In mid-September, 44 criminals, among them 36 Venezuelans, six Chileans, one Dominican, and one Colombian, stood trial for various crimes committed in the extreme north of Chile. They all belong to the violent Tren de Aragua cell known as Los Gallegos, which wreaks havoc not only in Chile, but also in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.
Chilean prosecutors requested seven life sentences against the leaders of this organization. The gang is accused of 22 crimes including homicides, drug trafficking, human trafficking for sexual exploitation, kidnapping, robbery, and extortion, among others.
“The penetration strategy to carry out the Tren de Aragua’s crimes involves the creation of different networks that may or may not be connected, to carry out their illicit businesses,” Guillermo Holzmann, an international and defense analyst and academic at the University of Valparaíso, Chile, told Diálogo on September 8. “They incorporate legal companies to develop the functions of logistics, transportation, and storage, and even get financing to carry out money laundering, which makes their prosecution much more complex.”
The Criminal Analysis and Investigative Focus Unit of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office of Arica and Parinacota, in northern Chile, presented the indictment in mid-June, which described the modus operandi of the organization that took root in Chile, news platform Bio-Bío Chile reported.
Between June 2022 and January 2023, authorities seized more than 80 kilograms of various narcotics from the group. In addition, they seized conventional weapons, weapons of war and rounds of ammunition, which were used to commit the crimes for which the 44 defendants are currently behind bars. According to Bío-Bío Chile, the group’s objective was to exercise territorial control over the areas where they lived.
“The Gallegos in Chile were led from Peru by the accused Felix Anner Castillo Rondón, alias Arnel, who gave the orders for the trafficking of illicit substances, the execution of homicides, and everything related to the crimes of his gang in Chile,” the Prosecutor’s Office indicated in a statement. “The gang used ledgers to keep records of their criminal scheme, with money being taken mainly to Peru for conversion into soles and dollars, and thus laundering its origin.”
Raid in Peru
The Gallegos are also active in Peru, where the criminal group has members who handle weapons and others who collect money from extortion and contract killings. On August 17, three people were killed on public roads in the province of Cañete.
“In this case the gang kills according to an order. Here there isn’t the normal hired hitman figure that we know, where there is a promise of money,” a spokesman for the Homicide Division of the Peruvian National Police told the press. “Here there is an order from a leader who decides to kill a person who does not pay the blackmail, to ‘give permission’ for a legal business to continue.”
The fight against the Tren de Aragua and its cells is no easy task, as they enbed themselves in society through legal organizations, which makes it difficult to eradicate them.
“However, thanks to the authorities, this cartel is today in its minimum expression, because there comes a time when for any organization the cost against the benefit calls not to stay or to leave an area,” Mario Carrera, regional prosecutor of Arica, told Chilean daily La Segunda. “This is one of the reasons behind the reduction of their actions, added to the fact that we now have a significant number of their members in custody.”
“International agencies such as Europol [European Police], Interpol, the FBI, DEA [US Drug Enforcement Administration], and other agencies, are busy stopping the final objective of the Tren de Aragua: money laundering. The crime generated in Latin America and the Caribbean ends up in other networks, which is of concern to the national security of all countries because of terrorist financing,” Holzmann said. “The training provided by the DEA, the FBI, the police, or police services, even prosecutors’ offices in Latin American countries, is crucial.”
“However, there are weaknesses in some countries in the proper management of their databases, which allow them to track the connections and networks of the gangs, to follow the thread to establish the points of convergence or where the criminal plot can be identified. These tasks must be improved in order to continue going after criminal gangs such as the Tren de Aragua,” Holzmann concluded.