The capture of more Tren de Aragua members is testing the capacity of Peru and Chile’s prison systems to contain and neutralize a gang that has thrived in the region’s prisons.
Peruvian police captured 30 members of the Gallegos, a sub-group of Tren de Aragua, operating in the country, on November 10, according to a statement from Peru's Interior Ministry. Tren de Aragua is Venezuela’s largest gang and has spread rapidly across much of South America, engaging in migrant trafficking, sexual exploitation, and extortion.
A raid in Lima’s district of Surco led to the capture of alleged Gallegos leader, José Ángel Ortega Padrón, alias "Armando," along with his partner. Other operations across Lima saw numerous other members of the gang arrested, along with the seizure of assault rifles, pistols, and grenades.
According to police statements reported by El Comercio, the gang controlled prostitution in eight districts of Lima, exploiting women migrants from Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia. They were also connected to homicides and extortion.
The head of Peru’s directorate against human trafficking and human smuggling, Ulises Guillen, also told the press that Armando had been responsible for sending a cut of his profits back to Venezuela to the leader of Tren de Aragua, Héctor Rusthenford Guerrero Flores, alias "Niño Guerrero."
The Gallegos have also been reported in Chile where police arrested 14 alleged members of the group between March and June 2022 on charges of migrant smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, homicide and drug trafficking.
InSight Crime Analysis
Holding a large number of Tren de Aragua gang members poses a real challenge to Chile and Peru's prison systems. The Gallegos are part of one of Latin America's most sophisticated gangs, which has thrived by recruiting members and controlling criminal economies from behind bars.
The group's leader, Niño Guerrero, is the most feared prison boss in Venezuela where he has made the prison of Tocorón into a base from which he runs a transnational criminal empire.
While Peru has more experience jailing members of major criminal groups, including members of the Shining Path, its prison system is in a rough condition. A 2022 report by the National Penitentiary Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario - INPE) showed that the country’s prisons were at more than double their capacity.
The country has also seen repeated escapes in recent years, most recently in September when prisoners broke out from the San Ramón prison in southern Peru.
Tren de Aragua gang members have already tested prison authorities in Chile.
In August, one member of the Gallegos was caught planning an escape from the northern prison of Arica.
And in early November, nine members of Tren de Aragua were transferred back to prisons in the Chilean cities of Santiago, Concepción, and Rancagua. They had previously been moved to a smaller facility in the central city of Valdivia but authorities there demanded they be transferred away. However, experts interviewed by Chilean newspaper, Bio Bio Chile, warned smaller prisons were not used to dealing with such dangerous inmates.
“These are structures that are used to working from prison,” said Raúl Arancibia Cerda, the prosecutor for Chile’s northern region of Tarapacá, in an interview with InSight Crime last August concerning the spread of Tren de Aragua.
“I think our prison system is not ready yet [to hold Tren de Aragua members],” he said, adding that Chilean prisons have not had to face large prison riots or have had to manage the transfers and separation of specific gang members.