When subsidized products become available at supermarkets in Venezuela, networks of foot soldiers called “bachaqueros” swoop in and empty shelves of goods to then sell for huge markups on the black market, highlighting the flexibility criminals display to take advantage of any profitable opportunity.
Bachaqueros are people who buy and hoard supermarket goods, and sell them domestically or smuggle them to Colombia. They depend on social media, informants, and motorcycles to quickly arrive at supermarkets stocked with in-demand products, according to the Los Angeles Times, and even offer delivery services to would-be buyers.
Originally designed to curb inflation, strict price controls on basic necessities have led to huge lines, product shortages, and an armed military presence in supermarkets. Black market prices for basic goods are often 400 to 500 percent higher than the government subsidized price, which networks of bachaqueros exploit for lucrative gains, according to Diario Las Americas.
One bachaquero told news website Noticia al Dia the most profitable goods to smuggle are heavily subsidized by the government: rice, sugar, milk, laundry detergent, and flour.
In states that share a border with Colombia, where the contraband trade thrives, the presence of bachaqueros is particularly evident. Goods fetch higher prices in contraband hubs like the city of Cucuta, which don't have price or currency restrictions, as InSight Crime profiled in September.
In one video posted by Diario Panorama, bachaqueros hoard supermarket products in plain view, often provoking the anger of other shoppers:
InSight Crime Analysis
While bands of bachaqueros display adaptability to changing market conditions -- like developing huge contraband networks to smuggle gasoline, food, and medicine between Colombia and Venezuela -- the government has doubled down on the very policies that led to the black markets in the first place.
In March, the President Nicolas Maduro announced the rollout of 20,000 fingerprint scanners in supermarkets across the country, a system designed to monitor purchases and prevent hoarding.
SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles
Maduro has also blamed private businesses for the black market in basic goods, claiming that supermarkets and pharmacies sell government subsidized imports to smugglers and black-market traders. Indeed, two pharmacy executives were arrested in February for allegedly understocking shelves.
Food smuggling has also been linked to larger Colombian criminal organizations, like the Urabeños and Rastrojos, and rebel groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which have been accused of using contraband beef sales to launder money.