The presence in Chile of the Tren de Aragua criminal gang of Venezuelan origin has put authorities in the region on alert, especially in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
“The Tren de Aragua has logistics that allow it to extend its networks and actively participate in organized crime such as narcotrafficking and arms and human trafficking,” Valeska Troncoso, a researcher at the Center for Transnational Organized Crime Studies at the La Plata National University’s International Relations Institute in Argentina, told Diálogo July 10. “This criminal gang uses corruption and impunity as a means to obtain economic benefits and extend its networks and violence, which set off governments and security forces’ alarm bells in the hemisphere.”
In June, members of Chile’s Investigative Police (PDI) carried out an operation in Cerro Chuño, in the port city of Arica, where 11 Venezuelan criminals belonging to the Los Gallegos faction of the Tren de Aragua criminal gang were captured,Rodrigo Fuentes, head of the PDI’s Anti-Narcotics and Organized Crime Prefecture North, indicated. Authorities also found a body and seized weapons, ammunitions, drugs, and bulletproof vests, Chilean news site Cooperativa reported.
“This mafia operates in northern Chile and engages in woman trafficking for sexual exploitation as its main source of income, even more than drug and arms trafficking,”Bolivian newspaper El Deber reported. “In Bolivia there is a group that mainly operates on the border with Chile, but there are emissaries who capture Venezuelan and Colombian women in cities such as Santa Cruz de la Sierra, La Paz, Cochabamba, and Oruro. In narcotrafficking they are involved in the synthetic drug business.”
“This faction, Los Gallegos, operated very strongly and violently in Peru and Central American countries. We were able to establish their presence here and the places where they were establishing their homes […]. We can’t talk about addresses because they constantly change [homes] to hide with weapons, which led us to carry out much more extensive work,” Fuentes added.
The origin of the mega-gang in Venezuela dates back to late 2009, when, during construction on Venezuela’s railway system in Aragua, a workers’ union saw an opportunity to start illegal activities.
“In these organizations we have members who engage in human trafficking for sexual exploitation,” Fuentes said. “Others are in charge of narcotrafficking, of moving weapons from one sector to another; and the hitmen kill those who do not obey or do not comply with the payment, by order of a leader of the organization.”
With the massive diaspora of refugees, a result of the economic collapse in Venezuelacaused by the Nicolás Maduro regime, the gang seized the opportunity and spread where Venezuelan refugees are easy prey, Argentine newspaper Clarín reported.
“The violent methods used by this criminal organization, currently present in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, is a strategy to control certain territories where other criminal organizations operate,” Troncososaid.
Chilean police sources told Clarín that the pursuit of the group is “very complex. First, because they entered the country illegally and have multiple false Venezuelan identities. Second, because they rotate all their operations among different points. They never establish the same person in one place. They do so only for short periods of time, which makes it difficult to track them.”
However, Sergio Muñoz, PDI general director, told Cooperativa that they were the first police force to dismantle a faction of this organization. “We did it in February by dismantling one of its factions,”he said.
“We won’t rest until we dismantle all the factions found in our country. We’vealready said it; it’s not a pyramidal organization. This [group] has links in different parts. We know that they could be located in different parts of the country,”Muñoz concluded.