Latin America’s Exodus Economy: The Economist

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By Marco Echevarria

The Tren de Aragua, a notorious gang operating out of Venezuela, has emerged as one of Latin America’s most powerful criminal organizations, primarily focusing on human trafficking. This gang, led by Héctor Guerrero Flores, also known as Niño Guerrero, has exploited the mass migration of Venezuelans, estimated at nearly 8 million, amid the country’s political and economic turmoil, The Economist reports.

The gang’s origin dates back to 2011 when the Venezuelan government relinquished prison control to inmates, leading to a reduction in violence. Guerrero took command of the Tocorón prison, initially levying a tax on fellow inmates. The gang’s activities evolved from extortion and car theft to controlling illegal border crossings by 2018. As thousands of Venezuelans fled daily, Tren de Aragua found a lucrative opportunity in human smuggling.

Initially charging fees to smugglers, the gang expanded its operations during the 2020 pandemic border closures. Tren de Aragua began offering comprehensive smuggling services, including transportation, food, and accommodation, quickly scaling up to own transport companies and hostels. They offered various travel packages, ranging from inexpensive foot journeys to Colombia to $500 cross-continent drives to Chile.

The gang’s control over border towns and local officials enabled it to delve into a more sinister trade: human trafficking. Migrants, initially clients, became victims of endless exploitation. Tren de Aragua brutally monopolized the sex trade in major cities, resorting to murder and intimidation. Thousands of young Venezuelan women, lured by job promises or deceitful relationships, were trafficked into forced prostitution and web-based sex work.

Read the full story in The Economist