HomeNewsAnalysisVideo Shows Colombia Police Take on Contraband with Tear Gas
ANALYSIS

Video Shows Colombia Police Take on Contraband with Tear Gas

COLOMBIA / 18 NOV 2014 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

Police footage shows how Colombian police confront contraband runners along the Caribbean coast, from chasing down speeding trucks loaded with gasoline to shooting tears gas at the drivers. 

The smuggling of contraband gasoline from Venezuela to Colombia has evolved into a sophisticated and highly lucrative criminal economy worth billions of dollars – and everyone wants their cut: corrupt security forces, leftist guerrillas, narco-paramilitaries and contraband cartels.

The smuggling operates on several levels, from individuals packing their cars with jerrycans to organized criminal groups managing convoys of tankers loaded with thousands of gallons of gasoline.

As the video below shows, smugglers along one contraband route in the Caribbean state of La Guajira will frequently travel in convoys dubbed "caravans of death." These flotillas of tankers, trucks and cars earned this nickname by hurtling through the countryside at reckless speeds, stopping only when they arrive at their destination -- or when they crash, as shown in the police footage obtained by InSight Crime. These "caravans of death" are often accompanied by armed escorts, who open fire on the security forces to try and throw them off the chase.

Police rely heavily on tear gas to try and bring smugglers to a halt, often by firing directly at or into their vehicles, as the video depicts. They also use tear gas liberally to disperse crowds of protesters, who often gather if the police manage to detain the trucks loaded with contraband gasoline. Smugglers frequently mobilize local communities that are dependent on smuggling for their livelihoods. The locals descend on the scene and try to prevent seizures by blocking vehicles or even fighting with the police.

Colombia's Contraband Trail

The first step of the smugglers' journey is to cross the Venezuelan border using one of the estimated 170 clandestine dirt track crossings that run through the La Guajira desert. To do so, the smugglers must either avoid or pay off the Venezuelan National Guard (GNB).

The GNB prowl the area hunting smugglers, and InSight Crime heard from numerous sources that if they are not bought off, they will seize and torch smugglers' vehicles.

The border region on both the Colombian and Venezuelan sides is a stronghold of guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as shown in the map below. Anyone moving contraband through the territory also has to pay the insurgents' import "taxes." Those that fail to pay tribute to the rebels risk being kidnapped and even murdered.

{googleMaps lat=11.3831092 long=-72.2460937 zoom=8 width=100% height=480 marker=0 addoverview=0 kml=https://enmenteweb.com/insightcrime/maps/quienesingles.kmz mapkey=https://enmenteweb.com/insightcrime/images/maps/quienesingles.png}

Once in Colombia, some smugglers head to the town of Maicao, where they can unload in storage yards. The yards operate openly, as the police know that any raids will result in violent protests. When the police arrive, the yard operators rally smugglers, gasoline vendors, and anyone else that relies on contraband gasoline for a living, who erect burning barricades and hurl missiles at the police to try and prevent seizures.

The storage of hundreds of barrels of gasoline in sites with little oversight or care for safety precautions is a major fire risk, and blazes are a common occurrence.

Territory in Maicao is divided up between FARC militias and criminal gang the Urabeños. Smugglers, vendors, and managers of the storage yards all have to pay the "taxes" of one group or the other.

From Maicao, some smugglers then head deeper into Urabeños territory by taking the westward road along the Caribbean coast, where the gasoline can be sold on in cities such as Santa Marta and Barranquilla.

However, the most popular route for gasoline smugglers is to cross the border in the sparsely populated region below Maicao, then head south towards the state of Cesar and into the domain of the recently captured contraband kingpin Marcos de Jesus Figueroa, alias "Marquitos." It is along this road where the convoys dubbed "caravans of death" most commonly pass.

The convoys are usually organized by Marquitos' organization or other criminal groups dedicated to the contraband trade. However, anyone who moves or sells contraband gasoline along this route -- whether they are associated with organized crime groups or not -- must pay Marquitos a toll.

At the end of the road lies La Paz, a town in the state of Cesar that acts as the region's hub of sales and distribution. According to the town mayor, 80 percent of La Paz residents live off the contraband gasoline trade. But as along much of the smuggling trail, while contraband gas brings easy money, it also brings organized crime and violence. La Paz has witnessed violent confrontations involving Marquitos' gang, and there have been warnings that the Urabeños are beginning to move into the area.

This article is the third part in a four-part series looking at contraband in Colombia. Read part one, a report from Colombia-Venezuela border town Cucuta, a major smuggling hub; part two, on how contraband politics took over northeast Colombia, and part four, which traces how contraband became Colombian organized crime's tool of choice for laundering money.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 21 FEB 2022

Three retired Colombian army commanders have been accused of belonging to a criminal network that served the Urabeños drug clan,…

BRAZIL / 24 MAR 2022

The 2021 ranking of the world's most violent cities predictably features a heavy presence by Latin American and Caribbean population…

ARGENTINA / 27 MAY 2021

While contraband has boomed at the Argentina-Brazil border during the COVID-19 pandemic, wine seems to have been in particularly high…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…