Officers of the Special Actions Forces (FAES) of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) in a patrol at the entrance of the Cota 905 neighborhood, Caracas (Photo: Rayner Peña / EFE)
As these lines are being written, the Venezuelan State security forces are carrying out a police operation with the objective of neutralizing the belligerent activities carried out by armed groups in three popular sectors of Caracas, in the El Valle-Cementerio axis, Cota 905 and La Vega.
This is a strategic corridor that connects the southwest of Caracas with the exit towards Miranda state, via the Carretera Negra de Los Mangos, which connects with the Pan-American Highway, and which projects towards almost the entire west of the capital city.
The armed groups in question, which Venezuelan authorities refer to as the Grupo Estructurado de Delincuencia Organizada (GEDO) (Structured Group of Organized Crime), are presumed to be part of the cells founded and managed by Carlos Calderón (El Vampi), Carlos Revette (El Koki) and Garbys Ochoa (El Garbys), according to a report by journalist Eligio Rojas of Últimas Noticias.
On Wednesday, July 7, they attacked the Sebin-Helicoide headquarters, located near the entrance to Cota 905, wearing bulletproof vests and using tracer bullets allegedly in retaliation for the killing of Leonardo Polanco (Loco Leo), leader of the El 70 neighborhood in El Valle, according to reports. This is an unprecedented act by irregular groups against Venezuelan security institutions, due to the operational and logistical importance of this facility.
Likewise, the GEDO fired indiscriminately against civilians causing the death of three people and wounding five by the morning of Thursday 8. By midday of the same day, three more victims were reported killed. The attacks took place along avenues with heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic, such as Páez (El Paraíso) and Nueva Granada (with exit to the Cemetery), as well as populated areas such as Quinta Crespo (San Teresa parish) and the North-South highway at the height of the El Paraíso tunnel.
Let us examine the most outstanding characteristics of the so-called “El Koki Gang”, its profile, actions and possible motives, as well as its projection in the media and political spheres. Once this is established, we will be able to understand the more complex scenario than the one recited by the anti-Chavez media catechism of “failed state” within a highly important political context.
WHERE IT COMES FROM AND WHERE IT IS GOING
The background of those who lead the armed groups in Cota 905 is diffuse, as they seem to be individuals with a wide criminal experience in the territory where they live, but without details of their personal lives. Alias El Koki is in fact one of the most wanted criminals at the national level, with judicial charges against him since 2013.
What is certain is that alias El Koki leads the GEDO that controls the drug business in Cota 905, an avenue (called Guzman Blanco) that crosses the populous parishes of La Vega, El Paraiso and Santa Rosalia, where thousands of Caracas residents make their living both economically and residentially.
During the periods of the Bolivarian Government’s disarmament plan and the gestation of the so-called “peace zones” (2015-2017), the Cota 905 gang had reached agreements with the authorities for the social insertion of its members, however the belligerent position of the criminals put an end to the negotiations and they began to gain notoriety beyond Cota 905 during the last two years, at least.
The level of deployment is considerable in his area, in which Rojas claimed he has a narco-distribution of 32 sentry boxes with a cell of five to six armed operators each. In addition to drug trafficking, they are involved in extortion, kidnapping and selective assassinations (sicariato).
An immediate precedent could be identified in the El Picure gang led by Jose Tovar Colina (El Picure), neutralized in 2016, which dominated extensive territories between the states of Aragua (especially in the south) and Guarico, which was dedicated to the same crimes attributed to El Koki, with the corporate media covering it as a confrontation with Venezuela’s official authorities (Runrunes called them “a kind of Robin Hood“) with a political branding clearly in favor of the antichavista. agenda. El Picure’s paramilitarized group model is replicated in its main aspects in the GEDO’s behavior, but in the case of El Koki in the context of a more densely populated territory and with greater economic circulation (legal and illegal).
El Picure was killed in El Sombrero and did not operate in urban areas but in rural and even peri-urban areas. However, his second in command was Adrián de Jesús Linares (El Koala), also killed in 2016 and who was criminally active in Cota 905 y El Cementerio.
The expansion of El Koki’s influence resulted in an “alliance” with other gangs in El Valle and El Cementerio in 2015, to establish a siege that would prevent the incursion of security forces, extending into La Vega and Caricuao, and with plans to take control of El Guarataro and El Observatorio, corresponding to the San Juan and 23 de Enero parishes, two of the most important in the corridor described above, a few kilometers from the Miraflores Palace, the seat of the Venezuelan government, according to police investigations.
However, El Koki’s “alliances” go beyond the Capital District. At the beginning of July, a confrontation took place between the so-called gang of alias El Conejo and state security forces in Las Tejerías, a few dozen kilometers from the border between Aragua and Miranda states through the Autopista Regional del Centro. El Conejo held the CICPC headquarters under fire for hours. Armed groups of Cota 905 attacked the PoliCaracas police headquarters in alleged retaliation to government actions in Las Tejerías and in defense of El Conejo. The most obvious connection consists in the construction of the corridor mentioned at the beginning of this report from the center-west of the country to or from the capital city.
In his public relations campaign, El Koki has claimed that his latest attacks on state and civilian authorities have allegedly been in retaliation for police operations against the GEDOs. Until Minister Meléndez announced on Thursday, July 8, the beginning of the security mission in Cota 905 and its surroundings, this was the behavior of the armed group.
In addition to the different crimes they use to economically sustain their business, they have been displaying practices and resources typical of terrorism: open offensives against political and economic infrastructures, use of the population as a base of “legitimacy” and as human shields, indiscriminate assassinations against civilians, use of hand grenades on non-police/military targets, expansive territorial control.
Are there political motivations on the part of the GEDOs? In the most practical sense of territorial control, yes, insofar as it disputes the geopolitics of the southwest of Caracas, in the heart of the capital, to the government authorities. Is it related to the interests of extremist anti-Chavismo, synthesized in the operators of Voluntad Popular and Primero Justicia? Recently a photo was published where Carlos Revette is seen wearing a T-shirt of the latter political party of the Venezuelan right wing, which would suggest an affirmative answer to the question.
Carlos Revette, alias El Koki, is photographed with a Primero Justicia T-shirt (Photo: Archivo)
President Nicolás Maduro in a public speech on June 8 denounced that “(the opposition) is investing a lot of dollars and bills to buy criminal gangs to generate violence in the neighborhoods”. Beyond the presidential statement, there is a synchronicity of agendas to dispute state authority to government institutions, de facto in the case of the criminal organizations in question.
The “paramilitary” control of the mountains surrounding part of the valley of Caracas and the central mountain range of the country would be a visible desire of any irregular group if we take into account that, according to reports of anti-Chavez media operators, the place of refuge and retreat of the GEDO of the Cota 905 is located in the Valles del Tuy, only a few kilometers from the corridors southwest of Caracas.
ARMAMENT, LOGISTICS, PROCEDURES
Their weaponry reveals that they are also well positioned in the illegal arms market in Venezuela, obtaining equipment outside the circuit used by the State. This shows that they supply themselves with weapons that are not organic to the official security and defense forces.
Weapons seized during the police intervention in Cota 905 this Friday, July 9, 2021 (Photo: Archive).
For example, among the arsenal of the Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) (Bolivarian National Armed Forces) there is no US-produced AR-15, an assault rifle that costs around $500 in the United States, the weapon of choice of those who have perpetrated mass shooting attacks in the last decades in that North American country. According to reports, there are dozens of AR-15s in the hands of GEDO cells. In 2015, Freddy Bernal had warned that criminal gangs were already arming themselves with rifles directly from the United States.
The police operation in Cota 905, currently underway, has seized, among other weapons, the Barrett M82 semi-automatic sniper rifle of U.S. origin. It is a weapon that is part of the arsenal of the Special Forces of the U.S. Army and other special units of NATO countries.
Detail: One of the weapons seized from the so-called Coqui Gang pic.twitter.com/5OuEqrzLur
– Eligio Rojas (@ELESPINITO) July 9, 2021
Attempts by Cota 905 armed groups to steal weaponry from the Venezuelan military sector have also been reported this year. In March they recently attacked a command of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) whose weapons stockpile contained an anti-aircraft battery that they were not successful in stealing, according to Román Camacho.
El Koki has heavy weapons such as grenades, M2 machine gun, bazookas of different origins, mainly from the United States, and ammunition for AK-103 and AK-47 assault rifles, according to what was seized by the authorities on Friday, July 9.
The Scientific, Criminal and Criminalistic Investigations Corps (CICPC) captured a woman (Ubilmar Yarilet Delgado Palencia) who supplied ammunition to Cota 905 armed groups from Lara state, reported Últimas Noticias on June 9. He said:
The scientific police asserts that Ubilmar is linked to Luis Beltran Rivero Garcia, nicknamed in Caracas ‘El Guaro’ and in Lara ‘La Fresa’, also a member of the Coqui gang. The Cicpc indicated that this subject “is the one who transports ammunition, firearms of different calibers and negotiates the purchase of the same as well as psychotropic substances and narcotics from Caracas to Lara state and other areas of the country”.
Logistics is mainly based on the corridors that these paramilitarized gangs have dominated, and which they have turned not only into the fundamental axis of their business, but also of their firepower. In these geographic zones, they dispute the authority of the State by means of arms, so their business, as is natural in illegal economies, involves logistics typical of irregular groups inserted in a narco-dynamic that seek to violently supplant State tasks and obligations.
The use of drones is also part of the logistical equipment of these armed groups, until now only seen oriented to surveillance and intelligence, which is not a minor detail: the technological updating of their territorial logistics (the 32 sentry boxes and their extra-parochial expansion) is linked to the use of aeronautical technology for tactical and strategic purposes. In the era of drones, their use is almost mandatory in asymmetric conflicts.
#Caracas Criminal gang of Cota 905 using drones to monitor their area. The video also shows a FAL assault rifle. pic.twitter.com/3vAgf5xCif
– Roman Camacho (@RCamachoVzla) April 9, 2021
The violence unleashed by an element of his category does not involve the dispossession of land from the citizenry but is rather aimed at wresting management power from the public institutions of the geopolitics to which it is circumscribed in a stark attempt to privatize the territory.
The case of the events that have taken place since July 7 in Caracas correspond to the procedures of a staged demonstration of force and capabilities to the official authorities and the population in general, in a political context dominated by the arrival of the exploratory mission of the European Union with a view to its participation in the next mega-elections, a maneuver that we have previously explained in this tribune. The terrorist methods against unarmed civilians outside of any combat context confirm the procedure beyond the underworld in situations where the provocation of urban chaos is the primary objective of the operation originated in Cota 905.
But also, and at the same time, it can be affirmed that the armed groups use the propaganda montage to maintain the idea that they are fighting against the Venezuelan authorities. It is curious how they record themselves and never show the target at which they are shooting, nor any hint of effectiveness in the apparently unnecessary expenditure of ammunition. This is damage control in the face of the withdrawal provoked by the governmental counteroffensive.
Criminals of the Cota 905 are recorded while shooting.
Photos/Videos: RRSS pic.twitter.com/LWrqpmZVMr
– Delmiro De Barrio (@DelmiroDeBarrio) July 8, 2021
The same type of videos were widely published in Libya in 2011, as there was no other way to maintain the idea that the so-called “Libyan rebels” were advancing militarily against Gaddafi’s army, smokescreens that gave the impression that there was fierce fighting and thus keeping the viewer under the idea that the anti-government groups were advancing against the official forces.
The combination of all these elements may lead to the conclusion that the members of the so-called El Koki gang reproduce communicational practices previously seen in other conflictive scenarios in the world, in addition to supplying themselves with equipment and armaments foreign to the existing markets in Venezuela.
CONSIDERATIONS WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF THE CURRENT DIFFUSE WARFARE
The events precipitated by the criminal actions of the irregular armed groups give contour to the profile that they are championing in the diffuse character of the war being waged against Venezuela, under the auspices of the United States and its delegates in the region.
There are many who believe that the incorporation of armed groups in the country is related to the stability promoted by the State institutions throughout the national territory within the framework of a hybrid war; the challenge to the State through force is an element that has gained prominence in the last years, since the Bolivarian Government dismantled Operación Daktari in 2004, a paramilitary incursion that targeted the life of President Hugo Chávez. Although the opposition points out that it is due to a “failed state“, an expedient raised for years by the usual suspects, we can well argue that the proliferation of these non-state actors is related to a criminal economic ecosystem and operators who use the armed route as the main axis of their anti-government actions, always in constant confrontation with Venezuelan institutions.
The experiences around the extinct gang of El Picure, Óscar Pérez, Operation Gedeón, the FARC dissidents (indirectly instrumentalized by the Colombian state) in the state of Apure and, now, El Koki have a common thread: the open, not veiled, challenge to the government of Nicolás Maduro. In short: regime change. Their interests may be varied, but the purposes are shared.
The fact that the United States has assumed various strategies for regime change in Venezuela, including the armed and proxy route, is an element that cannot be disregarded when analyzing the irregular war within the country. Proxy wars, understood as wars by proxy, indirect and with subsidiary actors, have been a classic resource of the previous Democratic administrations in the White House. Joe Biden’s current national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, pushed to arm “Syrian rebels” (a nominal transcript for Al-Qaeda et al terrorists in the West) when he worked for Hillary Clinton at the State Department and to do the same with the Ukrainian military in the conflict in the Donbass while serving as Biden’s advisor when Biden was vice president under the Obama administration.
The fact that most of the subversive actions of the anti-Chavez armed groups have characteristics of terrorism and paramilitarism, always inserted in the corridors of illegal economies (drug and arms trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, hired assassination), also shows the common elements that unite them, not only in purposes, but also in procedures.
The information warfare, psychological operations and the protection that these non-state actors usually have from NGOs and media combatants also shed light on the interests of political and media operators in situations of commotion generated by armed groups. The “failed state” propaganda is raised as a resource that goes hand in hand with every belligerent movement against the Venezuelan state and the political leaders of Chavismo.
The concept of “diffuse war”, coined by Minister G/J Vladimir Padrino López to name the type of irregular conflict the country has experienced in these particular cases, may well serve to highlight the framework in which the armed groups of Cota 905 are operating. This implies the transfer of the theaters of operations of irregular warfare to the neighborhoods of Caracas and its surroundings, where “diffuse spaces” develop in which the elementary relations of institutional functioning are partially or totally disabled and where the non-state actors that dispute the territory attempt to impose their own rules.
This is an exercise that has an influence in different dimensions, that crosses political, economic, military, social and cultural areas, since, according to its characteristics, its main objective, and here we quote the words of Minister Padrino López, is “the control of the population, the total change of the structures of power and the pulverization of the nation-state, dismembering it together with its society to be at the mercy of the North American government leadership and its interests, particularly focused on the control of the natural resources that constitute the strategic wealth of the nation”.
At the closing of this report, the deployment of Venezuelan security forces has managed to force the irregular armed groups to withdraw from Cota 905, seizing weapons, logistical resources and killing some members of the irregular combatants. The neutralization of such gangs and their criminal economies becomes urgent at a defining moment for the existence of the Bolivarian Republic, at a time when terrorist violence has become a dominant element of the regime change strategy against Venezuela.
Translation by Internationalist 360°