In Lara state, the number of explosives attacks on car dealerships and auto-parts businesses increased to five, so far this year. This Tuesday, June 16, the last attack recorded at a motorcycle spare parts dealer located in Quibor, a city in Lara state.
In the attacks, military-grade grenades and home-made explosives of the IED kind were involved. Used, premium car dealerships (Venezuela stop production of luxury vehicles years ago) are often the objective, although the odd motorcycle spare-parts shop has also targeted.
Grenade attacks are also commonplace in other states of Venezuela. According to law enforcement, the gang of Josue Angel Santana Peña, alias Santanita, one of the most wanted criminals in the state for murder, kidnapping, and extortion, is involved in at least three of the attacks:
- On February 10, at 9 p.m., authorities confirmed the first grenade attack at a used car lot on 20th street in Barquisimeto. Lara’s newspaper La Prensa revealed that the explosive was with a note for the business owner, reportedly a merchant of Arab ascent.
- On May 7, the second attack took place, causing more damage. An M26 fragmentary grenade exploded at the Autos 251 dealership in eastern Barquisimeto, damaging nine cars and one motorcycle. Autos 251 continued to import late-model vehicles from the United States, according to its Instagram account. The catalog includes Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Mercedes Benz vehicles, ranging in price from $12,000, $31,000, and up to $180,000. Josue Santana Peña, alias Santanita, took responsibility for the attack.
- In a video published on May 8, alias Santanita claimed responsibility for another attack on a car dealership on Calle 26 in Barquisimeto. He admitted that the business was unscathed because the grenade failed to detonate. In the same recording, Santanita threatened to kill the owners of eight dealerships in the city and warned that there would be an escalation of violence if he did not receive the money his gang was demanding. After the broadcast of this video, in which Santanita hides his face and carries a grenade (visibly inscribed with the name of one of the businessmen he threatened), Lara state Gov. Carmen Melendez ordered the capture of the gang members.
Santanita continues to be a fugitive. However, in May, eight extrajudicial executions linked to the search operation for his criminal group were counted in proceedings of the Special Action Force (Faes) and the National Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Command of the National Guard. One of them was his father, Rafael Santana.
- On June 12, at noon, a motorcycle-riding attacker threw a grenade at the 2019 Super Car dealer located at 18th and 22nd streets. The grenade exploded on the roof of the store. The authorities are investigating whether the Santanita gang is related to this attack, because that crew is under close surveillance and, supposedly, lying low.
- On June 16, unknown persons launched an artisanal explosive at the front of a motorcycle parts sale in Quibor. The owners were kidnapped and extorted in 2017, according to to the Ciudad Barquisimeto website. A source from the Scientific and Investigation Police (Cicpc in Spanish) told El Pitazo that Santanita was not involved in this latest attack. General Jose Santiago Moreno Martinez, commander of the Integral Defense Operating Zone in Lara, declared the Cicpc and the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) begun investigations to track down those involved.