An aerial view of Caracas, Venezuela
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Despite Venezuelan authorities' claims of dismantling the Tren de Aragua criminal organization, recent events suggest the gang and its affiliates remain active, according to a report by InSight Crime.

On June 4, officers from Venezuela's criminal investigation unit (CICPC) arrested three alleged extortionists who are members of Los Negritos, a gang operating in Maracay's San Vicente neighborhood, which is known to be a hub for Tren de Aragua's activities.

In exchange for working under the mega-gang's direction, smaller gangs like Los Negritos benefited from impunity through agreements with government officials. Since March 6, security forces have conducted at least 22 operations in Aragua, resulting in 26 deaths and the capture of 85 alleged gang members, the outlet recounted. However, despite these efforts, authorities have avoided directly mentioning Tren de Aragua in their reports.

These security operations follow the government's takeover of Tocorón prison in September 2023, which was previously the nerve center for Tren de Aragua. Authorities declared the gang dismantled after this operation, but key leaders, including Hector Rusthenford Guerrero Flores, alias "Niño Guerrero," escaped and have not been recaptured. The loss of their headquarters and the absence of their leaders have led to shifts in criminal activity in Aragua.

Initially, the crackdown led to a temporary reduction in crime. However, as months passed without a new leader for Tren de Aragua, gang activities gradually resumed anyway. According to local police sources, robberies and burglaries, once controlled by the mega-gang, began to increase. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory reported a 100% increase in police lethality in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the previous year.

Smaller criminal gangs, such as El Flipper, led by Kenferson Sevilla Arteaga, have been significant targets in the ongoing security operations. Following the Tocorón raid, El Flipper gang members temporarily disappeared, allowing security forces to regain control in parts of Maracay. However, continued police operations and arrests indicate ongoing battles between the gang and authorities.

Similarly, the Luis Manilla gang, which succeeded the infamous El Conejo gang in Las Tejerías, is being actively pursued. Now under the leadership of Luis Rafael Santana Argueta, the gang faces significant pressure from security forces. Other gangs under the Tren de Aragua umbrella, such as Wilmer Guayabal, El Coty, and El Asdrubal, are also targeted by security operations, though officials have not explicitly acknowledged Tren de Aragua's influence over these groups.

Despite the government's extensive operations and the initial impact of the Tocorón prison takeover, the persistence of gang activity and the rise of smaller criminal groups highlight ongoing challenges in curbing organized crime in Aragua. The effectiveness of the security measures and the future of Tren de Aragua and its affiliates remain uncertain.

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