Salesmen in Caracas have come up with an enterprising response to the Venezuelan capital’s descent into criminal warfare: rebranding devotional statuettes as El Koki, the gang boss responsible for the mayhem.
Seen at stalls dedicated to Venezuela’s spiritualist tradition, the colorful statuettes of El Koki and his gang are priced at $20 for six, according to an image shared on Twitter by Impacto Venezuela on July 20.
Carlos Luis Revete, alias “El Koki,” is the longtime crime boss of Caracas’ populous Cota 905 neighborhood. His gunmen have been battling Venezuelan security forces since his aggressive takeover of the neighboring La Vega district in late 2020.
Revete and his lieutenants have seen their notoriety take off by evading capture through either cunning or corruption, even as their images are plastered over police ‘Wanted’ notices.
But these figures may also reveal a potential leadership change-up in the gang. Koki himself is featured, as is his lieutenant, Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi." But the third man believed to control the gang, Garbis Ochoa Ruiz, alias “El Garbis," and several other known lieutenants are absent.
Instead, the collection features “Delcy” and “Iris V” – a mocking reference to Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and Vice President of the National Assembly, Iris Varela.
Rodríguez was instrumental in creating controversial “Peace Zones," which ceded territorial control to El Koki's gang in 2017. Varela has been alleged to have had murky dealings with prison gang bosses, known as pranes, during her time as prisons minister from 2011 to 2020.
Conveniently, the figurines can be bought alongside devotional candles.
InSight Crime Analysis
Featuring blonde bouffant hairdos and pink crop tops, the statuettes are far from a true likeness of Koki and his alleged political patrons. It is unlikely this tongue-in-cheek ploy extended beyond a few stalls but it is a testament to how the crime boss is carving his place in Venezuela’s criminal folklore.
The models originate in Caracas’ underground legend of the corte malandra, or delinquent court – a spiritualist cult that idolizes a group of mythical bandits. Contemporary gangsters appeal to these criminal spirits for protection when confronting security forces, rival gangs, or prison sentences.
At the heart of the corte malandra is Ismael Sánchez. “Ismaelito” is said to have been a thief from a Caracas slum who stole from the rich to give to the poor, and on his death was called to the service of the neo-indigenous goddess María Lionza, according to El Estímulo.
The repackaging of this syncretic Robin Hood under Koki’s name is a nod to Revete’s self-image as a champion of Caracas’ urban poor. Despite his penchant for violence and extortion, the gangster is seen as a benefactor by some in the state-neglected community of the Cota 905, where he has been known to arrange neighborhood parties and distribute food and toys.
Meanwhile, the satirical labeling of two of Koki's gang after Delcy Rodríguez and Iris Varela likely refers to these politicians’ reputation as protectors and enablers of gang leaders.
SEE ALSO: Carlos Luis Revete, alias ‘El Koki’
Cults around criminal “saints” are a common feature of narcoculture across Latin America, reflecting the ambiguous social status of criminality in a region beset by massive inequality and abuses of formal power.
Perhaps the most well-known is Jesús Malverde – a 19th-century bandit from Sinaloa, north Mexico, now worshipped as a narco-saint or “angel of the poor.”