Chilean authorities are on high alert over reports that the Venezuelan gang Tren de Aragua is involved in smuggling migrants into the country – further evidence of the group’s regional expansion.
Chilean prosecutors have opened at least four investigations involving reports that members of Tren de Aragua are involved in the illegal transport of migrants from Bolivia to the country’s capital, Santiago, according to local Chilean media.
At least nine or 10 gang members have been arrested for helping up to 3,600 migrants enter Chile, Mega Noticias reported on October 15, citing an investigation by prosecutors in the north-central region of Chile.
Another prosecutor’s office in the northern region of Tarapacá, along the border with Bolivia, is said to be investigating three other cases of migrant smuggling involving the gang.
SEE ALSO: Chile News and Profile
According to Carolina Suazo, a prosecutor at the Attorney General’s office in northern Chile, witnesses spoke of the involvement of Tren de Aragua in move migrants under risky conditions along remote trails across the border.
The first reports from Tren de Aragua members in Chile date back to March 2021, when a group of 21 migrants said they were attacked by armed Venezuelan men after refusing to pay to cross the border, La Tercera reported.
Since then, Chilean police have found other cases of migrants shot dead by suspected members of Tren de Aragua over payment disputes.
InSight Crime Analysis
Tren de Aragua gradually spread throughout South America, often following the routes of migrant smuggling. Venezuela’s first “megabanda” or major criminal network, InSight Crime named the group its “criminal winner” in 2020 due to its pattern of criminal migration to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.
It now appears that Chile and Bolivia can be added to this list of countries in which the group is present.
Tren de Aragua has grown considerably since its beginnings in the Venezuelan state of Aragua, where it became involved in drug and arms trafficking and vehicle theft. In 2021, the group’s presence was confirmed along distant trails dividing Venezuela and Colombia, where it challenged control of lucrative criminal economies like migrant smuggling. This brought him into conflict with Colombia’s largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), arguably the most powerful criminal actor in the region.
That he has to fight an opponent of this size is proof of Tren de Aragua’s resistance.
SEE ALSO: Profile of Tren de Aragua
Colombian and Ecuadorian officials also reported that the gang was active at border crossings between the two South American countries.
If correct, Tren de Aragua’s presence in Chile would represent a significant expansion of the gang’s operations, converting it from a transnational gang with strong ties to Venezuela into a true regional threat.
If Tren de Aragua established a permanent presence in Chile and Bolivia, it would be well placed to expand into other important cross-border economies, particularly drug trafficking and smuggling.
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