CNN Documentary: “Most Disruptive” Latin American Gang has Reached the US

Published: 10 June 2024

Celeste CNN(Photo: OCCRP)

By Daniela Castro and David Gonzalez

A violent gang that most likely originated in a Venezuelan prison in 2012 has, in just over a decade, grown into Latin America’s “most disruptive” criminal group and is spreading like cancer throughout the continent. Its tentacles have even reached the United States, according to a CNN documentary released on Sunday.

“We have the most violent gang that perhaps the United States has seen in the last 20 years,” Aristides Jimenez, a former special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told CNN. It is only a matter of time before the 'Tren de Aragua' criminal gang begins to displace other gangs, he added.

The Tren de Aragua is the “most disruptive criminal organization” in Latin America today, according to Óscar Naranjo, a former Colombian vice president and a retired police general.

For over a year, CNN en Español investigated the trajectory of the 'Tren de Aragua' and produced the one-hour documentary in which reporters found that U.S. authorities mentioned the gang in complaints or arrests in at least 70 cases.

The film was produced as part of ‘Narcofiles: The New Criminal Order’—an international investigation into modern-day organized crime and those who fight it. The collaboration involved more than 40 media outlets from Latin America, Europe, and the United States. The investigation began with a leak of seven million emails from the Colombian Attorney General's Office, shared by two organizations, Distributed Denial of Secrets and Enlace Hacktivista.

According to CNN en Español, the presence of the Tren de Aragua has been detected or investigated in six U.S. states: Florida, Georgia, New York, Illinois, Texas, and Louisiana.

In Louisiana, for example, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services identified a sex trafficking group whose leaders allegedly belong to this criminal organization, according to an email sent by the U.S. Immigration Service to CNN. This would be the first case in which members of the gang have been arrested for committing crimes within the United States.

The documentary portrays the cruelty that has characterized the gang's operations and presents a series of testimonies from its victims. The crimes they have been linked to include homicide, extortion, human and arms trafficking, and sexual exploitation, among others.

In November last year, OCCRP reported signs that the gang might also be spreading to the U.S.