HomeNewsVenezuela Kills Gang Leader Whose Political Connections Were 'Open Secret'

Venezuela Kills Gang Leader Whose Political Connections Were 'Open Secret'


Venezuelan security forces have killed one of the country’s most-wanted criminals, “El Conejo” (The Rabbit). Despite El Conejo’s renown, his killing is more likely a symbolic act than a real blow against organized crime.

Carlos Enrique Gómez Rodríguez, alias “El Conejo,” was shot dead by police officers on March 23 amid an ongoing operation to bring down the gang he led in Tejerías, a small town in the central state of Aragua.

Authorities found his body 600 kilometers from Tejerías in the coastal town of Irapa, Venezuelan Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos Ichaso confirmed on Twitter.

While El Conejo had been known as a figure of middling importance in the country's criminal landscape, his significance in the eyes of Venezuela’s authorities grew after he decided to protect one of the country’s most powerful criminals.

SEE ALSO: El Koki, Venezuela's Most Notorious Gang Boss, Shot Dead

In 2021, he sheltered the most-wanted man in Venezuela at the time, Carlos Luis Revete, alias "El Koki,” who had gone on the run after being driven from his stronghold in Caracas in July 2021. El Koki is believed to have hidden in Tejerías for several months, sheltered by El Conejo, before being located and killed in February 2022. 

El Conejo’s support of El Koki made him a priority target for Venezuelan authorities, and he was subsequently forced to flee Tejerías. He kept a low profile until February 2023 when, according to police information, he mounted an attempt to reclaim Tejerías, attacking army and police outposts in the town. An operation to find El Conejo was subsequently launched.

El Conejo’s death comes just days after Tejerías Mayor Pedro Hernández was reportedly arrested for his links to the gang leader.

"It was proven in investigations that [Hernández] had links with the gang of the criminal, of the murderer, alias El Conejo,” said Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro in an official speech. 

InSight Crime Analysis

El Conejo’s death likely will be publicized as a major security coup by a Maduro government keen to prove its credentials in the run-up to presidential elections.

Far from being a national security threat, El Conejo had succeeded only in carving out a criminal realm in Tejerías. However, he was responsible for homicides, extortions, and kidnappings in the region, which he carried out with impunity due to his political and social connections.

Two Tejerías residents, including a journalist, confirmed to InSight Crime that Hernández and El Conejo enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela Oil Minister Resigns Amid Political Fight With Criminal Ramifications

The mayor reportedly allowed El Conejo to gain certain influence in the community, especially through an organization he ran called the Pies Descalzos Fundación (Barefoot Foundation). The foundation distributed bags of food from the government’s Local Production Supply Committees (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción - CLAP), which oversee the distribution of subsidized food. It also organized sports and social gatherings for teenagers, which it used as a form of recruitment for El Conejo’s gang.

Gangs posing as community organizers to recruit people, curry political favor, and deepen their control over populations is a common tactic in Venezuela.

El Conejo repaid Pedro Hernández for his favors by encouraging locals to vote for him and keep him in office. The gang also regularly extorted business owners in the Tejerías industrial area.

While Maduro may directly blame Hernández for protecting El Conejo, it is hard to believe that the government did not know about this illicit relationship beforehand. Hernández belonged to Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela – PSUV). According to three sources who spoke to InSight Crime during a visit to Tejerías in early 2022, the mayor’s connections to the gang were an open secret.

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