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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Venezuela seizes control of big gang-run prison

Maracay, Venezuela—Venezuela has said it seized control of a prison from the hands of a powerful gang with international reach, in a major operation involving 11,000 members of its security forces.

The Tocoron prison, reported to have 5,000 inmates, had served as the Tren de Aragua gang’s headquarters, where it had installed amenities such as a zoo, a pool and gambling rooms, according to an investigative journalist recently interviewed by AFP.

In a statement, the government congratulated law enforcement officers for regaining “total control” of the prison in the northern state of Aragua, adding the operation had “dismantled a center of conspiracy and crime.”

And in an official proclamation, President Nicolas Maduro praised “today’s great success in the fight against criminal organizations.”

After the government announced a complete evacuation of the jail, Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos told state broadcaster VTV that the inmates were being transferred to another facility.

Dozens of relatives who had been living inside the prison with sentenced inmates gathered outside for news.

“I am waiting to hear where they are taking my husband… I was living in there, but they kicked us out,” said Gladys Hernandez.

An AFP team saw security officers carrying motorcycles, televisions, air conditioners and microwaves out of the jail.

“That’s ours!” shouted one of the women outside.

It appeared some inmates escaped during the operation, as a later government statement announced a “second phase” of the operation for the “search and capture” of “fugitive criminals.”

Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s most powerful local gang, is involved in crime countrywide and has spread its tentacles to neighboring nations. AFP

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