A powerful Caracas gang has imposed a curfew after police raids left a dozen people dead – another example of how attempts to root out the gang have led to escalating violence and put residents in danger.
On February 4, gang boss Wilexis Alexander Acevedo Monasterios, alias "Wilexis," forced residents of the José Félix Ribas neighborhood in the Petare district east of Caracas to lock themselves in their homes, according to a report by El Estímulo. The 5 p.m. curfew ordered businesses to shut and public transportation to cease, according to audio messages sent by the gang to local residents on WhatsApp, and acquired by InSight Crime.
The curfew came after at least 11 people died in José Félix Ribas when police raided the neighborhood, according to El Pitazo. A community leader interviewed by InSight Crime on condition of anonymity said that the death toll may be higher, closer to 14.
Prior to the raids, a conflict had erupted between the Wilexis gang and its rival, the Chicorrios. During the raids, police killed gang members on both sides of the conflict, including two with the Chicorrios and the cousin of Wilexis, identified as alias "Chiripa." A 13-year-old boy, meanwhile, had his throat slit and tongue cut out by alleged members of the Chicorrios for supposedly having spoken to the police.
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The failed police raid and ensuing curfew suggest Wilexis is still in control of his stronghold. Wilexis is one of the most important drug traffickers in Caracas, and much of his power comes from a fierce following in and around Petare, where his gang offers gifts to families in need and delivers government-subsidized food boxes.
Police attempted to root out the gang in previous operations in 2020 and 2021. As in the latest raid, a number of people died in the incursions. And a former prosecutor accused authorities of summary killings.
Despite being under pressure from authorities, Wilexis sought to expand his control to other neighborhoods, including San José de Petare, La Dolorita and 5 de Julio, in October of last year, according to a Special Action Forces (Fuerza de Acciones Especiales - FAES) official who requested anonymity over security concerns when interviewed by InSight Crime in November.
This expansion may have motivated the government's renewed effort to oust Wilexis, and the killing of Chiripa may be a blow to the gang. Residents of José Félix Ribas told InSight Crime that Chiripa was very close to Wilexis and acted as a senior lieutenant controlling parts of the neighborhood himself.
The loyalty and fear Wilexis commands in José Félix Ribas – a community that took to the streets to protest at his behest – will make it difficult to put an end to his influence, even as the gang wars with both its rivals and security forces.