The Latin American Report # 222

The Aragua train

Latin America has been filled with bilateral and multilateral conflicts in a short period, between Venezuela's bumpy regional management of the political crisis, that nation's dispute with Guyana, Javier Milei's fiery and iconoclastic rhetoric, and most recently the diplomatic crisis between Mexico and Ecuador. Now the narrative about the true impact of the so-called "Aragua Train" on the expansion of organized crime in countries such as Chile, Perú—where it has been labeled "enemy number one"—or Colombia has ended up pitting President Gabriel Boric against Caracas diplomacy. In recent statements, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil spoke of the Tren de Aragua as a criminal organization "that existed" but that would have been duly "located" and "dismantled". He is referring, I suppose, to the actions developed last year in several prisons within the security project called "Operation Cacique Guaicaipuro", and in particular to the intervention in the Tocorón penitentiary, from where the Aragua Train operated. However, the Venezuelan authorities have previously referred to the organization as a transnational force, so there was a recognition of the expansion of its operations throughout the region.

The Chavista government bears a lot of guilt here. Still, without speaking of the organization as such, this late 2012 edition of a local Venezuelan newspaper spoke of Héctor Gabriel Guerrero Flores—alias Niño Guerrero—as the pran of the Tocorón prison. The word pran in Venezuelan slang is associated with criminal leaders whose respective organizations manage to achieve de facto control of the prisons. The administrative corruption was denounced, which allowed sex trafficking to meet the needs of pranes such as Niño Guerrero, and also the smuggling of "weapons of all kinds" and drugs. The referred criminal, by the way, was escaped from the prison then. He is also now, because "surprisingly" he escaped before the military and police forces intervened Tocorón in September 2023. This decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice, dated last March and related to an extradition request to Spain against a brother of Niño Guerrero detained there, states that "a large part of this Criminal Organization Tren de Aragua is currently active in the national territory," and that "[it] operates in the different countries that make up South America and Central America. The Chilean president was particularly harsh with the Miraflores Palace, accusing the Venezuelan government of not supporting efforts to attack the problem of insecurity in the region, even touching on always contentious aspects such as Caracas' refusal to receive convicted criminals in Chile.

So what is in dispute, in my opinion, is not the existence or not of the Aragua Train and its expansion, even from the Venezuelan authorities' assumptions, but the pretension of attributing to it a good part—if not all—of the responsibility for what is happening in terms of insecurity in Latin America. We recently commented here on statements by a high-ranking Colombian police official alleging that many local criminal organizations, without much muscle, present themselves as if they were "subsidiaries" of the Aragua Train, perhaps to try to instill greater respect or to divert authorities. At the same time, the latter may also be downplaying the real potential impact of this criminal structure to avoid being questioned for their inability to stop its advance. "It is an absolutely [...] chilling campaign in its dimension of wanting to give the [Structured Group of Organized Crime] Tren de Aragua, dismantled in Venezuela, a tenebrous aspect on a global scale and almost to say that now it is all over the planet," the Venezuelan attorney general denounced in March. And it may be that the situation there is somewhat under control, because not as much news of massacres or random killings bounces around as in Mexico, Ecuador, or Colombia. But anyway it is too hasty to say that the cancer of the Aragua Train's expansion in the region and even—apparently—in the United States has subsided.

The "borrowed" watches

The narrative appealed to by the controversial Peruvian president Dina Boluarte is that some exclusive Rolex watches that she used in some events were "borrowed" by a politician. It could be true, but in any case, this story continues to teach us lessons about inequality and corruption in Chile's political society. How the alleged lender—Ayacucho's governor Wilfredo Oscorima—presents the reason for his cession is very revealing about what the ideal of Chilean politicians is, more oriented to the culture of having and if necessary "showing off" than to serve. "In reality, Mr. Oscorima bought [the watch] to give it to Madam President, [that] was his intention. The lady was very firm in telling him: 'You put me in trouble, because I have to declare it, how am I going to explain that I have this?' It is clear to me that the president told him: 'No, I can't'", assured the lawyer for the wealthy governor, adding that while the politician's intention "may sound frivolous," the idea was that Boluarte—disapproved by 9 out of 10 Peruvians—would be wearing "personal adornments that were quite or much better than what she was displaying". "She was told, 'You need an item like that with the people you deal with'", Oscorima's legal representative added. Boluarte herself said she accepted the proposal of exhibiting the watches—in borrowed condition—"in the spirit of representing the country well". Is the political-social anomie understandable? But in any case, the statements have several gaps, because they talk about the purchase of a watch for the president to "look better" but in the end the "humble" governor ended up "lending" her three watches that were seized by the Public Ministry, which has recognized these inconsistencies. This is a developing story powered by Rolex.

Dina Boluarte (source).

Mexico requests suspension of Ecuador in the United Nations

The Mexican government today formally denounced Ecuador before the International Court of Justice for the rude military intervention in its embassy in Quito, which has been strongly repudiated in the region and around the world. In addition, the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has announced that it will seek the suspension of the South American country before the United Nations. Last Tuesday, the Mexican president revealed unpublished images of the strong blow to its sovereignty that involved the night raid of Ecuadorian security forces in its diplomatic headquarters on December 6 Avenue in the capital, to extract the former vice president Jorge Glas, who has a firm conviction for corruption and was also being investigated for the same crime in a new case. Glas has always claimed to be a victim of political persecution—typical lawfare—, and until yesterday it was reported that he was on hunger strike. His lawyer also claimed that the health condition he experienced last Monday—when he was rushed to a hospital in Guayaquil—was due to a suicide attempt. Mexico is demanding that the Carondelet Palace at least assume its mistakes. This was made clear by Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena when she presented the request for the "suspension of Ecuador's membership in the United Nations until a public apology is issued recognizing the violations to the fundamental principles and norms of international law". In addition, the government of the political force MORENA evaluates a "criminal accusation in the sense that the violation was of such magnitude on the one hand to the property, to the premises, but also the people".

And this is all for our report today. I have referenced the sources dynamically in the text, and remember you can learn how and where to follow the LATAM trail news by reading my work here. Have a nice day.

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