More than 11,000 Venezuelan troops raided and regained control of a notorious prison from a powerful gang that had set up its own zoo, pool and casino for the inmates to enjoy.
Tocorón prison had served as the headquarters of the Tren de Aragua criminal gang for years. Inside, inmates and some of their relatives or partners who moved into the penitentiary were able to roam freely throughout the detention facility and enjoy its resort-like amenities, according to the Agence France-Presse.
Venezuela’s interior minister Remigio Ceballos said that the jail would be completely cleared and inmates would be moved to another facility, the NY Post reported. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro congratulated law enforcement for the raid.
“I congratulate the more than 11 thousand members of the FANB [National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela] and police forces for the successful intervention of the Tocorón Penitentiary Center,” Maduro tweeted.
“Now we prepare for the second phase of the Cacique Guaicaipuro Liberation Operation. We are going towards a Venezuela free of criminal gangs!”
However, it appeared some inmates escaped during the operation as a later government statement announced a “search and capture” operation to track down “fugitive criminals”.
Local media has reported that the leader of the Tren de Aragua gang, Héctor Guerrero Flores, may be among those who fled, but the government has not named any of the escapees. Flores had been serving a 17-year sentence inside the prison for murder and drug trafficking.
Few details about the raid have been released. The Venezuelan Army reported one casualty – a major who died after hitting his head on the door of an armoured vehicle.
AFP reported that security guards were seen carrying motorcycles, televisions and microwaves from the jail as its inmates were moved.
From the jail, Tren de Aragua ruled an international criminal enterprise spanning all the way to Chile, according to AFP.
The facility was outfitted with a zoo that had an ostrich and flamingoes, a children’s play area, a swimming pool, gaming room, casino and a baseball field.
Those locked inside had the freedom to bet on horse races, arrange loans at a makeshift bank and even spend the night dancing at a nightclub dubbed “Tokio,” the outlet reported.
Locals even went to the prison for food and other supplies when basic necessities became hard to come by during Venezuela’s economic crisis.
The existence of such a large operation run from a prison by the country’s most feared gang has led to speculation that Venezuelan officials may have negotiated with the Tren de Aragua, according to AFP.
This story originally appeared on the NY Post and was republished with permission.