Capture of Venezuela Mega-Gang in Peru is Ominous Sign for Region

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The recent capture of several members of a Venezuela criminal group in Peru illustrates how criminals in the troubled Andean nation are migrating and sometimes carrying their criminal habits with them.

On August 3, authorities in Peru detained five members of a dangerous Venezuelan criminal organization, or what is commonly referred to as a “mega-gang,” known as the Train of Aragua (El Tren de Aragua) that operates in one of Venezuela’s central coastal states, El Nacional reported.

According to Juan Carlos Sotil, the head of the Criminal Investigation Directorate (Dirección de Investigación Criminal – DIRINCRI) at Peru’s National Police, at least 15 Train of Aragua members have entered the country in recent weeks, El Universal reported.

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“They have come to Peru to commit a series of crimes, primarily against financial institutions, [and] to establish a headquarters for their criminal organization,” Sotil said during a press conference, El Siglo reported.

Authorities arrested the five individuals after a follow-up investigation in the North Plaza shopping center in the Pacific port city of Callao, just west of the capital Lima. The individuals had a map of a bank they were allegedly going to rob, as well as guns and a type of grenade commonly used by criminals in Venezuela.

Among those detained was Edinson Agustín Barreda, alias “Catire,” who confessed to being a member of the group. He has allegedly participated in at least six murders in Venezuela, according to Perú 21. Barreda also reportedly recorded his crimes and shared images of his decapitated victims.

InSight Crime Analysis

Since the start of mass migration of Venezuelans to places like Aruba, Panama, Colombia and the United States, migrants have been captured committing petty crimes.

However, the capture of several Train of Aragua members in Peru and the suspicion that they were trying to set up shop in the country is the first sign of the possible expansion of Venezuelan organized crime groups in the region.

The Train has more than 200 members who operate on the streets and thousands more that work from within Venezuela’s prisons, including Héctor Guerrero, alias “Niño,” the group’s leader who is serving time in the Tocorón prison where he is the shot-caller, or “pran,” as they are known inside the jails.

Over the course of the last six years, Guerrero has strengthened the group from behind bars. He has planned kidnappings, assassinations, extortions, and robberies, while also controlling microtrafficking and the safe passage of drugs passing through the heart of the country from neighboring Colombia.

This shows that — just like in other prisons across the region — the criminal activities of some criminal groups do not stop while their members are in prison. In fact, in some occasions they are strengthened and expanded into other territories when crime groups are able to convert prisons into their own operational centers, often as a result of inaction on the part of authorities and the complicity of corrupt officials.

Guerrero is considered one of the pranes “spoiled by the [Venezuelan] government and [Prison Minister] Iris Valera,” according to a report from El Estímulo. In 2016, authorities promised to implement a new system in the Tocorón prison in which the state exerts control and prisoners do not have any privileges, according to El Estímulo. However, Guerrero continues to be the governing force in the prison two years later.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela: A Mafia State?

Venezuela’s political crisis has spurred massive migration. According to the Venezuelan criminologist Fermín Mármol García, who studies the mega-bands, it’s possible that members of these criminal groups — who are also affected by the country’s troubled state — migrate to other countries to revive their criminal activities as a form of survival.

“Venezuela is a country without any restraint, without any controls on migration or the movement of goods by land, and this is the route that the Train of Aragua members are using. This situation favors organized crime,” he told InSight Crime.

“Since 2014, there have been reports that not only professionals are emigrating from Venezuela, but that there has been an exodus of criminals leaving with the intention of exporting their modus operandi. This is why it is necessary that investigative police networks are established in the region to share information about these organizations,” Mármol García added.

In recent weeks, authorities in Peru have also captured members from other Venezuelan criminal groups involved in a variety of crimes. Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has allegedly received a list of at least 15 “new” Venezuelan criminals that are in the country, the PanAm Post reported.

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