Report: Venezuela Using Brutal Tren de Aragua Gang to Hunt Down Dissidents Abroad

Bolivian President Luis Arce Visits Venezuela
Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Venezuela’s socialist regime is using the Marxist National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorist organization and the Tren de Aragua transnational criminal organization to persecute Venezuelan dissidents abroad, according to a report published by Colombia’s Caracol Televisión on Sunday.

Caracol based its report on alleged secret documents obtained by the broadcaster – including documents from the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the Pentagon branch operating in Latin America — and testimonies that accuse the regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro, through the Venezuelan General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), of carrying out illegal operations in Colombian and Chilean territory with the assistance of ELN and Tren de Aragua members.

Caracol claimed the documents showed that DGCIM has been acting in Colombia “for years” in alliance with ELN and other criminal groups to access national security secrets and persecute opponents of the socialist regime.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Granko, the head of DGCIM’s special affairs unit, is described as the “brain” of the regime’s illegal operations on foreign soil. America sanctioned Granko, also known as “Black Hand” and “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” alongside three other DGCIM leaders in 2019 during the administration of former President Donald Trump for systemic human rights abuses and the repression of dissent in Venezuela.

In 2022, the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela identified DGCIM as one of the repressive agencies that the Maduro regime uses to carry out crimes against humanity against dissidents, including the use of extreme acts of torture, sexual violence, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatments to punish them for disagreeing with the government.

Attempts to silence opponents of socialism abroad are part of the regime’s plans to dismantle purported conspiracies to overthrow Maduro. The Colombian news channel identified three dissidents targeted in Colombia and Chile.

The three dissidents in question met in Cúcuta, Colombia, on December 13, 2023, allegedly to discuss how to overthrow Maduro with ideas that were more “quixotic” than real, and reportedly not armed. The group was reportedly unaware that the regime knew of their intentions.

The first target was Ányelo Heredia, a former Venezuelan military captain who was reported as kidnapped in December. Caracol reported that ELN terrorists abducted Heredia near Cúcuta and handed him over to the Maduro regime’s intelligence unit.

On January 22, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced that Heredia “confessed” his intention to assassinate Maduro. The alleged plot was part of what the Maduro regime called “Operation White Bracelet,” an alleged conspiracy that necessitated the brutal dissident crackdown known as “Bolivarian Fury.”

Caracol cited Heredia’s family dismissing the “confession” as coerced and claiming Heredia appeared drugged during it.

The second target was Ronald Ojeda, a former Venezuelan lieutenant living in exile in Chile. Ojeda was abducted from his residence in Chile on February 21 by a group of men that reportedly impersonated members of Chile’s immigration police. His body was found buried inside a suitcase under a concrete structure in the Santiago metropolitan region ten days later.

Police and forensic investigators work in the area where the body of former Venezuelan military officer Roland Ojeda was found in Santiago, Chile, March 1, 2024. According to Prosecutor Hector Barros, the body of Ojeda, kidnapped eight days before, was buried in an area of illegal houses on the outskirts of Santiago. (Esteban Felix/AP)

Chilean authorities have linked the suspects involved in the kidnapping and murder to the Tren de Aragua organization. One of the suspects, 28-year-old Venezuelan citizen Walter de Jesús Rodríguez Pérez, had worked for the Maduro regime in 2015.

The third target identified is Venezuelan student leader Pablo Parada, who Caracol stated was recently the victim of an attack in Bogotá by a local criminal organization allegedly in the service of the Maduro regime.

Parada told Caracol that he was pursued by six men in the late evening hours of March 10 as he was heading to a house with a group of acquaintances. The men chased Parada, according to his testimony, but he was able to elude them by jumping through a ravine.

“One of those that was chasing us, I’m going to be a little rude, but he said: ‘Stop mamaguevo [a Venezuelan slang slur that means “co**su**er”], stop!’ Of course it is a very Venezuelan word, for which I directly accuse the Nicolás Maduro regime,” Parada said.

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab was the first member of the Maduro regime to officially respond to Caracol’s report. Saab denounced the report on Monday as “rubbish” and “scum,” claiming that it was part of a “media operation” to discredit the regime’s efforts to protect Maduro from allegedly legitimate threats.

Hours later, dictator Nicolás Maduro personally condemned Caracol, declaring the network “anti-Venezuelan” and “anti-Bolivarian” on the latest episode of his weekly Monday evening television show Con Maduro Más (“With Maduro Plus”).

“I was watching today at noon a press conference by the Attorney General of the Republic who has responded from the law and from the truth,” Maduro said. “Let’s hope it evolves. The truth always appears and they will remain — as always, they will remain in the dustbin of history. Simple.”

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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