Venezuela said it had deployed more than 11,000 members of its security forces. (Representational)
Venezuela said Wednesday it had deployed more than 11,000 members of its security forces in an operation to crack down on gangs in one of the country's most violent prisons.
The Tocoron prison in the northern state of Aragua is run by a powerful gang, which oversees amenities such as a zoo, a pool and gambling rooms, according to an investigative journalist recently interviewed by AFP.
In a statement, the government said the operation was underway to "dismantle and put an end to organized crime gangs and other criminal networks" operating from Tocoron.
Tocoron is the headquarters of Venezuela's most powerful local gang, Tren de Aragua, which is involved in crime across the country and has spread its tentacles to neighboring nations.
According to an investigation by Venezuelan journalist Ronna Risquez, the gang has some 5,000 members.
Tren de Aragua emerged a decade ago, and is involved in kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking, prostitution and extortion. It is also involved in illegal gold mining operations.
The InSight Crime think tank says that it is also a major player in migrant smuggling.
Ronna Risquez told AFP the gang "took advantage" of Venezuela's economic and political crises over the past decade to expand operations, and is now present in at least eight other Latin American countries.
She said Tocoron is entirely in the hands of the gang.
"Inside, the men I have seen with guns are prisoners belonging to the organization. They guard the prison but not for the state."
She described the prison as a "hotel" for the gang leaders, with a bank, baseball field, a restaurant and even a disco club.
According to local media, the gang's leader is Hector Guerrero Flores, who was sentenced to prison for 17 years for murder and drug trafficking.
Nevertheless, he appears to come and go from the jail at will, said Risquez.
According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons (OVP), as a whole the country's jails are more than 50 percent overcrowded, with poor detention conditions.
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