Thirty-three was the balance of victims of the police operation carried out in Cota 905, a poor neighborhood in Caracas, capital of Venezuela, in early July. More than 3,000 police took part in the three-day action aimed at capturing criminals from a megagang that dominated the area and had attacked the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Guard that week.
Arrests and seizures were carried out, but the main thugs – among them, the famous El Koki and his allies “El Vampi” and “El Garbis” – managed to escape, despite the US$1.5 million reward for information leading to the arrest. of the trio. Most of the deaths, according to the Victim Monitor – a journalistic investigation project – were caused by stray bullets and extrajudicial executions. Only four victims were criminals, according to Victim Monitor.
The intense exchange of fire that took place in those days in Caracas came to remind us of the deterioration of the security state in Venezuela 20 years after the rise of the Chavez regime. Megaquadrilhas, such as those operating in Cota 905, have multiplied across the country and dominate regions where there is no police presence.
There are currently at least 13 mega-gangs, made up of between 100 and 300 members, operating in Venezuela, he told People’s Gazette Iván Simonovis, Venezuelan criminal science specialist. Some of them are going international, as is the case of Tren de Aragua, which was born in the state of Aragua, but whose presence has already spread to other countries, such as Ecuador and Peru, where criminals of this organization were captured.
For Simonovis, a policy adopted by the Chavez regime in 2012 was one of the pillars for the growth of criminal activity in the country, especially in urban centers: the creation of the so-called “peace zones”. Under this program, the government proposed that criminals give up their weapons and, in return, receive financial incentives to create lawful businesses. But what happened, in practice, is that the police were prevented from entering the areas controlled by these criminals, who were still using the money to buy more weapons, according to journalistic investigations.
The intention of the dictatorship, in Simonovis’ opinion, was to make an agreement with the criminals so that an eventual popular mobilization against the regime would be stifled, since the police would not be able to control this situation in the most remote areas of Caracas.
Other specialists on the subject agree that the “zones of peace” ended up strengthening the mega-gangs. Politics “empowered neighborhood gangs under the modality of the politics of understanding, the seed that gave rise to the permissiveness for gangs to evolve,” sociologist Luis Cedeño, executive director of Associação Paz Ativa, told El Universal newspaper.
For Fermín Mármol García, a Venezuelan criminal lawyer, the structure of crime in the country has changed a lot in the last 21 years. “The criminal map in Venezuela is very complex these days,” he said in a recent interview with journalist Ríos Lugo. “We have structures of violent organized crime that control territories in urban and rural areas, of ideological and non-ideologized court, national and foreign, that do not care about anonymity and have great weapons,” explained the expert, noting that levels of violence in Venezuela are very high.
The homicide rate in the country in 2020 was 45.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, far above any of the other countries considered violent in Latin America. Last year, Brazil reported a homicide rate of 27.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP).
In addition to the mega gangs, other types of criminal structures are active in the country, according to Simonovis: the armed groups, which act under the tutelage of the dictator Nicolás Maduro and are around 14 in the country; drug trafficking organizations, the best known being the Cartel de los Soles, controlled by the Venezuelan military; the guerrillas, as dissidents from the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (Army for National Liberation); and also the presence of terrorist groups.
Regarding the guerrillas, Simonovis says that the FARC has at least 200 men in at least eight Venezuelan states, while the ELN has a much broader presence, with more than 2,000 members operating in 12 Venezuelan states.
On terrorist groups, he explains that Venezuela has become a place where they come to launder money – not to carry out attacks. “The biggest proof of this is the presence [na Venezuela] from an Iranian airline called Mahan Air, sanctioned by governments like Germany and England for being a company that lends itself to transporting weapons and terrorists in different parts of the world. This airline has landed at least 17 times in Puerto Cabello and we don’t know why,” said the expert.
“We have the entire length of our country dedicated to sheltering, with the consent of the regime, criminals of all kinds,” he said.