May 21, 2024

Venezuela has sent 11,000 troops to regain control of one of its biggest prisons that had been overrun by a powerful criminal gang.

The Tocorón prison, in the north of the country, was under the control of the Tren de Aragua mega-gang for years.

Members were able to roam freely around the prison, which had hotel-like facilities including a pool, nightclub and a mini zoo, local media reported.

Officials said the 6,000 inmates would be transferred to other prisons.

Many free residents were living inside the prison alongside sentenced inmates. After authorities announced that prisoners would be relocated, some relatives cried outside, unsure where they would go next.

“I am waiting to hear where they are taking my husband… I was living in there, but they kicked us out,” Gladys Hernández told AFP news agency.

It reported that journalists saw security guards carrying motorcycles, televisions and microwaves from the jail.

In a statement posted to X, formerly Twitter, the Venezuelan Interior Ministry congratulated officers for regaining the prison and dismantling “a centre of conspiracy and crime”.

The leader of the Tren de Aragua gang, Héctor Guerrero Flores, was serving a 17 year sentence inside the prison for murder and drug trafficking.

However, he was so powerful that he reportedly used to come and go freely from the prison before becoming a full-time inmate, according to Carlos Nieto, a coordinator with prison rights group A Window to Freedom.

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