Half of all car parts sold in Colombia come from stolen vehicles, and that's just one segment of a transnational black market trade worth billions of dollars.
According to a recent report by El Tiempo, every year close to 25,000 cars are stolen in the United States, Venezuela, and Ecuador, taken apart, and then smuggled into Colombia. Combined with the car parts stolen from vehicles in Colombia, this black market trade is worth an estimated $3.9 billion a year.
In 2014, nearly 9,000 cars were stolen in Colombia, and an additional 337,000 drivers were victims of car part theft, with items like tires removed from parked cars and mirrors snapped off at red lights. Police calculate that between 70 and 75 percent of Colombia's stolen cars are dismantled for car parts, reported El Tiempo.
Colombia's black market for stolen car parts involves a wide range of criminal actors, including corrupt transportation officials who provide criminal networks with license plates and other documentation, reported El Tiempo. In capital city Bogota, authorities believe there are three major "car" capos who oversee networks made up of trained criminals. These include the so-called "llanteros" who can remove and steal a car tire in about 60 seconds, and the "mechanics" who can completely dismantle a stolen car in less than 45 minutes.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Tiempo's report reveals both the size of Colombia's illicit car parts trade and its transnational reach, highlighting the sophistication of the criminal networks involved. The operations described in El Tiempo's report suggest that -- far from being loosely affiliated groups of common criminals -- these networks have the sophistication needed to smuggle large quantities of car parts into the country and bribe transportation officials. One international car theft ring dismantled in 2013, for example, involved cars stolen in southwest Colombia and then resold in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Bolivia.
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Elsewhere in the region, auto theft is also a major criminal enterprise. In 2012, Mexico's motor vehicle protection association estimated that car theft provided criminal groups with $11 billion dollars a year, while Brazil's Sao Paulo state saw an average of 583 vehicles stolen a day in 2011. Car theft is especially common in border areas, like Juarez, Mexico -- which saw carjacking rise along with murders during the worst period of the city's violence -- and the Colombia-Ecuador border.
Car theft is also often tied to the drug trade, with cars stolen in Brazil exchanged for drugs and weapons in Bolivia and Paraguay, and criminal groups employing stolen vehicles for drug transport. In Guatemala, a car theft ring dismantled in 2013 was linked to the Texis Cartel, a cocaine transport group based in El Salvador.