Gang boss escapes from infamous prisoner-run jail that boasts nightclub and zoo

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    An international manhunt is underway after a notorious gang boss escaped an infamous prison that has a pool, nightclub and even a zoo with monkeys and flamingos.

    The Tocoron prison in Venezuela, located 62 miles west of the capital Caracas, acted as the Tren de Aragua gang’s headquarters for years, where it turned into something not too dissimilar from a resort hotel.

    After it descended into a warzone, it was taken back into the hands of the Government in September.

    It was described as "a city within a prison", with drug lords from cartels living with their families and running their criminal activities from behind bars.

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    According to an investigation by Venezuelan journalist Ronna Risquez, the prison was more like a "hotel" for the gang leaders with a bank, baseball field, restaurant and nightclub.

    During an operation to take back the prison earlier this year, ordered by controversial president Nicolás Maduro, tank-like armoured vehicles were seen rolling into the site, some of them painted white and disguised as ambulances.

    Some 11,000 cops and soldiers stormed the jail and found well-constructed tunnels, which some drug bosses are believed to have fled as the raid unfolded.

    One such boss is Tocoron’s most famous prisoner, Héctor Guerrero, alias El Niño. Guerrero is the leader of the Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s most prominent criminal gang.

    According to Transparencia Venezuela, a Caracas-based NGO, the gang is “the largest and most powerful criminal organization in the South American country, as it has 4,000 hitmen and alliances with other smaller groups.”

    The Interpol office in Caracas issued a Red Notice against Guerrero after they couldn't find him during the raid, or in the days after.

    It soon became apparent that he had left the prison along with several of his main associates before the operation.

    Who are the Tren de Aragua gang?

    The gang has been linked to kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion and even illegal gold mining.

    The group, the most notorious in Venezuela, had been under control of the prison for years until the government crackdown.

    The gang’s leader, Héctor Guerrero Flores, who is in the slammer for murder and drug trafficking, was so powerful that he reportedly used to come and go as he pleased.

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    In September this year, 11,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces were deployed to relinquish the group’s tight grasp on the facility and regain power.

    It marks one of the nation's largest deployment of security forces in history.

    Venezuelan Interior Ministry, Remigio Ceballos, congratulated officers for regaining “total control” of the prison and dismantling “a centre of conspiracy and crime” on his X (formerly Twitter) account.

    President Nicolas Maduro praised the operation as a “great success in the fight against criminal organisations”.

    However, some inmates escaped during the operation as the government later announced a “second phase” of the operation for the “search and capture” of “fugitive criminals”.

    Critics say that Maduro masterminded the crackdown to improve his image ahead of a presidential election.

    The Facilities

    Those locked up in its walls could allegedly roam freely around the lavish, hotel-like lock-up. Facilities include a swimming pool, nightclub, gym, casino, restaurants and even a mini zoo, local media reported.

    Video footage even shows that inmates had an impressive baseball stadium installed.

    Security guards were reportedly seen carrying TVs, microwaves and even motorbikes away from the jail after the government intervention. Living inside Tocorón became so desirable that even those who weren't incarcerated were said to have lived side by side with inmates.

    When food and everyday items were unavailable in Venezuela at the height of the country's economic crisis, one newspaper reported that locals would go to the prison to buy the essentials they could not get anywhere else.

    After authorities announced that 6,000 prisoners would be relocated, some relatives cried outside, unsure where they would go next.

    “I am waiting to hear where they are taking my husband… I was living in there, but they kicked us out,” Gladys Hernández told AFP.

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