A Venezuelan gang has sunk deep criminal roots into Peru’s capital, Lima, with widespread extortion that has provoked violent protests by locals and growing xenophobia.
Police in Lima announced the arrests of four alleged members of the Gallegos, a gang involved in extorting businesses and informal workers in the city, on November 7. The announcement came nearly a week after the gang, which is reportedly linked to transnational Venezuelan crime group Tren de Aragua, released a video threatening to kill Peruvian motorcycle taxi drivers.
Masked men in the video waved rifles as they promised revenge against the recent targeting of Venezuelan migrants.
“If there is no peace for Venezuelan workers, there will be no peace for Peruvians who support xenophobia,” a masked figure said to the camera. “We will begin to kill all the Peruvian motorists who are at the stops in La Victoria, Gamarra, 28, and any other district.”
In addition to extortion, the Gallegos in Peru have been linked to human trafficking connected to the Venezuelan diaspora, loan sharking, and retail drug sales, members of Peruvian National Police’s (Policía Nacional del Perú – PNP) and the Attorney General’s Office told InSight Crime.
Their threatening video came one day after local merchants and motorcycle taxi drivers took part in violent anti-extortion demonstrations in the La Victoria, El Agustino, and Cercado districts of Lima. During these demonstrations, vehicles were set on fire, which local media alternately reported as belonging to either Venezuelan extortionists or motorcycle taxi drivers.
In response to the violence and the Gallegos’ threat, the police launched a mega-operation in the affected areas, deploying 700 officers.
The riots came amid broader concerns about security in Lima, where the Gallegos and Peruvian extortion gangs are fighting for control over criminal economies. Eye-catching acts of violence, such as a nightclub grenade attack in September reportedly carried out by a Venezuelan gang that left 15 injured, pushed the authorities into imposing a state of emergency in the districts San Juan de Lurigancho, San Martín de Porres, Lince, and Cercado de Lima.
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The protests reveal the mounting frustration at increasing extortion in Lima, which has coincided with the expansion of Venezuelan gangs, like the Gallegos, that have affected the city’s criminal status quo.
The greater Lima region saw more than 6,500 reported extortion cases in the first eight months of 2023, a 60% increase compared with the same period in 2022, according to PNP data reported by Infobae.
This increase has come as the Gallegos, linked to the powerful transnational Venezuelan gang, Tren de Aragua, have extended their control over the city’s extortion markets since arriving in 2019. They have successfully driven out local gangs from certain zones and, as seen in La Victoria and El Agustino, they have been involved in ongoing clashes with the Peruvian groups as they consolidate their power.
While traders peacefully protested to demand that authorities take action against extortion in early September, the recent riots suggest the situation has reached a boiling point.
The dispute between the Gallegos and homegrown groups may also have played a role in the seemingly spontaneous protests.
PNP General Luis Flores Solis suggested that Peruvian crime groups seeking to oust their Venezuelan rivals may have influenced the protesters in Lima. If true, the riots and the Gallegos’ video could be seen as parts of a proxy war between rival extortion gangs.
This would not be the first time Venezuelan and Peruvian groups have traded threats, and the release of the video threatening the lives of the Peruvian workers matches what has been Gallegos’ modus operandi since its inception: instilling fear in would-be victims and rivals through extreme violence.
A banner hung up in La Victoria after the riots specifically warned “Venezuelan” extortionists they had three days to leave the area permanently, although Peruvian gangs had been extorting traders long before their arrival.
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