Armed Groups Spread Crime and Chaos in Venezuela Mining Region

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Three violent events in less than two weeks attributed to pro-government criminal groups in Venezuela’s Bolívar state show how far these groups have expanded and strengthened in a mining zone where they operate.

Businessman Anderson Misael Guevara Seijas, who died in a shootout in downtown San Félix, is the latest casualty in a rapidly growing series of confrontations between criminal groups called “colectivos” over who runs the town’s extortion operations, according to newspaper El Nacional. A major port, San Félix is the most important city in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar.

SEE ALSO: The Devolution of State Power: The ‘Colectivos’

Business owners in the area have reported being the victims of extortion by the so-called colectivos, whose original function was to provide private security to establishments in the region.

“In the beginning [the colectivos] killed or beat anyone they found committing a robbery, an assault or any other crime, which made the business owners feel pretty safe. But later things changed, and the robberies went back up, which caused their relationship to break down,” one victim told El Nacional.

Colectivos originated in Venezuela’s capital city of Caracas but are now present in at least 16 states. While their origins may have been at least somewhat legitimate, they have now morphed into a type of criminal organization, running extortion, kidnapping and smuggling, among other criminal markets.

InSight Crime Analysis

The expansion and consolidation of pro-government colectivos in Bolívar state are the new  ingredients in the complex criminal situation brewing in Venezuela’s top mining region.

Reports from both the media and Venezuelan legislators on violent crimes this year have shown that a diverse collection of criminal groups now operate in Bolívar’s mining area.

“Pranes,” which started out as leaders of Venezuelan prison gangs, have expanded their territory beyond prison walls and now control illegal mining, sending profits to officials from the country’s security forces. Colombian groups have muscled in as well, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and dissident groups from the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), often referred to as the ex-FARC mafia.

A recent InSight Crime investigation showed that the ELN has presence in at least 12 states in Venezuela. Bolívar has some of the highest numbers. The guerrilla group has allegedly perpetrated many deadly confrontations with other criminal groups as they struggle for control of the area’s gold mining.

San Félix lies outside of Bolívar’s mining country, but it does serve as a major entry point to the region. The presence of pro-government colectivos in the south of Venezuela could be the result of a concerted effort to place representatives from a criminal structure loyal to President Nicolás Maduro in one of the country’s largest economic powerhouses. This comes at a cost as clashes between criminal groups and the death toll rise.

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