Is Venezuela getting serious about unseating el Coqui?

Photo: Yamil Lage – AFP

 

Venezuelan forces have in recent days fought running gun battles on the streets of Caracas with members of the capital’s strongest gang in an apparent attempt to finally unseat its leader, El Coqui.

By Insight Crime

Jul 13, 2021

By July 13, a quiet calm appeared to have returned to the capital city’s western neighborhood of Cota 905 after being shaken by regular gunfire between July 8 and 12, as the army and police launched an operation targeting the powerful gang leader.

The operation aimed to find Carlos Luis Revete, alias “El Coqui” or “El Koki,” and his top lieutenants. At least 800 security personnel entered Cota 905 and began house-to-house searches, where they were reportedly met with fierce opposition from gang members. They took over observation posts that El Coqui’s gang had built overlooking the neighborhood, burned down a known nightclub where the gang gathered and reportedly seized the house of El Vampi, Revete’s closest lieutenant.

Venezuela’s Minister for Justice and Peace, Carmen Meléndez, called the operation a success, with 22 criminals killed and 38 more arrested.

But what caused this strong response remains unclear. Throughout 2021,
Revete has consolidated his power as the leader of the strongest gang in the Venezuelan capital, successfully invading the neighborhood of La Vega.By July 13, a quiet calm appeared to have returned to the capital city’s western neighborhood of Cota 905 after being shaken by regular gunfire between July 8 and 12, as the army and police launched an operation targeting the powerful gang leader.

There have been sporadic raids by authorities, including one in February that killed at least 23 people. Before this, Revete was largely left alone, as Cota 905 was declared a Peace Zone in 2017, or a place where authorities were not allowed to enter if the gang kept the peace.

But on July 7, Revete may have miscalculated. That day, members of El Coqui’s gang opened fire on El Helicoide, a vast building in central Caracas that acts as a headquarters for police and intelligence services and contains numerous jail cells. At least two intelligence officials were wounded. The gang then went on to fire at two other police facilities in Caracas.

According to a police commander in Caracas interviewed by InSight Crime, these brazen attacks came after an ally of Revete, Leonardo José Polanco Angulo, alias el “Loco Leo,” was injured in a shootout with police. 

The next day, Cota 905 was breached.

InSight Crime Analysis

While shootouts between El Coqui’s gang and authorities are nothing new, the size of this latest clash may indicate an important shift in the tolerance shown to Revete.

In April, Douglas Rico, the head of Venezuela’s criminal investigation unit (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas – CICPC), said he was willing to sit down with Revete to begin a disarmament process. Any such attempts at appeasement were highly unlikely to succeed. Since then, El Coqui and his allies have only grown in strength, first in their continued takeover of La Vega and then in daring to shoot at El Helicoide, the police headquarters in Caracas.  

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