Venezuela completes first phase of retaking control of prisons run by prisoners

By Efrain Otero

TOCORON, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela has completed the first phase of regaining control of its prison system, Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos said on Saturday, speaking at the Aragua jail near Tocoron, just days after security forces seized the prison that was infamously run by prisoners.

The jail had restaurants, bars and even outdoor swimming pools, among other luxuries, and it was the operating center for feared criminal gang Tren de Aragua, according to Venezuela's government.

The gang is responsible for carrying out assassinations, drug trafficking and kidnapping, among other crimes, the government says.

The jail housed 1,600 inmates, Ceballos said, adding that most have already been relocated to other prisons across the country. Authorities have also recaptured some 88 members of Tren de Aragua who escaped during the raid by security forces, which took place on Wednesday.

"This is a long-term operation," Ceballos told journalists, adding that authorities would continue to look for people suspected of belonging to the gang.

Following the raid, the Tren de Aragua has been totally dismantled, Ceballos said, without explaining further.

(Reporting by Efrain Otero; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Josie Kao)