Last week, the government of Venezuela sent 11,000 police officers and soldiers into Tocorón prison, notoriously run by the Tren de Aragua gang, and seized buckets of bullets, piles of machine gun ammo belts, sniper rifles, explosives, rocket launchers, grenades, and a small army of bitcoin miners.
Backed by tanks and armoured vehicles, the prison was successfully stormed on Wednesday. As police and troops discovered, Venezuela’s most powerful gang has been attempting to make extra cash with rows upon rows of old Bitmain Antminers.
It’s unclear how profitable the bitcoin mining operation was; old equipment aside, Venezuela has temporarily banned crypto mining. And while the country enjoys cheap, subsidised electricity, energy blackouts are frequent.
#21Sep | Así quedó la cárcel de Tocorón tras la primera fase de la Operación Liberación Cacique Guaicaipuro, en el lugar hallaron hasta máquinas para minar criptomonedas.— Caraota Digital (@CaraotaDigital) September 21, 2023
Video: RRSS pic.twitter.com/Nv26bsKhUo
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Inside Tocorón: Lions, tigers, and pumas galore
What is clear, however, is that Tren de Aragua members were having an absolute riot before troops showed up. Authorities found that the prison featured a restaurant, pool, children’s playground, gambling rooms, a disco named Tokio, a baseball field, and a zoo — à la Escobar.
According to reports, the zoo housed tigers, lions, crocodiles, flamingos, ocelots, and pumas, to ‘threaten’ inmates and government officials.
Bodycam footage by authorities reveal the prison also housed a small army of pigs, which likely fed the inmates and gang members.
The prison has served as the gang’s headquarters for some time. From Tocorón, Tren de Aragua is said to have carried out its operations across South America, living in shacks constructed outside of where the other prisoners were housed. Tocorón allowed the gang freedom to do as they please, as well as recruit and train new members.
The gang is known for kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion, and illegal gold mining.
Tren de Aragua leader and top members fled
Authorities said that 1,600 inmates were evacuated during the raid. Alongside the hoards of weaponry found, police and soldiers discovered that some Tocorón inmates had been kept “in a kind of slavery,” Interior and Justice Minister Remigio Ceballos said.
Four prison guards were arrested under suspicion of helping the gang members enjoy their unusually sweet amenities, and 60 Tren de Aragua members were captured, Ceballos stated.
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However, some are reported to have escaped — according to local outlet El Nacional, between 400 to 500 prisoners are still missing. This includes Tren de Aragua leader Héctor ‘Niño’ Guerrero, who was apparently tipped off about the raid and escaped with other high-ranking officials several days before through a hidden tunnel that had several exits.
Guerrero is thought to have raked in over $3 million a year through various operations ran from the prison, including charging inmates for vaccinations.
Now entirely vacated, Tocorón will undergo restoration.