A short cellphone video of a "mega-gang" leader in Venezuela shows him relaxed, partying and seemingly thumbing his nose at the government.
The video is of Carlos Luis Revette, reportedly one of the country's most wanted criminals and the leader of a mega-gang with a stranglehold on a hillside district outside Caracas, known as Cota 905. As a youth with the camera turns, Revette appears, smiling and with what looks to be a pistol in his waistband.
The video has proliferated on social media in large part because Revette, also known as “El Coki,” is accused of a number of crimes, including robbery, homicide, and drug trafficking, according to news website El Cooperante. He has continued to evade an arrest warrant first issued in 2013, even though the Venezuelan National Police raided the Cota 905 district in 2015, in an effort to catch gang leaders, such as Revette.
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The first such raid — dubbed Operation Liberate and Protect the People (Operación Liberación y Protección al Pueblo — OLP) — ended with 15 people dead, according to news website Efecto Cocuyo. While police officials later claimed that all those killed had been gang members, only six had criminal records, said the article.
As for Revette, he found refuge in a prison just hours before the operation.
InSight Crime Analysis
The video itself is short and means little in and of itself, but it is a symbol of what is seen as an abdication of the state in areas like Cota 905.
To be sure, the mega-gangs’ grip on poor urban districts has largely been facilitated by one of President Nicolás Maduro’s failed policies: the creation of so-called “peace zones.” These are areas where security forces maintain only a sporadic presence.
And, as Operation Liberate and Protect the People illustrated, when authorities do enter, there is ample time for well-placed criminals to evade capture.
The idea behind the peace zones, first implemented in September 2013, was that a heavy police and military presence was exacerbating conflict in certain areas. By keeping forces out except by court order, the logic went, violence would drop and economic growth could be encouraged by the state.
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But the reality is that peace zones gave the gangs “free reign over territories,” such as Cota 905, Luis Izquiel, a Venezuelan lawyer and criminologist, told InSight Crime. Those same territories that were declared peace zones soon turned into bases for kidnappings, car thefts, drug sales, and killings, he added.
These zones (which no longer exist according to government officials) allowed the gangs to grow in numbers and amass better weaponry, such as assault rifles and grenades. That kind of heavy firepower means the police are now at risk of being outgunned.
In sum, Izquiel believes the Venezuela state and police have neither the will nor the ability to dislodge these mega-gangs.
“It’s a complete abandonment [of the state],” Izquiel said.