- Venezuela retakes gang-controlled prison.
- Luxuries and criminal operations exposed.
- Tren de Aragua leader rumored escaped.
Venezuela has successfully regained control of the notorious Tocorón prison, previously held by the influential Tren de Aragua criminal gang. This operation involved the deployment of approximately 11,000 security personnel to the facility, which had been under inmate control for an extended period.
The prison had become infamous for its inmate freedom, offering hotel-like amenities, including a pool, nightclub, and even a mini zoo. The country’s interior minister has declared the intent to completely clear the prison of its criminal influence.
Tocorón hosted imprisoned criminals and their lovers and relatives, who relocated in to be near their loved ones. One woman, Gladys Hernández, shared her experience of being displaced from the facility while awaiting information about her husband’s relocation.
Tocorón had also served as the headquarters of the Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s most powerful transnational gang. From this prison, the gang orchestrated a criminal enterprise that extended across multiple Latin American nations, even reaching as far as Chile. Their illicit activities encompassed human trafficking, prostitution rings, and migrant extortion.
Inside the prison, inmates enjoyed a range of facilities, including game rooms and a small zoo featuring flamingos and an ostrich.
The prison also hosted horse race betting, operated a makeshift bank for loans, and featured a nightclub known as “Tokio.”
During Venezuela’s economic crisis, locals would reportedly visit Tocorón to purchase essential items that were scarce elsewhere, underscoring the extraordinary nature of the prison’s amenities.
Reports from AFP journalists indicated that security personnel removed motorcycles, televisions, and microwaves from the prison as part of the inmate transfer process.
Ronna Rísquez, author of the book “Tren de Aragua: The Gang That Revolutionized Organized Crime in Latin America,” highlighted that Tocorón functioned like a self-contained city. However, she cautioned that clearing the prison might not necessarily mark the end of the gang, as its leaders and cells abroad could continue their activities.
Speculation has arisen regarding the peaceful nature of the operation, with some suggesting that authorities may have negotiated with the Tren de Aragua. In response, the government of President Nicolás Maduro congratulated the security forces for “re-establishing order” at the prison and commended their “clean and quick actions.”
A subsequent statement announced a “second phase” of the operation aimed at capturing all escaped criminals. However, the government has not disclosed the names of those who escaped. Notably, Héctor Guerrero Flores, the leader of the Tren de Aragua gang, is rumored to be among the escapees, although this has not been officially confirmed. Guerrero Flores had been serving a 17-year sentence for murder and drug trafficking and reportedly wielded significant influence, freely entering and exiting the prison before becoming a full-time inmate. Carlos Nieto, a coordinator with the prison rights group A Window to Freedom, corroborated this information.