26 dead in Caracas after violent clashes 2:47
Between Wednesday, July 7 and Friday, July 9, criminal gangs and security forces carried out several shootings in the southwest of Caracas, which spread through popular and middle-class neighborhoods, as well as the center of the Venezuelan capital. .
The balance, at least 26 dead and 28 injured, according to the Ministry of Internal Relations, Justice and Peace.
While other estimates, such as the Victims Monitor platform, speak of at least 37 deaths.
The violent episodes put the world's gaze at Cota 905, a popular sector in the west of Caracas, and the alleged head of the most important gang among which, according to the authorities, participated in the shooting, Carlos Luis Revete, aka "El Koki" (also referred to as "El Coqui" or "El Coki").
Several communities in Caracas try to return to normality a week after clashes between criminal gangs and security forces
Revete was identified by the government of Nicolás Maduro as the leader of a criminal structure that controls Cota 905 and that exerts influence in neighborhoods and urbanizations near Cota 905 such as La Vega, El Paraíso, El Cementerio or Quinta Crespo.
"The information I have is that Revete is the leader of the gang at least since 2015. Already in that year the official reports cited him as the leader of the gang, and the first Operation Liberation of the People, highly questioned by the high Commissioner Bachelet, had her stage at Cota 905 and intended to neutralize Revete, "Javier Mayorca, a citizen security consultant and member of the Venezuelan Observatory of Organized Crime, told CNN.
"At this moment Revete and the leaders are fleeing as a result of the Gran Cacique Guaicaipuro operation, a large raid that was carried out at a great cost of lives," he said, referring to last week's shooting.
A member of the Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC) points his weapon while entering the El Valle neighborhood in the vicinity of Cota 905, during the confrontations against alleged members of a criminal gang in Caracas, on 8 July 2021. (Credit: Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images)
Ronna Rísquez, an investigative journalist for organized crime and editorial coordinator of the Victims' Monitor, tells CNN, however, that the Koki gang is not the largest on Cota 905 - in this case it would be the "Tren de Aragua" -, and that Revete is not the head of the mega-gang to which he belongs either.
Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias "El Vampi", would be the true leader, according to his investigations.
Wanted by the Venezuelan authorities
But the Koki is the most media character of this criminal organization, according to Rísquez, and the authorities have even offered rewards of between US $ 20,000 and US $ 500,000 for information leading to the capture of members of the "Koki gang." .
But who exactly is Koki, the criminal who keeps Caracas and the Maduro government in suspense?
According to InSight Crime, a nonprofit study center that tracks organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, Revete was born in 1978 in the popular neighborhoods of the Venezuelan capital, but little is known about him until 2013, when he was accused of having murdered Greiber Danilo Alonso Lucas at Cota 905.
Revete, a fugitive from justice, has not spoken publicly about this accusation and CNN has not been able to determine if he has legal representation.
Rísquez adds that he has never been in prison or in custody.
The reward offered by the government of Venezuela for the capture of "Koki" (Credit: Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information)
At that time, it is believed that he belonged to a gang called "Los Chiches", and in 2014 he became the second in command of this organization led by Jesús Alberto Ramos Caldero, alias “El Chavo,” says InSight Crime.
Ascent at Cota 905
El Chavo died in a confrontation with the Venezuelan Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC) in 2015, according to InSight Crime, after which Koki assumed the reins of the gang with the aim of continuing the project of his predecessor: unite the violent gangs of Cota 905 to confront the police.
That was, points out InSight Crime, the origin of the "mega-gangs" composed at that time by more than 50 members and with a greater organization.
"Koki remained the absolute leader of level 905, and that leadership became a pole of attraction for other gangs that operated in Caracas. These gangs from the valley allied themselves with Revete's leadership.
In 2015, the Maduro government included Cota 905 in the program known as "Zonas de Paz" within the Movement for Peace and Life - launched by the Ministry of Internal Relations, Justice and Peace -, by which the Authorities ceded territory to criminal organizations in exchange for a reduction in violence, InSight Crime notes.
"The 'Zones of Peace' emerged in 2013, outside Caracas, in violent areas in Mirada, in Valles del Tuy and Barlovento, at the initiative of Vice Minister José Vicente Rangel Arévalo. The idea was to achieve a pacification agreement to reduce the rates of violence, "adds Rísquez.
Shootings in Venezuela leave 26 dead and 27 injured 3:29
The Venezuelan researcher relates that the program wanted criminal gangs to lay down their weapons and abandon their criminal activities, in exchange for receiving supplies and resources for the communities from the government.
During the negotiations, however, the gangs demanded that the police stop entering their neighborhoods.
"And this apparently they accepted. There is no signed agreement, but there is evidence that the police did not go back in," says Rísquez.
"And one of the agreements, to stop aggressions between gangs, became an alliance. They understood that they should not be enemies among themselves, but that the real enemy were the security forces. They contributed to the strengthening of the mega gangs."
The antecedent of the "Zones of Peace"
At Cota 905 "Zones de Paz", a name by which they have become known but which does not appear in any official document, it was interrupted in 2015 in the framework of the bloody Operation Liberation of the People (OLP) launched by the government. Venezuelan, which left many dead at Cota 905, where according to a 2018 report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the police are highly resisted by the population due to their violence and arbitrariness.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza "categorically" rejected this 2018 report, which he questioned in a statement for its "highly questionable methodology" and called it a "media farce."
Members of the Intelligence and Strategy Directorate arrive on a Caracas avenue during clashes with an alleged criminal gang in the La Cota 905 neighborhood on July 8, 2021. (Credit: Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images)
According to Insight Crime, the "Peace Zone" at Cota 905 would have been reactivated in 2017, which reduced violence in the short term but allowed a gang like Revete, which is perceived as a "benefactor" among the inhabitants of the popular neighborhoods, accumulate weapons and consolidate their criminal economies.
Mayorca, however, warns that the "Zones of Peace" ended in 2015 after generating "a tremendous deterioration of the zones and the growth of gangs," and pointed out that what then existed at Cota 905 should not be considered under this program and that instead it was just an "understanding, a non-aggression agreement" between the Koki gang and the authorities.
"In the pre-pandemic months, he achieved a significant reduction in criminal violence in that area. It was his part of the agreement. The other part is for the police not to get in there," he says.
The rise of the "megabandas"
In this context, El Koki would have become one of the most powerful men in Cota 905, part of a mega-gang that would number about 180 men (counting those who are members of all the gangs that make it up, and who are dedicated to drug trafficking , kidnapping and extortion and vehicle theft in different neighborhoods of Caracas, according to InSight Crime Mayorca and Rísquez agree that kidnapping was one of the most important activities undertaken by Revete's gang.
Revete is also wanted for murder by the Venezuelan justice, according to the Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information.
And, according to InSight Crime, Koki is also accused of theft and drug trafficking, among other crimes, although Rísquez highlights that in Venezuela it is increasingly difficult to access official documents that allow confirming these accusations.
It is unknown how he pleads to these charges.
His most important allies would be El Vampi, the alleged head of the gang, and Garbis Ochoa Ruiz, alias "El Garbis" and Vampi's lieutenant, at the same hierarchical level as Koki, according to Rísquez.
A member of the Bolivarian National Police points to a possible target after clashes with alleged members of a criminal gang in the Cota 905 neighborhood, in Caracas, on July 9, 2021. - Venezuelan security forces entered four poor neighborhoods on Friday from the capital Caracas seeking to end days of clashes with armed gangs that have claimed several lives.
(Photo by Federico PARRA / AFP)
The organized crime researcher also highlights the links between this mega-gang with the "pranes", leaders of criminal organizations in Venezuelan prisons.
"One of the most important is in the General Penitentiary of Venezuela, that prison in Guárico was where the first and most important mega-gangs originated," he says.
For Mayorca, on the other hand, El Vampi and El Garbis are only allies of the Koki, members of a "kind of confederation" created by Revete.
According to InSight Crime, El Koki appeared to have reached an agreement with the Maduro government in the past, since it would have impunity to operate on behalf of the security forces, which in their operations in Cota 905 usually go against enemy gangs of Reveal.
Delsa Solórzano, president of the Citizen Encounter party, denounced in early July in a tweet that "El Koki continues to do his thing under the complicit gaze of the dictatorship"
Mayorca maintains that the agreement was broken in late 2020, when El Koki began an expansion into a neighboring parish, La Vega, where it encountered armed resistance.
"The same process as with the Valle gangs did not take place. This led to the order to intervene, because when the State proposes it, there is no turning of the page," he said.
At the same time, he has managed to evade capture or death on numerous occasions, and appears to exploit the contradictory initiatives of the Maduro government, according to InSight Crime.