Some 11,000 members of the police deployed, dozens of armored vehicles… The authorities pulled out all the stops to regain control of Venezuela’s most famous prison, Tocoron (north-center), on Wednesday, which was entirely under the control of a criminal gang, and in front of which many women waited worriedly.

This will be completely emptied and the approximately 2,500 prisoners transferred to other prisons.

The prison was controlled by the Tren de Aragua gang, which spread its tentacles throughout Venezuela and at least eight other Latin American countries.

According to an investigation carried out by Venezuelan journalist Ronna Risquez, interviewed by AFP, the police until now remained on the outside and the management of the prison was in the hands of the gang which extorted prisoners but offered unusual services. with swimming pool, zoo, betting rooms and sports fields, as confirmed by several inmates’ wives.

In a press release, the Venezuelan government welcomed the “successful” operation and the “absolute control of the Tocoron penitentiary”.

The police invaded the prison around 7 a.m., throwing “grenades” and firing shots, according to testimonies to AFP from women who were inside but also from residents of the village of Tocoron, which adjoins the prison.

According to these testimonies, there was no response from the detainees. The operation lasted around twenty minutes. For the moment, it was not possible to obtain an official report.

Several detainees took advantage of the confusion to escape, according to a police source. The fate of the leader of the Tren de Aragua, Hector Guerrero Flores known as “Niño Guerrero” (child warrior), is not known.

The Tren de Aragua, which reportedly numbers some 5,000 criminals, appeared in 2014, operating in “classic” mafia activities: kidnappings, robberies, drugs, prostitution, extortion. It has extended its influence to other activities, some legal, but also to gold panning and illegal mining.

During the morning, more than a hundred women, some who lived inside, others flocking from neighboring towns, concentrated in front of the entrance in a tense face-to-face with the police.

“We want to see him to know if he is alive, if nothing has happened to him,” says Dailin Monasterios, 20, about his uncle, who is serving a sentence for homicide.

Accompanied by six other members of her family, she tries to see him among the detainees who appear periodically at the doors. Exhausted after several hours of walking and waiting, she collapsed in tears.

Meanwhile, police officers or soldiers load onto trucks: televisions, air conditioners, motorcycles, microwaves, bags and even an… exercise bike.

“Thieves. It’s all ours,” women shout. Insults fly “Dirty! Greedy!” “You are dogs, rats.”

Two buses come out. In one the men have their heads bowed and their hands behind their backs, probably handcuffed. In the second, they can get up. Some greet women, who blow them kisses or wave their hands.

Rubieles Mejias, 25, in a relationship for 7 years with an inmate, sentenced to 13 years in prison for homicide, walks tirelessly in full sun on the road to the penitentiary: “No matter how tired I am, I want to know.”

She says that police officers on the road told them that he had “killed them all” by miming cutting a drink.

“They are paying their debt but they are not animals. I am afraid that they (the army) will attack. It would be horrible. I am afraid that he will not come out of there alive,” she said.

Her “man” with whom she was to marry in 15 days, is one of the “Baptized”. In the prison these Christians who dress in white are a separate caste that the “malandros” (bandits) leave alone.

Rubieles lived “almost a year in the prison” and left when his 4-year-old daughter had to go to school. “In the prison it was quiet, there was a swimming pool, a zoo. My husband works in a small prison store,” explains the young woman who works in a hair salon. “He’s the one who helps me” financially.

She has not heard from her since the morning: “We are going to be transferred (…) I love you, I love you”, he says on the voice note that she listens to again.

According to the coordinator of the NGO “A Window for Freedom”, Carlos Nieto, “with this action, the government recognizes the prison chaos in which we live”.

20/09/2023 23:46:14 –         Tocoron (Venezuela) (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP