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Death of a Pran: Suicide Marks Venezuela Former Prison Boss’ Decline

PRISONS / 24 SEP 2021 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Weeks after reports emerged of the suicide of a notorious Venezuelan prison gang boss in Colombia, authorities have finally confirmed the death of Edwin Ramón Soto Nava – a death that has echoed through Venezuela’s underworld.

According to a Caracol News investigation, Soto Nava, alias “Mocho Edwin,” killed himself last month. He was living under an assumed name in Bogotá after having illegally procured a Colombian identification card.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profile

Soto Nava’s suicide was first reported on August 29 by Venezuela news outlet La Verdad del Zulia after friends and family began to circulate WhatsApp messages about his death. According to the report, Soto Nava jumped from the sixth floor of the building where he lived in the Colombian capital. Police had surrounded the building after responding to neighbors’ calls about a disturbance in his apartment.

According to the news outlet, Soto Nava, apparently under the influence of alcohol and drugs, had been in a heated argument with his girlfriend when he fired shots through a window.

News outlets in Venezuela quickly picked up the report about Soto Nava’s death. Still, while a video circulated on social media of the scene at the apartment building, Colombian and Venezuelan authorities did not confirm the suicide for weeks.

Soto Nava had reportedly been living in Colombia since 2018, hiding from authorities and his enemies.

InSight Crime Analysis

Once one of Venezuela’s most powerful pranes, or prison gang bosses, Soto Nava had seen his power erode during a long absence from his stronghold of western Zulia state.

From 2009 to 2013, Soto Nava and a nucleus of his men ruled Zulia’s Sabaneta prison, which BBC Mundo previously described as the country’s most dangerous. There, he formed the Tren del Norte gang, extending its influence to Zulia’s capital Maracaibo, particularly the city’s northern zone. There, gang members extorted merchants, committed piracy on Lake Maracaibo, and participated in kidnappings and street-level drug sales.

With the closure of Sabaneta prison in 2013, Soto Nava was transferred to Tocorón prison, where he came to know the leader of Tren de Aragua, now Venezuela’s most powerful gang. From Tocorón, he continued his command of Tren del Norte, but the gang weakened without his direct leadership.

SEE ALSO: Profile of Tren de Aragua

The gang saw a resurgence after Soto Nava’s release from prison in 2017. His death, though, could signal the demise of the Tren del Norte, which was already hobbled by the loss of key lieutenant Hugo Enrique González Rico, alias “Kike,” who was killed in January 2020.

Adrift, Tren del Norte gang members may be absorbed by other criminal gangs, particularly the Tren de Aragua, given Soto Nava’s previous ties to its leader, Héctor Rusthenford Guerrero Flores, alias “Niño Guerrero.”

Los Leal, a criminal gang in Zulia state through which Soto Nava also had alliances, and others operating in this region may also bring Tren de Norte members into the fold.

However, Soto Nava’s mark on Venezuela’s underworld is indelible: A pioneer in establishing the power of prison bosses, he was dubbed by journalists as the “pran of the pranes.”

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