Carlos Luis Revete, alias “El Coqui,” is one of Venezuela’s most wanted criminals and leader of the “megabanda” that controls the Cota 905 district to the southwest of Caracas.
Despite facing charges for crimes including robbery, murder and drug trafficking since 2013, Revete enjoys remarkable levels of impunity. The non-aggression pact he has reached with Venezuelan authorities epitomizes the near-total abdication of the state in the marginalized urban districts controlled by the megabandas.
Revete was born in 1978 and grew up in the poor districts of Caracas. Little is known of his life until 2013, when he was charged with the murder of Greiber Danilo Alonso Lucas in the “Los Alpes” sector of Cota 905. At the time, Revete is believed to have been a member of a street gang known as “Los Chiches,” and killed Alonso in response to a photo on social media of Alonso posing with an enemy of the gang.
Cota 905 is one of Caracas’ most violent neighborhoods, home to a plethora of urban gangs. The district has been subjected to years of arbitrary and violent policing, creating a profound antipathy towards the security services among its residents. In this context, the gangs gained social power as de facto rule enforcers of the community.
Revete rose to prominence as lieutenant of gang leader, Jesús Alberto Ramos Calderón, alias “El Chavo,” who set out in 2014 to unite the Caracas gangs against the police. The initiative contributed to the emergence of a new criminal structure in Venezuela: “megabandas” comprising over 50 members, more organized and heavily armed than traditional street gangs and modeled on the hierarchical structure of Venezuelan prison gangs. After Ramos was killed by the criminal investigation unit (CICPC) in January 2015, Revete assumed leadership of his new megabanda in Cota 905. Revete continued Ramos’ unification project and is credited by some sources with having united the gangs of Cota 905, El Cementerio and El Valle.
In January 2015, Cota 905 was placed under the Maduro government’s “Peace Zone” policy, in which authorities ceded territorial control to criminal organizations in exchange for a reduction of violence. This truce was broken in July of the same year with the introduction of Maduro’s “Operation Liberation of the People” (Operación Liberación del Pueblo – OLP), a heavy-handed security crackdown that heralded a return to the brutal policing and human rights abuses of the past. The first OLP raid in Cota 905 resulted in the deaths of 15 people, of whom only six had criminal records. Revete was not among them, having taken shelter in a prison just hours before the raid. He continued to evade capture throughout the operation, stoking suspicions that its true targets were Revete’s rivals.
In August 2017, current vice-president and then president of the National Constituent Assembly, Delcy Rodríguez, visited Cota 905. Residents are said to have petitioned the officials to restore the Peace Zone policy and prohibit the entry of police into the neighborhood. However, InSight Crime sources revealed that the delegation also met with Revete during the visit, and are believed to have reached a pact with the criminal leader. The Peace Zone policy was reactivated in the district and security forces withdrew.
The state’s abandonment of Cota 905 converted the district into a criminal enclave where the mega-gangs held free reign. Although the “pax mafiosa” between gangs and security forces may have reduced violence, it also allowed gangs such as Revete’s to amass heavy weaponry and consolidate their criminal economies. By 2016, Revete’s gang was estimated at between 70 and 120 members, using Cota 905 as a base of operations for extortion, kidnapping and vehicle theft. However, when including allied gangs, he may be able to call on as many as 180 men.
Within the Peace Zone of Cota 905, Revete enjoys near-total impunity, strikingly demonstrated by a video of him partying openly in the neighborhood, circulated on social media. More alarmingly, the policy seems to be enabling the megabandas to achieve ever greater levels of integration and organization. As of mid-2019, security reports suggest that Revete is now working with fellow gang leader Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi”, to command a mega-gang of around 180 members with a criminal empire extending beyond Caracas.
2019 has only shown how safe El Coqui feels he is from harm. In June 2019, El Coqui took part in the lavish funeral of one of his gang members, at which Alex de Castro, a known Puerto Rican salsa dancer and pastor led the ceremony.
In July, members of El Coqui’s gang attacked CICPC officials in Cota 905. Shortly after CICPC officers were ordered to leave the area, a situation which has become common when El Coqui’s gang is involved. The police is essentially forbidden from entering areas controlled by the gang.
In late December 2020 and early January 2021, members of El Coqui’s gang reportedly invaded La Vega, a popular neighborhood in Caracas which, although close to Cota 905, had never been occupied by the gang.
On January 6, security forces, largely from the FAES, entered the neighborhood seemingly to chase out the gang. The operation lasted until January 9 and reportedly left 23 dead. Human rights defenders called it the largest-scale police killings in the country’s history. And while many of the victims have not been formerly identified, InSight Crime was able to confirm that El Coqui was not among the dead.
Revete is wanted on numerous charges including robbery, murder and drug trafficking. His gang controls criminal activity throughout the Cota 905 district, primarily drug-dealing and vehicle theft, although they are also involved in kidnapping and extortion schemes.
The gang has been known to brutally murder criminal challengers, as seen in the massacre of seven members of a rival gang in February 2019.
Police sources consulted by InSight Crime, said on condition of anonymity, that Revete also frequently uses other “Peace Zones” in Los Valles del Tuy, in the state of Miranda, to find refuge.
Revete’s territory of Cota 905 is a populous hillside district in the southwest of Caracas. It is part of a gang stronghold that includes the sectors of El Cementario and El Valle. Revete’s alliances with other local gangs means that he exercises effective control over much of this area. He is currently believed to be working together with Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi,” and Garbis Ochoa Ruiz, alias “El Garbis” giving this criminal federation control of a territory of roughly 20 square kilometers in the southwest of Caracas.
Allies and Enemies
Despite being one of Venezuela’s most wanted criminals, Revete appears to have reached an understanding with the Maduro administration that allows him to operate with near-total impunity. Furthermore, he has shown himself willing to violently defend this pact when necessary. In February 2019, his gang killed seven members of a smaller gang led by Elvis Eduardo Castro Troya, alias “El Culón.” It is believed that the massacre was in retaliation for the killing of two soldiers by Castro Troya’s gang, which breached the terms of the “pax mafiosa” between the gangs of west Caracas and the Venezuelan state.
Revete is also willing to work together with other gang leaders to expand his criminal empire. 2019 intelligence reports suggest he has reached an alliance with Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi,” and Garbis Ochoa Ruiz, alias “El Garbis,” to form a still larger gang of around 180 members.
Revete’s record of evading capture while continually expanding his gang’s criminal activities demonstrates his ability to exploit the Maduro administration’s contradictory policing initiatives for his own purposes. He has shown himself to be highly skilled in reaching agreements with both authorities and rival gangs in order to consolidate territorial control and guarantee his impunity. Since 2017, the withdrawal of police from Cota 905 has allowed Revete to build a high-caliber arsenal estimated at 200 grenades, 15 AR-15 rifles and 150 smaller firearms. With this, his gang rivals the firepower of security forces.
Through strategic alliances with other gang leaders, Revete looks set to expand his criminal empire still further. Revete is also linked to illegal mining operations allegedly once controlled by Calderón in the states of Carabobo and Bolívar, suggesting that this Caracas megaband could even extend its influence to other parts of Venezuela.
El Coqui is also protected due to having widespread sympathy and loyalty among residents of Cota 905, who see him as a benefactor.