The R Organization (Organización R – OR) is one of Bolívar state's fastest-growing mining gangs, often called sindicatos. Over the last several years, it has expanded its control over valuable gold mines, sometimes through violent conflict with rival gangs. The gang's meteoric rise to power was driven not only by its armed strength, but also by its ability to secure the support of local communities through social outreach.
The R Organization evolved from a gang first created around 2008 in Ciudad Guayana in northern Venezuela. Since its early days, it has been led by Eduardo José Natera Balboa, alias "Run" or "El Pelón." The gang was initially involved in robberies, murders, and weapons theft.
Run and his gang eventually moved into more profitable criminal economies -- especially illegal gold mining – and reports of their presence in mining zones around Bolívar began in 2019. The gang successfully established itself in the town of Tumeremo and blended its criminal activities with social work and political action, which helped it gain local community support. Members of the gang have gone as far as to describe the group as a defender of the rights of informal miners.
The OR won the support of residents of Tumeremo and surrounding areas by setting up a charitable wing known as the 3Rs Foundation (Fundación de Gestión Social Integral 3R). It reportedly provides food, public services, and healthcare to residents of Tumeremo, as well as organizing sporting activities.
Even though the 3Rs Foundation denies its connection to the OR, a member of the gang told Insight Crime that the two are, in fact, the same. The OR has also released a statement professing its support of the foundation.
In addition to locals' acceptance of the gang, its strategic recruitment appears to have helped it strengthen so quickly. A local politician reported that the OR recruited from the remnants of a gang that previously controlled Tumeremo. And a senior state government official, who spoke to InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity, claimed that the group also recruited deserters from the Venezuelan military.
As the OR's power grew, it was able to challenge security forces in the region and dispute control over the mines. In April 2021, the gang ambushed and killed Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Solís, who had targeted the gang. This was a turning point for the OR, after which its strength grew exponentially.
As it continued to expand, the OR once again clashed with Tren de Guayana in 2021, seeking to displace the rival sindicato from mining areas in El Callao and Guasipati. After several months of fighting, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire, with, according to the gang's own statement, the help of the Venezuelan Mining Corporation (Corporación Venezolana de Minería – CVM), a government agency that oversees mining activities and manages some contracts with small-scale miners and multinational corporations.
For the first part of 2022, the group could operate relatively easily throughout Tumeremo. That changed in late October when the military deployed Operation Roraima 2022 throughout Bolívar's mining region. The OR appears to have been the main target of these operations, throwing its continued dominance in Tumeremo into question.
The OR was founded by Eduardo José Natera Balboa, alias "Run" or "el Pelón," who remains its principal leader today.
In 2009, Run was sentenced to 14 years in the El Dorado Penitentiary Center in the Sifontes municipality. But early into his sentence, he was reported missing from prison, with some media outlets claiming that he had escaped.
His whereabouts remained unknown for years, although by 2014, he had become one of the most wanted criminals in Ciudad Guayana after he claimed responsibility for the death of rival gang leader Yorman Pedro Márquez Rodríguez, alias "El Gordo Bayón," of the Tren de Guayana gang.
Run successfully moved into the mining areas in Tumeremo alongside his lieutenants, including César Alexander González, alias "El Mágico González."
The R Organization maintains a permanent presence in the urban center of Tumeremo and its surrounding gold mines, especially those known as Belén, Tomi, and La Increíble.
In Tumeremo, they assert harsh rules over the community, claiming that they are providing security. Recent military operations also seized surveillance drones, which they claimed that the OR used to monitor the area's population.
The OR's attempts to expand into some of El Callao's mines in 2021 led to conflicts with Tren de Guayana, and the group has so far been unable to assert total dominance over the neighboring municipality.
The R Organization benefits from its control of mining areas by collecting extortion fees called "vacunas" at most stages of gold production in the region, much like other mining sindicatos. However, the gang itself and some residents of Tumeremo claim that the OR's vacunas are lower than those charged by other groups.
The R Organization claims that it does not have ties to the Venezuelan military, with one member dubbing Run "the Rebel of the South." However, there are some indications that the group is interested in expanding its political influence via the 3Rs Foundation.
The 3Rs Foundation has worked with the Movement for Peace and Life (Movimiento por la Paz y la Vida), a national government program led by Alexander "Mimou" Vargas, the former vice minister for sport and a former representative to the National Assembly. According to the social media accounts of the 3Rs Foundation, Vargas has participated in the foundation's events and shown support to the 3Rs Foundation. However, there is no evidence that Vargas has direct links to the R Organization's criminal activities.
The group has also coopted the local branch of the Venezuelan Popular Unity political party (Unidad Popular Venezolana – UPV), even supporting the mayoral campaign of the party's candidate in 2021. However, the candidate was removed from the ballot before the election.
While local sources have repeated rumors that the OR maintains relationships with corrupt local military officials, Operation Roraima's efforts to target the group suggest that this is not enough to protect them from large-scale operations conducted by forces coordinated by a national command.
The OR has also built alliances with nearby gangs in Sifontes, including the Sindicato of Las Claritas and Negro Fabio's gang in El Dorado, according to security and underworld sources who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. These three groups have apparently agreed to respect each other's territory, in contrast to the OR's long-running rivalry with Tren de Guayana, which has led to violence on multiple occasions.
While the R Organization is considered by many to be one of the strongest mining sindicatos in Bolívar, the late 2022 deployment of Operation Roraima involved over 1,000 soldiers and heavily targeted the group in its stronghold of Tumeremo. Unlike the previous military deployment in August 2022, which sources largely denounced as a sham with no effect on the group, these appear to have had more success, leaving the group's future in Tumeremo's mines unclear. However, as of yet, they have largely left the group's leadership structure intact. And if the military cannot maintain long-term control over the area, the OR could use its military strength and ties to local communities to reassert itself.