Venezuelan criminal gangs take over low-income neighborhood

Photo by La Prensa Latina

 

Panic-stricken, Ramiro desperately runs down a street of a low-income neighborhood in Caracas to escape a sudden shooting that broke out in the area.

The scene is a common one in the La Vega neighborhood, which has turned into a micro-state dominated by organized crime gangs.

In recent weeks, the slum has become the center of attention in the Venezuelan capital with constant explosions and police operations in attempts to stop criminal gangs.

Criminals operate from the top of a mountain that connects several communities and where they have built sentry boxes with sandbags as a defense shield that is visible to anyone who enters the area. From there, they fire high caliber weaponry, rifles and grenades.

In the last three months, shootings have occurred at least one or twice a week. The eight to ten-hour long sound of firing bullets silences the usually busy community of La Vega, with residents and shopkeepers hiding out to protect themselves.

Residents of La Vega say they are fearful and anxious for their lives on a daily basis. The neighborhood has been known to be a dangerous one for years, but the climate of insecurity has worsened dramatically.

“I have lived all my life in La Vega, I am 29 years old, and this is the only reality I know. Growing up in a low-income area has a peculiarity that other people may not understand. For example, our parents teach us as children to sleep on a mattress on the floor because it is dangerous, that is normal for us,” Ramiro told Efe.

A quiet day in La Vega is when those detonations or bullet sounds sound far away, Ramiro, who chose to use a pseudonym to protect his identity, said.

According to authorities, the criminals who plague La Vega and the neighboring community of Cota 905 — an even more dangerous area of Caracas — are members of the “El Coqui” gang, which has been operating since 2014.

Today it has become one of Caracas’ “mega-gangs” and is estimated to have more than 100 members.

A police operation in La Vega this weekend arrested almost 40 alleged criminals. /EFE