captured.
“It was like a war! We protected ourselves and waited for it to happen,” Jesús Rey, a 40-year-old mechanic who lives in the area, told AFP.
“They were shooting from everywhere“said a young woman, who asked to keep her name safe.
“We went into a brick house. There were 50 of us. We waited all night until this morning it calmed down and we were able to leave,” he added, on Friday night, when the unrest continued in that area of the capital of Venezuela shaken by the poverty and violence.
Minister Meléndez published photographs of makeshift trenches with sandbags and guard posts built with logs and canvas roofs at Cota 905.
The police are looking for members of the “El Koki” gang, which is terrorizing a popular neighborhood in Caracas. Photo: AFP
The authorities searched several houses looking for “Koki” and other lieutenants of the gang, who allegedly fled the area.
Local media published videos of sectors of the occupied area, where the floor is covered by a carpet of shell casings and buckets full of ammunition.
In the clashes, high-caliber weapons, grenades, tracer bullets were used, as well as drones with which the gangs had a broad view of the areas they controlled.
The Cota 905 neighborhood is heavily guarded by Venezuelan police after the bloody shootings this week. Photo: AFP
Accusations of Nicolás Maduro
The government links the clashes with these gangs, which have also affected other areas of western Caracas, with an alleged plot by the opposition to “destabilize” the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
“The enemies of the country intend to sow anxiety through the financing of criminal gangs, we will not sit idly by,” Maduro wrote on Twitter.
“We are acting forcefully, adhering to the laws,” he added.
Escape from panic
Neighbors in the areas affected by the fighting fled their homes and seek refuge in the homes of friends and family.
Due to roadblocks, many walked several kilometers to points such as the Caracas land terminal to leave the city.
More than 160 organizations denounced in a statement the “appearance of the phenomenon of internal displacement “ following the clashes.
Among them, the NGO Otro Enntación collects everything from mattresses to food to house children and adolescents fleeing Cota 905.
The Cota 905 neighborhood in Caracas came under fire this week. Photo: AP
“Since we left, they checked our bags in several police records,” a resident of Cota 905 told AFP under reservation, who took a bus to San Juan de Los Morros, in Guárico state, about 130 km from Caracas .
“I’m leaving very worried because the rest of my family is staying,” she confided.
Sonia Mota, a 51-year-old teacher, also plans to leave the capital for Guarenas, a dormitory town about 30 km away. “This morning we were awakened by grenades,” he said Friday. “It is terrible to live in this distress,” he became distressed.
Mota lives in El Cementerio, a neighborhood near Cota 905, where this Friday there was a hostage taking with alleged criminals who were injured by the police when they tried to flee the sector.
In June, another clash between police and gangs left at least three dead.
Venezuela registered 12,000 deaths in violent acts in 2020 according to the NGO Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia (OVV), a rate of 45.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, seven times higher than the world average.