Ten years ago, Tren de Aragua was a little more than a prison gang, confined to the walls of the Tocorón penitentiary and largely unheard of outside its home state of Aragua in Venezuela. Today, it is one of the fastest-growing security threats in South America.
Tren de Aragua’s transnational network now stretches into Colombia, Peru, Chile, and beyond. It has established some of the most far-reaching and sophisticated migrant smuggling and sex trafficking networks seen in the region. And it has spread terror in host countries and among the Venezuelan migrant population, which it has ruthlessly exploited.
But the seizure of Tocorón by Venezuelan authorities in September 2023 directly attacked the nerve center of this network. Now, a new, more uncertain, era is beginning for Venezuela’s most notorious criminal export.
Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s most powerful home-grown criminal syndicate has just lost its home base, while its leadership is in the wind. A new, and potentially more dangerous, chapter has begun in its criminal evolution.
In the five years since Tren de Aragua first appeared in Colombia, it has built a far-reaching regional network, establishing a permanent presence in Colombia, Peru, and Chile, with further reports of their presence in Ecuador, Brazil, and Bolivia.
Venezuela’s most notorious gang has built a criminal empire stretching from Venezuela to Chile by taking advantage of desperate migrants, first through migrant smuggling on a scale never before seen in South America, and then by building organized, integrated, multinational sex trafficking networks.