Tren de Aragua: Violent Transnational Venezuelan Gang Entered USA Through Southern Border

(Photo: Peruvian National Police)

Members of Congress have requested that Tren de Aragua, a violent Venezuelan gang now operating across the United States and throughout Latin America, be designated as a transnational criminal organization.

According to retired general Óscar Naranjo, a former vice president of Colombia and chief of the Colombian National Police, Tren de Aragua is “the most disruptive criminal organization operating nowadays in Latin America, a true challenge for the region.”

Tren de Aragua originated from construction labor unions in Venezuela and was later headquartered in the country’s Tocorón prison, which they controlled. Inside the prison, Tren de Aragua leaders lived in luxury.

When federal police raided the prison last year, they discovered the gang had amenities like a swimming pool, cable TV, air-conditioning, a center for horse racing bets (hipódromo), and a discotheque that sold alcohol and drugs. Astonishingly, they were also operating a bank that could accept deposits from outside the prison and paid 20% interest.

The gang, heavily armed with automatic weapons, managed operations from their cells, including extortion, drug trafficking, human trafficking, bribery, and murder. Although the police raid dismantled the prison headquarters, Tren de Aragua has only faced a temporary setback and continues to expand its operations into North and South America.

The gang is considered the strongest in Venezuela, with at least 4,000 foot soldiers. In 2015, they formed an alliance with Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Capital Command – PCC), a Brazilian criminal organization, allowing them to expand their operations throughout South America. Now, they operate not only in Venezuela but also in Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Peru.

In Colombia, they run sex trafficking networks and have clashed with the National Liberation Army, using heavy weapons like assault rifles and fragmentation grenades. They exploit internally displaced Colombians, migrants, and the desperately poor, subjecting them to debt bondage, forcing them to work off their debts in brothels.

Recently, there has been a significant rise in the activity of the Tren de Aragua in the United States. This gang’s expansion into the U.S. is partly attributed to increased migration from Venezuela, with many gang members entering through the southern border.

Between October 2022 and 2023, the U.S. Border Patrol detained 38 suspected Tren de Aragua members attempting to enter the country. Ironically, the violence perpetrated by Tren in Venezuela and across South America, with dismembered bodies turning up in Colombia and Chile, has led to an increase in illegal immigration, as people flee to escape the gang’s brutality.

Tren de Aragua has reportedly established a presence in several major U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Washington, D.C., and Baton Rouge, where the group operated a sex trafficking ring. Members have been arrested for carrying loaded firearms, violent crimes, and running sex trafficking networks.

In Chicago, confirmed Tren de Aragua member Adelvis Rodriguez-Carmona was arrested for his involvement in a drive-by shooting in the Little Italy neighborhood. The New York Police Department has identified Tren de Aragua as being involved in a series of cell phone thefts throughout the city.

Bernardo Raul Castro-Mata, a Tren de Aragua member, entered the U.S. illegally from Venezuela. He shot two police officers in New York and was a suspect in several robberies in Queens.

His gang-related tattoos are recorded in U.S. law enforcement databases. Many lawmakers and law enforcement officials argue that these tattoos should be used as grounds to bar individuals from legal immigration to the U.S.

Johan Jose Cardenas Silva, wanted in Peru for conspiracy and assault, was arrested in New York for criminal possession of a weapon and intent to sell controlled substances. Lawmakers feel that being wanted by a foreign police department should also be grounds for preventing someone from legally immigrating to the U.S.

In Miami, Tren de Aragua member Yurwin Salazar, an illegal alien also wanted by police in Venezuela, was charged with first-degree murder, armed home invasion, kidnapping, and carjacking, including the killing of a retired Venezuelan police officer. This case underscores the danger of allowing known and vicious criminals into the country and highlights how violence from Latin America is being exported to the U.S.

According to U.S. immigration officials, no one knows how many Tren de Aragua members have already entered the U.S.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) led colleagues in sending a letter to President Joe Biden, emphasizing the urgent need to dismantle the Tren de Aragua gang.

The letter stated, “If left unchecked, they will unleash an unprecedented reign of terror, mirroring the devastation it has already inflicted in communities throughout Central and South America, most prominently in Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.”

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