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Venezuela's Smaller Gangs Carve Out Local Criminal Fiefdoms

ELITES AND CRIME / 7 SEP 2021 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

The visual is an arresting one. A Venezuelan Army sergeant, his face swollen and his nose bleeding, is forced to speak on camera and tell his superiors to leave his captors alone. He was then set free.

The video, released on August 28 but filmed a few days earlier, was reportedly shot near Troncal 10, a highway linking Venezuela’s northern states of Monagas and Sucre. “Please, friends, stop this [referring to military operations]…don’t mess with the population, these boys won’t mess with you,” the soldier was made to say.

Those responsible are known as the Curi gang (Banda del Curi), named for their leader El Curi. The gang captured the sergeant in the municipality of Ribero. InSight Crime spoke to a number of security officials and drivers who travel the highway to obtain a panorama of the gang. These sources requested anonymity for fear of retribution.

Believed to have about 60 members, the Curi gang has been extorting truck and bus drivers along Troncal 10 since 2019, as well as robbing those who refused to pay.

SEE ALSO: Enemies to Allies - How Venezuela Decides Which Criminal Groups Thrive

These attacks have ramped up since June 2021, however, culminating in the detention of the army sergeant in late August. Apart from one army operation in 2020, which allegedly killed six gang members, the Curi gang has not received much attention from authorities. Security officials interviewed by InSight Crime attributed this to the gang having close connections to military units in the area as well as receiving support and warnings from local communities.  

However, this impunity may now be at an end. Since the video was released, the Army sent in 200 soldiers to stop the gang, and several arrests have taken place in early September.

InSight Crime Analysis

Coverage of Venezuela’s criminal landscape is often focused on larger-scale threats, such as Colombian guerrilla groups operating along the border. But smaller gangs have often established localized but strong areas of control that prove hard to break.

According to local security officials, El Curi enjoys a Robin Hood-like reputation among towns near the highway due to his generosity. This has helped to protect him and his men.

Similar situations can be found across Venezuela, with smaller, localized gangs increasing their power in rural areas or on the outskirts of cities, where security forces are not so prevalent.

One group comparable to El Curi is the Carlos Capa gang, which carries out extortion, kidnapping and robberies in Valles del Tuy on the outskirts of Caracas. Similar to El Curi, Carlos Capa has established control of various municipalities through a network of official connections that has allowed him to survive in this role for close to a decade.

Over this time, the band has been under investigation on several occasions, especially after being connected to attacks on police stations and the murders of officials.

SEE ALSO: The Unlikely Resistance of a Lone Mining Gang in Venezuela

However, the Carlos Capa gang has survived various operations aimed at taking it down, thanks to a network of informants among local security forces. In order to continue surviving, he has had to keep his head down of late.

The Curi gang may now face a similar situation. Their recent actions have increased their notoriety, which might help cow a few more truck drivers, but have also firmly placed a target on their backs.

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