Venezuelan Gang-Run Prison Found To Have Pool, Zoo, Baseball Field
Authorities raided Venezuela‘s gang-run Tocorón prison last month, finding luxuries like a swimming pool, baseball field, nightclub, restaurants and bars, and even a mini zoo with flamingos. Described as a “city within a prison,” Tocorón served as headquarters for the Tren de Aragua gang.
According to Reuters, Venezuelan Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos said that most of the inmates have been located to other prisons. And while authorities also allegedly captured 88 Tren de Aragua members who escaped during the raid, they have not yet found the gang’s prominent leader — Héctor “El Niño” Guerrero.
After the raid, Ceballos said the country has regained “total control of this prison” and “completely dismantled” the gang. He did not offer additional information on the matter.
The Tocorón prison became a city behind bars for the Tren de Aragua gang
As per The Telegraph, the Tocorón prison thrived for 20 years, serving as the Tren de Aragua gang’s base. In fact, according to the outlet, gang members continued devising their crimes from inside the prison, including extortion and drug trafficking.
InSight Crime names Tren de Aragua as “Venezuela’s most powerful, homegrown criminal actor,” also noting Tocorón prison as their headquarters. As per their report, the gang is also involved in kidnappings, homicide, contraband, and human trafficking, and is spreading throughout Latin America in countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Chile.
Before the recent raid, gang members were able to live the semblance of a free life within Tocorón. They even had an unofficial bank, a nightclub named “Tokio,” and access to motorcycles. As per BBC, many inmates’ families were allowed to live with them in the prison.
Journalist Michel Baljet posted on X about his prior visits to the prison, recalling it as, “A one-of-a-kind place led by inmate Niño Guerrero, complete with a pool, zoo, disco, shops, and even a bank.”
Even more, aerial photography shows the transformation of Tocorón in the last 20 years. In the images, you can see how the grounds changed from a more standard prison — to an entire, bustling city:
11,000 Venezuelan soldiers and police raided Tocorón to take back control
A total of 11,000 Venezuelan authorities raided Tocorón last month, seizing items like sniper rifles, explosives, drugs, motorcycles, and even Bitcoin mining machines.
The government’s intervention was reportedly successful in taking back control of the prison, with authorities noting the transfer of 1,600 inmates to other prisons.
Interior Minister Ceballos said onsite, “We will succeed in capturing all of them, even internationally.”
“If any of the gang members, accomplices, or connections escape, we will capture them,” he added.
As you can see in Al Jazeera’s video, the thousands of troops were “heavily armed” while raiding Tocorón. While authorities seized a range of property and dismantled much of the grounds, the inmates’ wives gathered nearby.
One of the prisoners’ loved ones told reporters, “We are afraid because they are violating the prisoners’ rights.” Another said that police told them the prisoners would be killed, with one woman crying, “I brought everything, including money, but the police robbed me. All I want to know is if he is alive or dead.”
The Venezuelan government is deeming the operation a “success.” Still, The Washington Post reports that the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons estimates the total number of Tocorón prisoners at more than 3,000.
Between that number and the 1,600 inmates allegedly sent to other prisons, Observatory of Prisoners director Humberto Prado asked, “Where are the rest?”
Prado added that inmates “have been running and escaping for a long time now.” How? Possibly through tunnels, which some prisoners may have used to flee during the raid.
And if you’re wondering what happened to the Tocorón Zoo’s flamingos, we have good news. According to one X user, the flamingos were rescued and transferred to El Parque del Este recreation park in Caracas:
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