The Peruvian National Police (PNP) has been dealing a forceful and systematic blow to the Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s most powerful transnational criminal organization, and a threat to security in the region. The criminal group that originated in Venezuela’s Aragua state claims Tocorón prison, in Aragua, as its headquarters, where its leader Héctor Rusthenford Guerrero Flores, alias Niño Guerrero, is incarcerated.
“The Peruvian Police has managed to arrest a significant number of members of the Tren de Aragua who engaged in human trafficking, illicit smuggling of migrants, contract killings, organized crime, and illegal mining,” Pedro Yaranga, a Peruvian expert on security and defense issues, told Diálogo on January 10. “They use business extortion, but also contract crimes. The areas where they operate in Peru are mainly territories located in the regions of Callao, La Libertad, and Arequipa.”
El Tren de Aragua has some 2,700 members. This organization is not only present in Venezuela and Peru, but also Chile and Brazil, in the region that borders Venezuela.
PNP General Ulises Guillén, head of the Anti-Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit, told InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, that according to police investigations, the Tren de Aragua has cells in the countries where Venezuelan migration is most prevalent.
According to Guillén, the investigation against the criminal group, with has the support of the Peruvian Attorney General’s Office, found that one of these cells was the Los Gallegos faction, which takes orders from alias HD and alias Niño Guerrero, the Tren de Aragua’s top leader.
“The presence of the Tren de Aragua [in Peru] is not recent, it has been present for some years,” Yaranga said. “They are now more notorious however, since they also commit crimes in cahoots with other gangs of Peruvian origin and some that even have international connections.”
Among the crimes that the Tren de Aragua carries out is illegal mining, Yaranga said. “In very remote areas of the country where there is no state presence, groups of small miners are constantly clashing for control of this area and hire criminal gangs to occupy the best territories for the exploitation of resources,” he said.
According to Gen. Guillén, members of the Tren de Aragua also control street prostitution and extortion, not only in the capital Lima, but also in 13 Peruvian cities.
Eduardo Pérez Rocha, former PNP director general, told Diálogo on January 9, that the Peruvian Police has been gathering information from their different police stations with help from Interpol to identify and capture the leaders of the Tren de Aragua in Peru.
On December 25, 2022, PNP General Carlos Céspedes, head of the Criminal Investigation Unit, said that following a crossfire, law enforcement officers arrested 15 Venezuelan members of the Tren de Aragua in a multifamily house in Lima, rescued a kidnapped freight carrier, and seized marijuana, coca paste, and cocaine hydrochloride, Peruvian newspaper El Popular reported.
“Authorities found three firearms and a lot of drugs. In the back, we found a war grenade and a mini clinic, there were wheelchairs and dialysis equipment for blood transfusions,” Gen. Céspedes said.
A December 2 joint operation in Arequipa between the PNP and the Attorney General’s Office led to the capture of 23 criminals, all members of the Tren de Aragua, who were involved in human trafficking, contract killings, extortion, and narcotrafficking, broadcasting corporation Swiss Info reported.
During the operation, authorities rescued 15 women victims of human trafficking, which according to the Attorney General’s Office is among the crimes that generates a great deal of money for criminals. The women, adults and teens, were recruited through social networks, where they were offered work in hairdressing salons and stores, and then transferred from Venezuela to Peru and forced into prostitution. So far, the criminal organization has more than 150 members in Arequipa.
On November 11, another operation in Lima led to the capture of 30 Los Gallegos members, who engaged in human trafficking, extortion, and contract killings, the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.
During these arrests, authorities seized handguns, long-range rifles, hand grenades, and large amounts of rounds of ammunition. The PNP also seized cash, credit cards, cell phones, computer chips, and vehicles.
“All these operations allow us to know that the Tren de Aragua is an organization with very defined patterns of criminal activities, such as human trafficking, extortion, and contract killings. As such, the work against this type of criminals must also rely on the participation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Migration,” Pérez Rocha concluded.