Why Does the Tren de Aragua Feed Xenophobia Towards Venezuelan Migrants?

The Tren de Aragua has expanded throughout Latin America, leaving multiple victims in its wake. Among them are Venezuelan migrants.

Venezuelan migrants

Photo: UNICEF Ecuador

LatinAmerican Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: ¿Por qué el Tren de Aragua alimenta la xenofobia hacia migrantes venezolanos?

Tren de Aragua is known today for being one of the most frightening criminal organizations in Latin America. He was born in Venezuela, but his violent acts have gone beyond these borders. Currently, it operates in some countries in the region, such as Colombia, Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Bolivia. There are many victims left behind by this criminal mega-gang, but perhaps one of those who suffer the most from the consequences are Venezuelan migrants. Let's take a closer look at what the Tren de Aragua is and the consequences that its action is having on the Venezuelan migrant community.

What Is the Tren de Aragua?

This criminal organization arose between 2013 and 2014 with the union of workers who worked on the construction of the section of the Venezuelan Railway that ran through the states of Aragua and Carabobo. That's where the name comes from. Its creators were Johan José Romer, alias “Johan Petrica”, and José Gabriel Álvarez Rojas, alias “el Chino Pradera”, who was killed in a confrontation with the police in 2016.

Read also: Venezuelan Opposition: Between Henrique Capriles and María Corina Machado

In 2018, the expansion abroad of the criminal organization was revealed with the arrest of Edison Agustín Barrera, alias “Catere”, in Peru. A short time later, their presence in Brazil became known and, since then, the group has become famous in the region. Currently, the group operates in the Aragua Penitentiary Center, better known as the Tocorón prison. Its leader is Héctor Guerrero Flores, alias “Niño Guerrero”.

Their entry into other countries has caused confrontations, but also links with other criminal groups. In 2022 in Colombia, for example, there were clashes with the ELN (in which the National Police also participated), which resulted in a wave of homicides in Norte de Santander. On the other hand, in Brazil the group is linked to the First Command of the Capital (PCC), recognized as the largest criminal organization in the country, and there are around 700 members of the Tren in the PCC.

The group's presence in the region has caused a stir, especially in Chile, which is considered one of the safest countries in Latin America. Bodies with signs of torture have been found here, and it is known that the mega gang commits crimes such as kidnapping, human trafficking, drug trafficking, hit men, among others, especially in the north of the country.

The Tren de Aragua and Mass Migration

For its expansion, the criminal group has taken advantage of the massive migration of Venezuelans and has followed the migration route to the south of the continent to establish itself throughout the region. This has not been a coincidence. In fact, the Tren de Aragua began its international activities offering the provision of the migrant smuggling service. This activity mutated into human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, which is carried out mainly in border areas.

On April 23, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador published a report on how Colombia has become the mega-band's operations center for this activity. In it, he delved into the stories of different victims who were sexually exploited violently. What is most striking in this regard is the modus operandi, which is very well established and has different methods to capture the victims. These range from deceit with castings to modeling agencies, to links with close ones such as friends and even relatives of the victims. It should be noted that most of them are sent to Chile.

In this sense, it is Venezuelan migrants, especially women, who have suffered the most from the expansion of the criminal group. Added to this, it must be taken into account that their presence in the region has fueled the xenophobia that has been experienced since the massive migration began. In countries like Peru and Chile, immigration measures have been strengthened. In the case of Chile, the government militarized the border in February of this year and in April the preventive detention order was announced for any migrant who commits a crime (any type of crime) and cannot be identified.

In Peru, the case is more surprising. Recently, President Dina Boluarte publicly blamed Venezuelan migrants for the increase in crime in the country. He made no exceptions and did not present any data or evidence to support his claim. He also declared a state of emergency in order to militarize the country's borders.

The cases of both countries are problematic because they criminalize Venezuelan migrants who have had to leave their country behind to seek opportunities for a dignified life abroad. With statements like those of Boluarte, stigmatization and generalization is made about a group of people who are not the Tren de Aragua and do not necessarily belong to or have ties to it. In fact, as mentioned, they are also victims of their criminal actions. Migrants today live the consequences of crimes they have not committed.

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