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Ronna Rísquez on Radar Opportunitas:

El Tren de Aragua, a Criminal Organization Defying Borders

With Guillermo Bolinaga and Ronna Rísquez

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Ronna Rísques on Radar Opportunitas:

El Tren de Aragua, a Criminal Organization Defying Borders

With Guillermo Bolinaga and Ronna Rísquez

guillermo-bolinaga
Opportunitas-Ronna-Rísquez
Opportunitas Advisors

May 13, 2024

El Tren de Aragua, considered by experts as the most powerful criminal organization in Venezuela and a transnational threat, has grown from its beginnings as a prison gang to become a criminal machinery with a wide repertoire of illicit activities. In this episode of “Radar Opportunitas,” we will explore its expansion in the region, its modus operandi from the Tocorón prison, to the authorities’ takeover of said prison.

For this episode we have with us Ronna Rísquez, an investigative journalist and security consultant with over 20 years of experience covering topics such as violence, citizen security, organized crime, megabands, and criminal governance. Ronna is one of the leading researchers and experts on El Tren de Aragua. Her book, El Tren de Aragua, gathers years of research and numerous interviews, narrating the story of this criminal gang involved in illegal activities that transcended Venezuela’s borders and spread throughout Latin America. Ronna is a collaborator of Insight Crime and was the editor of the Politics and Crime section at El Nacional newspaper in Caracas, and Director of Research at Runrunes, a Venezuelan digital media outlet.

The Beginnings

El Tren de Aragua was born in the Tocorón Prison in northern Venezuela, and in Ronna’s words, “arose as a consequence of the state’s absence [in the prison] where human rights violations of the incarcerated coexisted with neglect, lack of attention, and assistance to these individuals.” According to Rísquez, this gang was born pursuing a “combination of vindictive objectives and criminal objectives” as they self-managed the prison, assuming its operation and maintenance, developing an organization that later began to engage in crime “using the prison as a base of operations.”

The Crime Portfolio

Ronna assures that “this group has a great capacity for adaptation with which it has managed to develop a wide portfolio of crimes that includes approximately 20 illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and micro-trafficking. El Tren de Aragua has established itself in many countries in Latin America. Rísquez assumes that this group “has a relationship with the authorities of the countries where it has operations. It has crossed the borders of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela without major difficulty and has trafficked migrants from Chile to Panama.” According to Rísquez’s statement, this gang, due to its size and influence, “is respected by other organizations.”

Public Policies against Criminality

When asked about the viability of “exporting” the “Bukele model” to address insecurity and the problem of organized crime, Rísquez considers that these types of policies “can generate momentary results, but we have to see how sustainable they are in the long term.” On the contrary, her vision for addressing these issues requires solving “the problem of inequality and social exclusion of young people since, otherwise, there will continue to be a workforce available for all these groups.”

Impact on Private Sector Activity

Extortion is a common crime among criminal groups like El Tren de Aragua and directly affects the economy. Rísquez details how companies were forced to close due to the presence of El Tren de Aragua in the industrial zone of San Vicente in Venezuela. Ronna mentions that “not only because of the economic pressure in extortion collection, but also because of violent pressure, threats, at some point they shot at their offices, and at other times, they threw grenades.”

Ronna Rísquez’s expertise in security and organized crime has provided us with a profound insight into the operation of this criminal organization.

To learn more about these topics and to hear our guest’s opinion in detail, listen to the episode of Radar Opportunitas available at the following link
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