Massive Operation Clears Out Prison Run by Inmates

Venezuela's Tocoron prison had its own zoo, nightclub
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2023 10:10 AM CDT
Venezuela Sends Troops to Prison That Had Its Own Zoo
Family members of inmates watch as soldiers raid the Tocoron Penitentiary Center in Tocoron, Venezuela, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Venezuela's government has congratulated security forces on clearing out a "center of conspiracy and crime"—the notorious Tocoron prison. The BBC reports that 11,000 security personnel took part in the clearing of the prison, which had been run by inmates for years and functioned more as a hotel or small city than a penitentiary, with its own bank, swimming pool, gambling facilities, a nightclub called "Tokio," and even a zoo with flamingos and an ostrich. Dozens of prisoners brought their wives and children to live in the prison. "I am waiting to hear where they are taking my husband," one woman told AFP. "I was living in there, but they kicked us out."

The government on Wednesday said security forces regained "total control" of the prison, and that inmates were taken to another facility. The prison was the headquarters of the powerful Tren de Aragua gang, which is engaged in such criminal enterprises as human trafficking. Only one casualty was reported during the operation, which led to speculation that the government had made a deal with the gang, the BBC reports.

But some inmates apparently escaped: Soon after it announced that the prison had been cleared, the government said a second phase of the operation would be carried out to capture "every one of the escaped criminals." It's not clear whether the gang's leader, Hector Guerrero Flores, is among the escapees. He was serving a 17-year sentence for murder and drug trafficking, but he was reportedly able to come and go from the prison at will. (Read more Venezuela stories.)

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