This chapter contributes to a critical approach to the study of gangs by highlighting the deleterious effects of mano dura policies on criminal groups. First, using the case of Caracas, we want to show how such policies encourage gangs to adapt in different ways, in some cases adopting a warfare mode. Second, we want to illustrate how these policies in Venezuela have contributed to the reorganization of gangs, turning them into informal political actors of importance with whom the State, in periods of contested legitimacy and high political instability, is compelled to negotiate. One of the main goals of this chapter is to tackle the diversity of the relationships between the Bolivarian state and armed actors. Thus, we identify four strategies that were developed and juxtaposed to each other at distinct but also overlapping time periods: violent enforcement, failed negotiation and integration, confrontation and instrumental negotiation. We conclude by highlighting how the highly fragmented condition of the Venezuelan state in the frame of the Bolivarian Revolution has exacerbated mano dura’s lethal impacts. State security institutions have become increasingly fractured and pitted against one another during the revolution. Inconsistent and contradictory policies that are poorly implemented have reinforced gang members’ commitment to organized crime and violence, because it is never clear what the future might hold. By analyzing how some gangs evolve into organized criminal groups in response to state policies – from persecution to pacts, from pacts to declarations of war and back to pacts – we aim to enrich the literature on violence, organized crime and politics.