The Venezuelan government has retained control of a prison ruled by the country’s most powerful gang, who built its own mini-city within the prison walls with a zoo, club and swimming pool.
The government on Wednesday deployed 11,000 police and soldiers to the Tocorón prison, which also served as the headquarters of the Tren de Aragua in the north-central state of Aragua.
The notorious criminal group set up small huts where some members lived with their families and had access to satellite TV and internet.
It is said that the Tren de Aragua Zoo housed tigers, lions, crocodiles and pumas that were used to challenge prisoners and the authority of government officials.
The gang had its own nightclub called Tokyo (Spanish for the Japanese city), where prisoners regularly partied and a restaurant where prisoners dined with their visitors. There was also a baseball field, a room where gambling activities took place and another where inmates illegally mined cryptocurrency.
The Tren de Aragua built an underground swimming pool that was located next to a children’s playground.
Venezuelan security forces raid the Tocorón prison center in Aragua state on Wednesday as part of an operation to take control of the prison
Prisoners from the Tocorón Detention Center lined up outside the prison building before authorities began transferring them to other detention centers
The Tren de Aragua gang had its own zoo in the prison. It reportedly used its lions, tigers, pumas and crocodiles to threaten prisoners and government officials
Venezuelan police officers have seized dozens of motorcycles that the Tren de Aragua had for personal use in the prison
“I congratulate the more than 11,000 members of the FANB (National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela) and the police for the successful intervention of the Tocorón Detention Center,” President Nicolás Maduro wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. ‘We are on our way to a Venezuela free of criminal gangs!’
Bodycam footage of the raid showed officers and soldiers storming one of the prison buildings, where a tunnel had been built. The underground passageway had several exits, including one that led to a lake where three wooden rafts were stationed on the shore.
“We put an end to the irregularities in this space, we discovered some tunnels, in that tunnel system we prevented a mass escape and we checked all those deprived of their liberty,” Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos said.
Security forces captured two prisoners who fled the prison during the raid, which the Venezuelan regime dubbed Operation Liberation Cacique Guaicaipuro.
The government began transferring prisoners to other prisons late in the afternoon as families complained they were kept in the dark about their new locations.
Tren de Aragua leader Héctor ‘Niño’ Guerrero was reportedly warned days in advance that Tocorón prison would be raided and fled with other gang members
Police and soldiers inspect the motorcycles found on Wednesday at the Tocorón prison center in Aragua, Venezuela
Prisoners in Tocorón’s prison center sit next to each other after 11,000 police and soldiers stormed the prison and took back control on Wednesday
Business owners in the area were told to close their businesses the afternoon before the operation took place, news channel NTN24 reported.
Electricity and telephone signals were temporarily suspended hours before security forces entered the prison.
The Ministry of Communications announced Thursday afternoon that at least 60 fugitive prisoners had been captured and security forces were working to find the other fugitives, although the exact number was not released.
However, the government remains mum on the whereabouts of Tren de Aragua leader Héctor “Niño” Guerrero, 39.
Guerrero, according to a ballot sheet obtained by the media, was tipped off about the impending raid and escaped earlier this week with several other high-ranking gang members.
Venezuelan authorities said two prisoners were captured on Wednesday after fleeing the Tocorón detention center in Aragua, Venezuela.
Rifles, rifles, ammunition and grenades were found Wednesday during a search of the Tocorón prison center in Aragua, Venezuela
He was serving a 17-year sentence for murder and drug trafficking and had previously escaped from prison, but was reportedly free to leave prison whenever he wanted.
Under Guerrero, the Tren de Aragua enriched itself through extortion, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and arms and drug trafficking.
The gang has approximately 5,000 members and is present in the states of Bolivar, Carabobo, Guárico and Lara, Miranda and Sucre.
Members of Tren de Aragua have also branched beyond the borders of Venezuela to Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Perú.