HomeNewsBriefColombia Captures 'Marquitos,' Contraband Capo and Political Boss
BRIEF

Colombia Captures 'Marquitos,' Contraband Capo and Political Boss

COLOMBIA / 23 OCT 2014 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

Police have captured the most wanted man in northeast Colombia, "Marquitos" Figueroa, a blow against a criminal network that not only controls gasoline smuggling and drug trafficking routes but has also deeply infiltrated local politics.

Marcos "Marquitos" Figueroa was captured in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista after one of his eight romantic partners -- who was being tracked by police -- led authorities to a luxurious mansion where the capo was hiding out, reported El Tiempo.

The capture ends a manhunt that began last year after Marquitos was identified as the criminal partner of the former governor of La Guajira department, Francisco "Kiko" Gomez Cerchar, who was arrested and charged with murder in 2013.

With the pressure mounting, authorities believe that Figueroa fled first to Venezuela, then to Brazil to escape the attention of security forces and his enemies.

InSight Crime Analysis

Marquitos Figueroa's criminal career in the departments of La Guajira and Cesar stretches back decades to when he started out extorting smugglers and selling stolen trucks and containers along the border, according to a profile by news site Las 2 Orillas.

He moved up quickly through the paramilitary-dominated underworld of the late 1990s and early 2000s, building alliances with key criminal and political players. In the wake of the paramilitary demobilization, which finished in 2006, he manoeuvred his network into a dominant position in the region.

Although he was a major drug trafficker, the main source of Marquitos' wealth and criminal power is the contraband gasoline trade, which is worth as much as $3 billion to organized crime, according to some estimates, and has seen cheap smuggled Venezuelan gas claim a 15 percent market share of sales in Colombia, according to Colombian tax agency the DIAN.

SEE ALSO: Marquitos Profile

However, Marquitos' influence is not limited to the underworld. Together with Kiko Gomez, he garnered enormous political power, allegedly helping place allies not only in the governor's office but also in mayor's offices and congressional seats around the region, many of whom remain in place today. The pair are also implicated in a string of political murders, for which Gomez is currently on trial.

What will happen now to Marquitos' criminal empire is uncertain. His organization has deep rooted local ties and deputies may be capable of taking over operations. However, sources in the region say at least one dissident group tired of paying Marquitos his share have been involved in a low intensity conflict with his network for several years, and they could now make their move.

Colombia's most powerful criminal group, the Urabeños, may also sense an opportunity. While Marquitos has been widely reported as having close ties to or even being a member of the Urabeños, both official and unofficial sources in La Guajira insist he was an independent operator. However, according to investigator Ariel Avila, Marquitos recently met with the Urabeños and regional drug traffickers to discuss an alliance -- something the Urabeños may push for with the remnants of his organization.

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