Tren de Aragua

The ‘Aragua Train’ instills terror in Chile, ranging from violence to human trafficking. Its criminal shadow crosses borders, challenging authorities and demanding immediate action.


The shadow of crime and violence has covered Chile with the meteoric arrival of the so-called «Aragua Train.» Since its rapid ascent in the country, this mega-gang, with connections extending across several Latin American countries, has sown terror in its wake. Homicides, bloodshed, and intense criminal activity have marked its presence in Chilean territory.

For national authorities, the year 2022 has been an unprecedented challenge. The presence of the Aragua Train has demanded new strategies and unprecedented coordination among the government, law enforcement agencies, and the prosecution. The fight against this mega-gang has required a collective effort and steadfast determination to dismantle its members and restore peace and security in the affected communities.

The Aragua Train continues to be a thorn in Chile’s side. According to reports from InsightCrime, this gang and its involvement in drug trafficking have been identified as responsible for the deterioration of quality of life in various areas of the country. One of the most affected zones is the northern macrozone, where the city of Iquique, located 1,757 kilometers from Santiago and near the Bolivian border, has experienced a worrying disruption in its daily life.

Beyond Borders

While cities like Iquique and Arica have witnessed the unrestrained cruelty of this criminal organization, what is even more unsettling is its ability to infiltrate previously considered safe areas distant from the core of its activities.

Police reports reveal a chilling reality: the Aragua Train has extended its influence to the central part of the country, undermining the tranquility of once peaceful communities and establishing a new regime of fear and chaos.

However, the threat doesn’t stop in the north. Cities like Arica are grappling with their own battle against the Aragua Train, while remote and forgotten areas are now under the shadow of this mega-gang.

In this context, the Aragua Train uses fronts to conceal its illicit activities. Ronna Rísquez points out that a revealing example is the acquisition of one hundred motorcycles by members of the mega-gang in Tarapacá. These motorcycles were intended to be rented out to Venezuelan immigrants who entered irregularly and use them to work as delivery drivers.

Read: Shadows of Resistance: The Story of Jorge Salvo in the Middle of the Citizen Awakening in Chile

The organization promises these immigrants earnings of up to six hundred dollars, but deducts a percentage for vehicle rental. This strategy takes advantage of the vulnerable situation of individuals affected by the crisis in Venezuela, especially during the tumultuous year of 2017, marked by the third major wave of migration. The band’s internationalization appears to follow the route of Venezuelan migrants seeking opportunities and escaping difficulties in their home country.

The journalist identifies three key factors driving the expansion of the Aragua Train: sustained economic deterioration in Venezuela since 2013, massive Venezuelan migration, and what she describes as «flawed government penitentiary and security policies.» In summary, the Aragua Train’s arrival in Chile is attributed to its members’ job loss exacerbated by economic conditions, massive migration, and government decisions on security and prison that were deemed inadequate.

On February 5th, the Government and Armed Forces convened at the national security council meeting called by President Gabriel Boric. The purpose of this meeting was to find solutions to the current security crisis in Chile. A study by the Paz Ciudadana Foundation highlighted that public perception of security in the country reached its highest level, reaching 30.5%. This figure represents the highest level since 2000 and reflects Chileans’ fear of becoming victims of crime.

According to police reports cited by the author, the first signs of the presence of the Aragua Train in Chile manifested in Colchane. This city in Tarapacá has become a crucial point between Pisiga in Bolivia and Chile, where Venezuelans crossing the border are the main victims of the actions of the Aragua Train.

In less than five years, the criminal group began its activities by forcing some migrants to transport ketamine, an anesthetic drug with hallucinogenic potential used in the production of tusi, also known as «pink cocaine». Later, the gang expanded its operations by forcing women into prostitution in Chile, generating complaints due to the heavy firepower they possessed, including rifles and grenades.

The Trafficking of the Aragua Train

According to information provided by a source cited by the journalist, the Aragua Train began transporting young women aged between 18 and 20 to northern Chile, settling them in apartments in prosperous areas and forcing them into prostitution under threat.

These women are informed that the cost of their transport to Chile ranges between three and four million pesos, and they are under the cover of the criminal group until they pay off this debt. A report mentioned by the author reveals that the Tarapacá prosecutor’s office concluded that monthly trafficking operations could generate over $37,000 for the organization per person. Although the investigation highlights that human trafficking for sexual exploitation is most prevalent from Santiago southwards.

The detection of ketamine led authorities to arrest some of the leaders in Chile linked to the Aragua Train. Carlos González Vaca, known as Estrella, was identified as the operational leader in Chile, acting under the orders of Niño Guerrero.

Rísquez reports that law enforcement concluded that Aragua Train members conduct transfers of small amounts, between $300 and $1,000, through intermediaries to conceal their shipments to Venezuela. Additionally, they employ cryptocurrencies to move and launder larger sums, possibly intended for the acquisition of properties in their home country.

Aragua Train: Its Beginnings as an Organization

In the depths of Venezuela, amidst the arid lands of Aragua, stands imposing Tocorón, a name that echoes like a storm of prison turmoil sweeping the country. This concrete stronghold, also known as the Aragua Penitentiary Center, was erected in 1982 with the promise to house 750 individuals behind bars. However, that initial promise has dissolved into the haze of reality, where official figures barely reflect the backdrop of overcrowding and chaos that reigns behind its walls.

Officially, the custody and security of Tocorón and its counterparts rest on the shoulders of the Venezuelan Ministry of Penitentiary Services. Yet, according to the incisive pen of journalist Ronna Rísquez in her work «The Aragua Train: The Gang Revolutionizing Organized Crime in Latin America» (Planeta, 2023), reality is far from what is officially proclaimed. Rísquez exposes the harsh truth: the state has lost control over several of its prison strongholds, including this concrete colossus, where «pranes» (prison gang leaders) enforce their own law.

In the town that gives its name to this gray fortress, Tocorón stands as a scar on the landscape, occupying a territory of 2.25 square kilometers. However, its fame transcends the borders of its physical confines. It has become the epicenter of the Aragua Train, an infamous cartel that has woven its criminal network with threads of illegal migration, kidnappings, clandestine mining, hired killings, drug trafficking, and money laundering.

But what makes this criminal nucleus even more insidious is its transnational reach. It does not limit itself to Venezuela’s borders but extends its tentacles to neighboring countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile.

Editor’s Note:

We attempted to contact various public agencies, such as the Chilean Investigations Police and Carabineros, however, we did not receive a response.


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