Police in Venezuela have killed a notorious gang leader while others are reportedly hiding in Colombia, raising questions about the state of one of Caracas’ most powerful criminal structures and its leader, El Koki.
On August 4, around 50 agents of Venezuela’s Special Actions Forces (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales – FAES) stormed a residential block in Sucre municipality of Miranda state, where they shot and killed Leonardo José Polanco Angulo, alias “Loco Leo,” the leader of a gang controlling Caracas’ El Valle neighborhood. Loco Leo is a key ally of Carlos Luis Revete, alias “El Koki,” who has long been considered Caracas’ most powerful gang leader.
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The shock offensive took place mere days after Interpol Venezuela designated Loco Leo as the country’s second most wanted criminal. FAES commander Miguel Domínguez later reported on Twitter that Polanco Angulo’s mother, wife and sister had been detained in the operation.
The arrests appear to be part of a broader strategy to go after people close to gang leaders. El Koki’s former partner was arrested, as were two relatives of his lieutenant Carlos Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi.” Venezuelan media reported that Loco Leo was located by monitoring and triangulating cell phone calls, including those of his family members.
Reports have also emerged that the group’s leaders have fled across the border into the Colombian department of Norte de Santander, though their presence in the region is based on unconfirmed reports from Colombian and Venezuelan police.
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The death of Loco Leo is a victory for President Nicolás Maduro in his recent offensive against El Koki’s gang members, who no longer feel safe in Caracas.
El Koki’s gang has been battling with authorities since June, when the gang invaded La Vega, a neighborhood of 120,000 people to the southwest of the gang’s stronghold of Cota 905.
The warring came to a head when El Koki’s gunmen opened fire on the central police and intelligence service headquarters in Caracas known as El Helicoide. The brazen July 7 shooting was apparently retaliation for Loco Leo being wounded in a police shootout.
Venezuela’s government responded in full force to the gunfire days later. Some 800 troops raided Cota 905, conducting house-to-house searches amid shootouts with gang members.
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Since then, authorities have established checkpoints all across the sprawling hillside district.
Loco Leo’s killing is now another blow to the group, and other leaders appear to be on the run. El Vampi is reported to be holed up in the Colombian border city of Cucutá.
El Koki also has been reported in the city, though evidence to support the claim he is there to launder money and establish criminal connections is thin. Though Venezuelan criminal groups, such as the Tren de Aragua gang, have established themselves in the lawless Colombian frontier with Venezuela, the region often serves as a hideout for gang leaders, such as the late Willy Meléan who was shot dead in Santander in November 2020.
If El Koki is in Cúcuta, it’s most likely because he no longer feels safe in his Caracas stronghold. In the last month, 42 of his men have been arrested, while dozens of others have been killed.
Venezuelan authorities are not likely to let him reclaim Cota 905 soon. El Koki’s attack on Caracas’ central police station humiliated the Venezuelan government, which is facing regional elections in November this year, and needs to appear strong. Carmen Meléndez, Venezuela’s Minister of Justice and Peace, directed the July 8 police invasion of the Cota 905 neighborhood, and she will participate in the August 8 primaries for the ruling government party to stand as its mayoral candidate for Caracas’ Libertador municipality in the November elections. She has loudly lauded the government crackdown.
What happens after the elections may indicate where the gang and El Koki stand with Maduro. The Venezuelan government has a history of subduing Caracas’ gangs to punish leaders who offend. Such was the case with the 2020 crackdown on the Wilexis gang when it apparently sided with the Venezuelan opposition.
The government may decide El Koki and his gang have gained too much notoriety and invite one of the militant pro-government colectivos in their stead.