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ABOVE + BELOW – Carlos Luis Revete, aka: El Coqui

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PROFILE: Carlos Luis Revete (aka: El Coqui)

 

https://insightcrime.org/venezuela-organized-crime-news/carlos-luis-revette-alias-el-coqui/

 

Carlos Luis Revete, alias “El Coqui,” is one of Venezuela’s most wanted criminals and leader of the “megabanda” that controls the Cota 905 district to the southwest of Caracas.

Despite facing charges for crimes including robbery, murder and drug trafficking since 2013, Revete enjoys remarkable levels of impunity. The non-aggression pact he has reached with Venezuelan authorities epitomizes the near-total abdication of the state in the marginalized urban districts controlled by the megabandas.

History

Revete was born in 1978 and grew up in the poor districts of Caracas. Little is known of his life until 2013, when he was charged with the murder of Greiber Danilo Alonso Lucas in the “Los Alpes” sector of Cota 905. At the time, Revete is believed to have been a member of a street gang known as “Los Chiches,” and killed Alonso in response to a photo on social media of Alonso posing with an enemy of the gang.

Cota 905 is one of Caracas’ most violent neighborhoods, home to a plethora of urban gangs. The district has been subjected to years of arbitrary and violent policing, creating a profound antipathy towards the security services among its residents. In this context, the gangs gained social power as de facto rule enforcers of the community.

Revete rose to prominence as lieutenant of gang leader, Jesús Alberto Ramos Calderón, alias “El Chavo,” who set out in 2014 to unite the Caracas gangs against the police. The initiative contributed to the emergence of a new criminal structure in Venezuela: “megabandas” comprising over 50 members, more organized and heavily armed than traditional street gangs and modeled on the hierarchical structure of Venezuelan prison gangs. After Ramos was killed by the criminal investigation unit (CICPC) in January 2015, Revete assumed leadership of his new megabanda in Cota 905. Revete continued Ramos’ unification project and is credited by some sources with having united the gangs of Cota 905, El Cementerio and El Valle.

In January 2015, Cota 905 was placed under the Maduro government’s “Peace Zone” policy, in which authorities ceded territorial control to criminal organizations in exchange for a reduction of violence. This truce was broken in July of the same year with the introduction of Maduro’s “Operation Liberation of the People” (Operación Liberación del Pueblo – OLP), a heavy-handed security crackdown that heralded a return to the brutal policing and human rights abuses of the past. The first OLP raid in Cota 905 resulted in the deaths of 15 people, of whom only six had criminal records. Revete was not among them, having taken shelter in a prison just hours before the raid. He continued to evade capture throughout the operation, stoking suspicions that its true targets were Revete’s rivals.

In August 2017, current vice-president and then president of the National Constituent Assembly, Delcy Rodríguez, visited Cota 905Residents are said to have petitioned the officials to restore the Peace Zone policy and prohibit the entry of police into the neighborhood. However, InSight Crime sources revealed that the delegation also met with Revete during the visit, and are believed to have reached a pact with the criminal leader. The Peace Zone policy was reactivated in the district and security forces withdrew.

The state’s abandonment of Cota 905 converted the district into a criminal enclave where the mega-gangs held free reign. Although the “pax mafiosa” between gangs and security forces may have reduced violence, it also allowed gangs such as Revete’s to amass heavy weaponry and consolidate their criminal economies. By 2016, Revete’s gang was estimated at between 70 and 120 members, using Cota 905 as a base of operations for extortion, kidnapping and vehicle theft. However, when including allied gangs, he may be able to call on as many as 180 men.

Within the Peace Zone of Cota 905, Revete enjoys near-total impunity, strikingly demonstrated by a video of him partying openly in the neighborhood, circulated on social media. More alarmingly, the policy seems to be enabling the megabandas to achieve ever greater levels of integration and organization. As of mid-2019, security reports suggest that Revete is now working with fellow gang leader Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi”, to command a mega-gang of around 180 members with a criminal empire extending beyond Caracas.

2019 has only shown how safe El Coqui feels he is from harm. In June 2019, El Coqui took part in the lavish funeral of one of his gang members, at which Alex de Castro, a known Puerto Rican salsa dancer and pastor led the ceremony.

In July, members of El Coqui’s gang attacked CICPC officials in Cota 905. Shortly after CICPC officers were ordered to leave the area, a situation which has become common when El Coqui’s gang is involved. The police is essentially forbidden from entering areas controlled by the gang.

In late December 2020 and early January 2021, members of El Coqui’s gang reportedly invaded La Vega, a popular neighborhood in Caracas which, although close to Cota 905, had never been occupied by the gang.

On January 6, security forces, largely from the FAES, entered the neighborhood seemingly to chase out the gang. The operation lasted until January 9 and reportedly left 23 dead. Human rights defenders called it the largest-scale police killings in the country’s history. And while many of the victims have not been formerly identified, InSight Crime was able to confirm that El Coqui was not among the dead.

El Coqui’s gang has continued to clash almost weekly through April 2021 with both rival gangs and security forces in the areas surrounding Cota 905. These confrontations, and the appearance of several gang members in Valles del Tuy, show that El Coqui appears to be acting on his expansion plans.

Criminal Activities

Revete is wanted on numerous charges including robbery, murder and drug trafficking. His gang controls criminal activity throughout the Cota 905 district, primarily drug-dealing and vehicle theft, although they are also involved in kidnapping and extortion schemes.

The gang has been known to brutally murder criminal challengers, as seen in the massacre of seven members of a rival gang in February 2019.

Police sources consulted by InSight Crime, said on condition of anonymity, that Revete also frequently uses other “Peace Zones” in Los Valles del Tuy, in the state of Miranda, to find refuge.

Geography

Revete’s territory of Cota 905 is a populous hillside district in the southwest of Caracas. It is part of a gang stronghold that includes the sectors of El Cementario and El Valle. Revete’s alliances with other local gangs means that he exercises effective control over much of this area. He is currently believed to be working together with Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi,” and Garbis Ochoa Ruiz, alias “El Garbis” giving this criminal federation control of a territory of roughly 20 square kilometers in the southwest of Caracas.

Allies and Enemies

Despite being one of Venezuela’s most wanted criminals, Revete appears to have reached an understanding with the Maduro administration that allows him to operate with near-total impunity. Furthermore, he has shown himself willing to violently defend this pact when necessary. In February 2019, his gang killed seven members of a smaller gang led by Elvis Eduardo Castro Troya, alias “El Culón.” It is believed that the massacre was in retaliation for the killing of two soldiers by Castro Troya’s gang, which breached the terms of the “pax mafiosa” between the gangs of west Caracas and the Venezuelan state.

Revete is also willing to work together with other gang leaders to expand his criminal empire. 2019 intelligence reports suggest he has reached an alliance with Carlos Alfredo Calderón Martínez, alias “El Vampi,” and Garbis Ochoa Ruiz, alias “El Garbis,” to form a still larger gang of around 180 members.

Prospects

Revete’s record of evading capture while continually expanding his gang’s criminal activities demonstrates his ability to exploit the Maduro administration’s contradictory policing initiatives for his own purposes. He has shown himself to be highly skilled in reaching agreements with both authorities and rival gangs in order to consolidate territorial control and guarantee his impunity. Since 2017, the withdrawal of police from Cota 905 has allowed Revete to build a high-caliber arsenal estimated at 200 grenades, 15 AR-15 rifles and 150 smaller firearms. With this, his gang rivals the firepower of security forces.

Through strategic alliances with other gang leaders, Revete looks set to expand his criminal empire still further. Revete is also linked to illegal mining operations allegedly once controlled by Calderón in the states of Carabobo and Bolívar, suggesting that this Caracas megaband could even extend its influence to other parts of Venezuela.

El Coqui is also protected due to having widespread sympathy and loyalty among residents of Cota 905, who see him as a benefactor.

BACKGROUND: El Coqui’s Victory – An Urban Invasion in Caracas

 

https://insightcrime.org/news/el-coqui-victory-urban-invasion-caracas/

 

El Coqui seemed to be comfortable. Caracas’ foremost gang boss had, for several years, dominated the sprawling neighborhood of Cota 905, a densely packed and poor part of western Caracas.

As long as he kept his criminal activities inside Cota 905, he enjoyed almost complete impunity, having negotiated a deal in 2017 as part of the government’s Peace Zones (Zonas de Paz), which prevented security forces from even entering the area.

Carlos Luis Revete, alias “El Coqui,” had little to fear. He could walk around his neighborhood, free of molestation. Well-known artists were even invited to perform for him at open-air parties inside Cota 905, a privilege rarely enjoyed by anybody in Venezuela at the moment.

That impunity would occasionally be tested. But when officers from Venezuela’s criminal investigation unit (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas – CICPC) did try and pursue members of El Coqui’s gang, they would usually either stop short of entering Cota 905 or be ordered to turn back.

On the rare occasions that violence broke out, authorities usually came off worse. In April 2021, a shootout between El Coqui’s gang and the CICPC left one officer dead and three more injured. An armored vehicle, sent in to rescue the officers, was also attacked with high-caliber weaponry.

So what led El Coqui to break this status quo?

Life in La Vega

To the southwest of Cota 905 lies another neighborhood: La Vega. With over 120,000 people and no dominant criminal presence capable of rivaling El Coqui’s, it seemed ripe for invasion.

As InSight Crime previously reported, members of El Coqui’s gang were first reported in La Vega in late-2020. They set up checkpoints at entrances to La Vega and imposed a curfew.

But La Vega is not a Peace Zone. And security forces did not initially seem willing to grant El Coqui carte blanche in another part of Caracas.

Special forces moved in on January 8. At least 23 people, mostly residents unconnected to organized crime, died in what became known as the Massacre of La Vega.

This did not dislodge El Coqui from La Vega, but it did seem like authorities temporarily lifted his impunity. In late January, violence repeatedly broke out between El Coqui’s gang and security forces inside Cota 905, La Vega and in other parts of the city.

But six months on, he’s still there. Without the political agreements he made in Cota 905, El Coqui has become the boss of La Vega, thanks to a little bit of killing and a little bit of talking.

One smaller gang boss, Yorfren Javier Guédez Bullones, alias “El Mayeya,” saw the benefit of an alliance. He has become a loyal friend to El Coqui, allowing his gang to operate across La Vega and build a number of surveillance posts on high ground overlooking the area.

And life in La Vega has definitely become more dangerous for residents. The neighborhood was far from peaceful before El Coqui, but inhabitants say they’re now afraid of going outside.

“My grandson tells me: ‘Grandma, El Coqui is back, I’m not going to the park because I’m scared.’ … The grandchildren don’t have a childhood anymore … when they hear gunshots, they say it’s El Coqui again,” one grandmother in La Vega told Efecto Cocuyo in June.

There have been consistent reports of deaths due to stray bullets. One woman was shot in the chest while cooking in her apartment in March. A retired policewoman was also killed after being hit in the stomach by a stray bullet in May. That same month, a 16-year-old boy died in hospital after being shot in the head while working out in his apartment building. On June 14, a man was accidentally struck in the head and killed while inside a shop.

The gang has also sought to clear out any residents connected to state security forces. One such resident was a man identified only as Robert, the owner of a gas station and an alleged member of a colectivo (state-supported militia groups.)

In a voice message sent to his colectivo, which InSight Crime had access to, Robert stated that he was summoned to a meeting with El Coqui’s gang. After he did not go, the gang kidnapped his eldest son, aged 24. When the colectivo still did not agree to turn over its weapons, the son was reportedly tortured and killed.

But other reports state that El Coqui’s gang has worked to build relations with the community. InSight Crime interviewed a number of residents in La Vega who said that the group has offered a measure of protection, forced petty criminals to leave the neighborhood and have not extorted local businesses.

Now, El Coqui’s control of La Vega appears to be complete.

Lackluster State Response

On June 12, the Venezuelan state responded. Between 300 and 600 officers belonging to the police’s Special Action Forces (Fuerza de Acciones Especiales – FAES) moved into La Vega. Their targets: El Coqui and El Mayeya.

The government hit all the expected notes: all roads in and out of La Vega were blocked, residents were told not to go outside, the two leaders were being hunted and the community would be freed.

Twitter videos showed convoys of black vehicles driving through La Vega carrying men armed to the teeth.

On Twitter, Venezuela’s Minister for Justice and Peace, Carmen Meléndez, was jubilant. “The deployment in La Vega was an overwhelming victory,” she wrote, claiming that 38 people had been arrested and a number of weapons seized.

Those who had been detained were lined up, made to sit on the floor and black bags placed on their heads for a photograph.

But they didn’t get El Coqui and they didn’t get El Mayeya.

And maybe they didn’t really get anyone else either.

Despite sending in hundreds of troops and claiming victory, the government has shown no proof that El Coqui’s control of La Vega was even weakened. None of the 38 people arrested were identified.

Since the raids, residents told Efecto Cocuyo that no other arrests of gang members had been noticed.

Four days after the raid, the government released new photos of El Mayeya and over a dozen of his collaborators, suggesting his gang was not overly affected. El Coqui also issued an ultimatum: all security forces needed to pull out immediately or his gang would start killing civilians.

Wanted poster for Yorfren Javier Guédez Bullones, alias “El Mayeya.” Photo: Ministry for Interior Relations, Justice and Peace.

The FAES has not pulled out altogether, some patrols have remained deployed at the entrances to La Vega. But this appears to be little more than a cursory presence.

El Coqui now controls La Vega, as he does Cota 905.

And he may not be done. His gang has been seen with increasing frequency in other neighborhoods of western Caracas, including El Paraíso and Santa Rosalía.

In an audio message that recently circulated widely on social media, one alleged member of El Coqui’s gang can be heard saying: “What they don’t know is we control all of Caracas, we dominate all of Caracas.”

and more BACKGROUND: El Coqui’s Ambition Fuels Urban Warfare in Caracas

 

https://insightcrime.org/news/el-coqui-urban-warfare-caracas/

 

Recent shootouts between Venezuelan security forces and the El Coqui gang included a clash in which at least two dozen people were gunned down, and experts warn of continued violence as the gang tries to advance on new territory.

In the last days of 2020, information began to circle that the El Coqui gang — which is one of Caracas’ largest criminal groups and is under the leadership of Carlos Luis Revete, alias “El Coqui,” — was seeking to expand north from its base in the Cota 905 neighborhood of Caracas to the nearby district of La Vega.

“From December 29, El Coqui’s people created a type of checkpoint overseen by young men…who are imposing a type of curfew,” one resident of Zulia street in La Vega told El Pitazo.

Security forces soon responded. On the afternoon of January 6, police forces engaged in a shootout with gang members in La Vega, according to a tweet by Venezuelan journalist Roman Camacho.

“People were too panicked to go out onto the street,” said one resident. Residents — who described the armed men as belonging to El Coqui’s gang — said they were warned that the gang would force out any police that entered La Vega. Camacho told InSight Crime that the gang managed to do just that, at least for a while.

However, the Venezuelan Special Action Forces (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales – FAES) and other branches of Venezuelan police forces launched a full-scale invasion of La Vega in the early hours of January 8.

Two days later, reports emerged that the response, particularly from the FAES, had been overwhelmingly violent. Some two dozen residents had been killed by security forces during their operation, according to Runrun, which cited family members of alleged victims.

After the killings, clashes between authorities and El Coqui’s gang continued to escalate.

Since mid-January, police have attempted twice to take on the El Coqui gang on its home turf of Cota 905. On January 20, the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Command (Comando Antiextorsión y Secuestro – CONAS) exchanged shots with alleged kidnappers in the Los Laureles sector, which is on the outskirts of Cota 905.

Just over one week later, on January 28, Los Laureles was the scene of another confrontation between the El Coqui gang and security forces. According to El Pitazo, gang members ambushed police who had entered Los Laureles. The raid sparked a five-hour shootout that spilled over into the nearby neighborhood of El Paraíso. One alleged gang member was killed, while one bystander and one police officer were injured.

Violence in La Vega

After the violence in La Vega, news outlet Runrun identified several of the victims. Yerikson José García Duarte, a 32-year-old carpenter, was shot in the street while he was standing with friends. Raúl Antonio Lira Sánchez, a 25-year-old mechanic, was gunned down on his motorcycle with a friend. Jonathan Useche, 17, was seen being led away by FAES officers with a hood over his head. His body was later found in a morgue. Runrun also interviewed residents who said several people were killed inside their homes.

When seeking to verify these killings and those responsible, InSight Crime encountered differing versions of events. Family members of three separate victims, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear for their lives, insisted that their loved ones had nothing to do with gangs. Marino Alvarado, the investigative coordinator of PROVEA, a Venezuelan human rights organization, supported these claims, telling InSight Crime that the group’s inquiries found neither police nor gang members among the dead.

But journalist Roman Camacho told InSight Crime that gang members were killed.

A resident, who spoke to InSight Crime by phone and asked not to be named because of security concerns, said some people in La Vega were thankful for the police intervening against El Coqui. Others were more afraid of the FAES. The FAES has a history of being connected to alleged extrajudicial executions in urban neighborhoods.

A relative of a shooting victim in La Vega, who spoke to InSight Crime through WhatsApp and asked for anonymity because she feared for her safety, said that her family member was shot after the FAES raided their home.

“It isn’t that I support the gang coming to the neighborhood, but you can’t destroy a child’s life because you want to kill someone,” she said.

Several questions are raised by the violence in La Vega and the following confrontations. Why did the El Coqui gang, which went years without seeking territorial expansion, target La Vega? Why did the FAES, even with its history of violence, respond with overwhelming force? And what does this mean for the expansion of Venezuela’s largest gangs, known as “megabandas,” which have risen to become one of the region’s principal criminal threats?

The answers lie partly with Revete, alias “El Coqui,” the long-term gang leader of the Cota 905 neighborhood. InSight Crime has previously reported on how Revete’s control of his gang and his territory has relied on a “peace zone” agreement with authorities since at least 2017, who largely leave him alone as long as he keeps the peace.

Under this tacit agreement, the megabanda has strengthened its control over criminal economies both inside and in the outskirts of Cota 905, buoyed by the informal restrictions on police’s entry into the neighborhood. El Coqui’s gang has sometimes drawn the attention of security forces, but authorities often stop short of pursuing gang members past the outskirts of Cota 905.

Alexander Campos, director of Venezuela’s Centro de Investigaciones Populares (Center for Social Investigations), suggested to InSight Crime this was why the El Coqui gang ambushed police in Los Laureles at the end of January. On the rare occasions that police have entered Cota 905, it has typically ended in violence, much like it did this time.

El Coqui has no such agreement providing him impunity in La Vega, leading to a predictably strong police response to his recent expansion attempt. And though it seems certain Revete saw an opportunity for expansion, he may have hedged his bets.

Both Camacho and Campos told InSight Crime that the armed men involved in the La Vega clashes were not directly members of Revete’s gang. Instead, it seems he may have used an alliance with another gang, led by alias “El Torta,” in his attempted takeover of La Vega. Camacho and Campos said their information pointed to El Torta’s men fighting the FAES.

This fits Revete’s usual strategy. His negotiation skills have not only helped him avoid government pursuit but also allowed him to build alliances with other gangs in different sectors of Cota 905 to consolidate his control.

The level of violence by authorities, however, was eye-catching. The police unit has often been deployed as a frontline force to cow rogue criminal elements. The United Nations Human Rights Council previously has singled the unit out for being involved in extrajudicial killings, but the unit’s tactics have not changed.

Expansion of Megabandas

The encroachment into La Vega represents Revete’s first known attempt at expansion, even if orchestrated through an allied proxy. There are likely several reasons that motivated him to expand, ranging from security to economic needs. While his control of Cota 905 is largely uncontested, he does not have much room to expand there. Meanwhile La Vega is a larger and more developed neighborhood, according to Luis Izquiel, a Venezuelan lawyer and long-time researcher of megabandas. As such, taking control of La Vega would provide the El Coqui gang with important new revenue streams through extortion and drug sales.

Campos agreed, noting that megabandas need to expand in order to provide enough income to their members. And the country’s economic crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic, may have accelerated this need, with several criminal economies providing significantly lower returns over the past year.

Camacho, who has reported extensively on the El Coqui megabanda, also pointed out that La Vega is more ideally situated as a home base from which the gang could carry out kidnappings in other sectors of Caracas. Although a halt in kidnappings was reported to be one of the conditions for El Coqui’s “peace zone” agreement with security forces, it did carry out several failed kidnapping attempts in 2020 that ended in shootouts.

This attempt by El Coqui to claim La Vega appears to have failed for now. But any future invasion may face severe pushback from security forces, with civilians caught in the crossfire.

The group is also putting its agreement inside Cota 905 in jeopardy. If the Maduro government sees Revete as acting in bad faith, especially as the situation between the gang and security forces continues to heat up, it may seek to remove him. He would not be the first gang leader to fall in and out of favor with the Maduro government in this manner.