Wilexis Alexander Acevedo Monasterios has led the gang which bears his name since at least 2017. With between 150 and 200 people in its ranks, the Wilexis gang controls the José Félix Ribas neighborhood, the largest of the violent Petare slums in eastern Caracas.
He is wanted by the authorities for extortion, kidnapping, theft and micro-trafficking. Additionally, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has accused him of working with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for Operation Gedeón, although there is no known evidence supporting this accusation.
Wilexis’s criminal career began around 2003 but really began to grow from 2013, when he formed a small gang dedicated to kidnappings, robberies and hired killings. His gang operated in Petare along with a number of other criminal groups. However, a number of his rivals were gradually eliminated by police operations and by 2017, the Wilexis gang started to position itself as the strongest gang in José Félix Ribas.
InSight Crime interviewed a number of residents of José Félix Ribas who said the rise of Wilexis was partially enabled by the local mayor, José Vicente Rangel Ávalos, who was elected in 2017. InSight Crime was not able to independently verify claims of such a relationship.
Beyond the role of the mayor, other factors allowed the Wilexis gang to assume control of José Felix Ribas, including a lack of police presence. In 2013, when Rangel Ávalos was deputy security minister, he reportedly declared the neighborhood a “Peace Zone” under a government program where security forces would stay out of certain areas as long as local gangs maintained the peace.
The gang’s growing power led to Wilexis usurping state functions, acting as a judge ruling on neighborhood problems, taking a role in local politics and even organizing public events. Residents reported that, in the eyes of many, Wilexis is seen as a “Robin Hood” that brings gifts to children and families in need, delivering government-subsidized food boxes. The group is also responsible for local security, stopping theft and minor crimes against residents, and punishing those who commit these crimes. Although there are no official figures, violence has likely declined overall in the José Félix Ribas neighborhood under Wilexis’ rule.
In fact, the local community has protested alleged extrajudicial killings, as well as other abuses of police power, committed by the National Bolivarian Police’s Special Action Forces unit (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales – FAES) on three occasions in recent years. Arguing that the Wilexis gang has protected them, they urged the authorities to officially designate the neighborhood as a peace zone. However, sources say that the gang has forced residents to hold these protests.
In January 2019, when the president of the National Assembly proclaimed himself interim president, residents of the José Félix Ribas neighborhood held a protest in his favor, an action allowed by the criminal boss. Violence against protesters led to clashes with the Maduro regime and made Wilexis a wanted man.
Between April and May 2020, Wilexis saw the group’s territorial control disputed by a criminal named Christian Rene Tovar Uribe, alias “El Gusano,” who was rumored to have been sent from the Tocorón prison in order to take back control of the neighborhood where he allegedly used to operate. The armed encounters between the two gangs lasted for close to two weeks.
On May 6, amidst the hostilities, President Nicolás Maduro accused Wilexis, without any evidence to support his claims, of having faked the armed confrontations in order to distract from Operation Gedeón, which occurred during this time in collaboration with the DEA and the alleged financing of a drug trafficker named Richard Cammarano. In the same public statement, Maduro called upon his ministers to arrest Wilexis.
Following Maduro’s speech, the media outlet NTN24 received an audio recording of a man who identified himself as Wilexis, denying the president’s accusations and alleging that he did not have contact with the DEA, nor any interest in Maduro’s departure from power. Two days later, the FAES conducted an operation in the José Félix Ribas neighborhood in search of Wilexis, but it ended in the extrajudicial deaths of 13 people.
On May 14, a commission of the Scientific, Criminal and Criminalistic Investigations Corps (Cuerpo de Investigaciones de Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas – Cicpc) killed El Gusano in a confrontation, putting an end to the dispute with Wilexis. While they killed members of the gang in various operations in the suburbs of Caracas, the criminal boss was not found, presumed to be hiding from the authorities.
Wilexis returned to José Félix Ribas in July, where he remained, keeping a low profile, for five months until he was discovered during a FAES operation in November. While he was reportedly injured, he managed to escape once again. Four members of the gang were killed in the incident.
The Wilexis gang is involved in kidnapping and extortion schemes, in addition to controlling micro-trafficking in areas under its control. The extortions are demanded of informal merchants in the area, who are required to pay a “vacuna”, as extortion payments are referred to in Venezuela, for providing security.
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The kidnapping victims are frequently located in Caracas or neighboring areas and held hostage in the homes of criminals within the neighborhood. While the extortion demands may be equivalent to around $30 per month, the kidnapping ransom fees, while less frequent, can be up to $20,000, according to interviews with local residents.
Petare is a strategic territory for the gang, densely populated and with a complex labyrinth of staircases and alleyways that facilitate criminals’ escapes to other areas during police operations. The mega-gang is present in approximately 20 different zones within Petare. The group’s greatest area of influence is observed within the José Félix Ribas neighborhood, particularly between zones 6 and 10. It also has a presence in surrounding neighborhoods, such as Maca, Barrio Unión, La Bombilla, Simón Bolívar, and 24 de Marzo.
Allies and Enemies
Now that Wilexis is one of the recent players in Caracas’ criminal panorama, in comparison to other gangs that have controlled territories for longer, the gang has few known alliances.
It is presumed that there is a kind of Pax Mafiosa with José Vicente Rangel Ávalos, the pro-government mayor of the Sucre municipality, who, as the director of the municipal police, has not carried out operations against the criminal.
Despite attempts by community leaders to mediate with the mayor during the May confrontation in favor of the gang, it is unclear whether the alliance continues after government statements and recent operations.
Despite the official narrative against Wilexis, the fact that he remains free may be evidence of the government’s general indifference toward a gang that maintains control over a significant part of the country’s largest and most violent slum, which could be of benefit to the Maduro government.
The battle against El Gusano likely served to cow Wilexis, as a response to his apparent support of the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, during the January 23 protests, when he allowed the community to hold a protest against the Maduro regime and even confronted the security forces who threatened protesters.
And Wilexis and his gang remain under the eye of the FAES, the only security unit to regularly pursue members of the Wilexis gang, albeit without sustained success. much success. The last clash between the FAES and the Wilexis gang, which occurred in November, reaffirmed the will of the group in question to take down the gang.
Wilexis’ eventual arrest or death could result in a power vacuum in Petare that would likely fuel a dispute between small gangs in the area over control of the territory and bring violence back to the neighborhood, a scenario that the Maduro government and the municipal administration of Rangel Ávalos probably want to avoid. Therefore, they might prefer to tolerate the leader and allow him to continue operating like so many other groups in Caracas.