Shootings between gangs and police close main roads in Caracas

(Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities closed roads in northwest Caracas on Thursday due to intense shootings between security forces and gangs that, according to analysts, are trying to expand the territory under their control in the capital.

Heavily armed criminal groups have moved in the last month from slums in the hills of Caracas into residential and commercial areas, and violence has erupted in the last 24 hours with shootings breaking out in at least five populous neighborhoods.

“The State Security Agencies continue to be deployed in the areas violated by these criminals and will not rest until rescuing absolute control,” the Interior Minister wrote on Twitter. Carmen Melendez.

He said that some roads in the areas were closed as part of the operation and urged members of the public to stay home.

The government of the questioned President Nicolás Maduro has not mentioned victims as a result of the clashes. Human rights activists in the area have said at least four civilians were killed Wednesday and half a dozen injured.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gangs of the Cota 905 neighborhood in Caracas

Since January, gangs in the Cota 905 neighborhood have been trying to expand their territory to nearby areas, including La Vega.

“We haven’t been operating the kitchens at full capacity since January due to shootings almost every day,” said Amelia Flores, 58, who runs two soup kitchens, primarily for children, in the area. “I don’t know what happened, but in the last 24 hours the situation has exploded and the children are traumatized.”

The gangs want to control one of the main corridors that link the capital with the west of the country, said a human rights activist based in one of the affected neighborhoods.

“It has been the same conflict for months,” said the activist, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

Analysts say gangs in Cota 905 have been able to operate with ease as it has been a no-go zone for security forces due to a pact with the government to reduce violence. Experts say the gangs seized the opportunity to acquire military-grade weapons such as grenade launchers, assault weapons and drones.


“They used the space that the government gave them in La Cota to rearm, gain strength and plan an attack,” said Alexander Campos, a researcher at the Central University of Venezuela who studies violence and politics in society.
“They are expanding from the control of the neighborhoods in the hills to the lower parts of the city,” he said. “It is difficult for them, but they are winning.”

‘It feels like a war zone’

Inés Candida, 56, lives in the middle-class neighborhood El Paraíso, just across the road from the Cota 905 neighborhood. She said the gangs had been in shootouts with the police every day for the past month. But he claimed that he had not seen or heard anything like that in the last 24 hours.

“We are prisoners in our own houses,” he said by phone, as relentless shots rang out in the background.

Catholic priest Wilfredo Corniel, 45, works at a church in the nearby El Cementerio neighborhood. He and others took refuge there, and in a phone call he told CNN, the more shots being fired: “It feels like we’re in a war zone.”

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