Aragua conflict enters new phase (Updated)

San-Vicente6The current battle in Aragua State between the authorities and criminal gangs took a sudden shift for the worse after a massive police and military operation was held yesterday in Barrio San Vicente (located in the capital, Maracay – Venezuela’s fifth-largest city).

In the early hours of Wednesday, almost 2,000 (yes, two *thoursand*) members of several local and national forces made their entrance into the neighborhood. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the gang: Helicopter, SWAT teams, snipers, armored vehicles, plenty of patrol cars and motorcycles. Even the Navy was involved with three naval units (probably to cover Lake Valencia…?).

After hours of tension and several shootouts, the authorities are calling it a success. According to press reports, three gang members were killed (others report seven and even ten) and a large number of arrests were made (versions go from 200 to 800). The local police station (which was controlled by gang members) was recovered.

With the lack of reliable official information, it’s difficult to fully understand the scope of this operation, but what else can be expected if briefings about police stings come from a statement of the ruling political party instead of the proper State channels.

The place was seen as the most dangerous spot in Aragua and a sanctuary for criminals, but some locals denied this label and complained that police is responsible for the situation. They dared to call San Vicente a “peace zone”.

The authorities are saying this won’t be the only crackdown and they’ll act against those criminal gangs and their possible connections with pranes of the nearby Tocoron Prison (you know, the one with the discotheque). But even so, some of those gangs have supporters: This week, there was a protest in support of “Johan Petrica”, one of the main suspects in the recent wave of events. The people called Petrica “a honorable man” who “…works for the community”.

Is this the beginning of a broad offensive against gangs and pranes or this action will end up as only a PR gesture? With the next few days (or weeks), we”ll find out. Even if the hegemony is doing its job of keeping this well hidden.

UPDATE: Journalist Airam Fernandez (from news website Contrapunto) was today on the official press conference held by General Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of Aragua State’s Integrated Operative Defense Zone (ZODI), who offered details of yesterday’s operation. Here’s the full report of the conference from Agence France-Press (AFP).

The San Vicente raid involved 1500 agents of multiple police and military forces. The final bodycount is of three delinquents killed (two of them minors), all members of a band named “Tren of Aragua”. Four weapons (including a grenade) and two pieces of drug seized. (That’s it?). Chourio also confirmed that this operation isn’t related at all to the grenade attacks of last week. 835 people were detained in the raid, so far only 16 have been formally charged in court.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.