Founder of Venezuela’s most feared gang arrested

4 Founder of Venezuela's most feared gang arrested

BOGOTA – Police in Colombia have arrested one of the founders of the feared transnational crime gang Tren de Aragua. Larry Amaury Álvarez Núñez, also known as “Larry Changa”, was captured in a rural area in Quindío province.

Colombia’s ministry of defence said Larry Changa was wanted in his native Venezuela as well as in Chile on charges of terrorism, arms trafficking, extortion and kidnapping. The Tren de Aragua criminal group which he co-founded has spread in recent years from Venezuela as far south as Chile and as far north as the United States. Larry Changa, 46, is from the Venezuelan state of Aragua, from which his criminal gang takes its name.

Under his leadership, the Tren de Aragua grew from a prison gang based at Tocorón jail, where he and co-founder Héctor Guerrero Flores were serving time for murder, into an international crime syndicate. Changa managed to escape from Tocorón in 2015. Three years later, he reappeared in Chile, where, according to prosecutors, he set up money laundering operations for the gang.

Venezuelan author Ronna Rísquez, who has written a book about the Tren de Aragua, has described in a BBC News Mundo article [in Spanish] how crime has shot up in Chile as a result of the expansion of the Tren de Aragua. Ms Rísquez says that the gang took advantage of the flow of millions of migrants from Venezuela to other Latin American nations to expand its empire.

It extorts migrants, is involved in sex trafficking, contract killings and kidnappings. Larry Changa is believed to have fled Chile in 2022 as Chilean police closed in on him. Police in Colombia tracked him down in the small town of Circasia, in Colombia’s coffee region.

Officials have so far not provided any details as to how they managed to locate Larry Changa but said that he would be transferred to the Colombian capital, Bogotá. The ministry of defence said in a tweet that the message for other criminal leaders was clear: “We will continue to go after them until we hunt them down so that they will pay for their crimes.” Among the Tren de Aragua co-founders still on the run is Héctor Guerrero Flores, who escaped from Tocorón prison last year. (BBC)…[+]