HomeNewsBriefSmuggled Ecuador Gas Fuels Colombia Cocaine Production
BRIEF

Smuggled Ecuador Gas Fuels Colombia Cocaine Production

COLOMBIA / 13 NOV 2019 BY MARIA PAULA CHAPARRO EN

A massive flow of smuggled fuel from Ecuador into Colombia is benefiting drug traffickers who use it to produce cocaine and to gas up boats moving drugs.

Ecuador’s Ministry of Economy and Finance calculates that about 114 million gallons of gas are unaccounted for each year and that gas consumption far outstrips demand in border provinces, including three along the Colombia-Ecuador border: Carchi, Sucumbíos and Esmeraldas. Residents of border provinces consume 14 gallons of gasoline per month per person, whereas those in the interior consume just ten gallons, El Universo reported.

Gasoline smuggling generates an annual loss of $212 million, the ministry reported early November. The figure was released after the government claimed that $400 million was lost to smuggling -- a loss it used to partially justify eliminating an expensive fuel subsidy. The elimination of the subsidy, however, set off days of violent protests in mid-October, and the law was ultimately scrapped by Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno.

SEE ALSO: Ecuador News and Profile

The subsidy keeps the price of gasoline in Ecuador about $1 lower than in neighboring Colombia, benefitting smugglers. In Carchi, an Ecuador province along Colombia's southwestern border, some 34 illegal paths are used to move contraband and more than 6,000 residents are involved in gas smuggling.

The most common smuggling method has been dubbed “hormigueo," or "anthill," where smugglers fill fleets of cars with gas in Ecuador and then drive them across the border to Colombia. In another border province, Sucumbíos, crude oil is siphoned off through holes drilled into pipelines. It is then transported through clandestine land and river crossings.

InSight Crime Analysis

Fuel smuggling from Ecuador to Colombia may be increasing for two reasons: Colombia's cocaine production remains at an all-time high, and the collapse of Venezuela's oil industry could be forcing drug traffickers to find another source of gasoline.

Colombian authorities estimate that a quarter of the gasoline sold in the country in 2018 went to cocaine production. An estimated 284 liters of gasoline are needed for every kilo of coca paste. Cocaine production also often requires the use of large generators.

SEE ALSO: A Quarter of Gasoline Sold in Colombia Is Used for Cocaine

According to Colombia’s Fiscal Police and Customs, more than 1 million gallons of gasoline  are smuggled into the country daily, with most of the fuel entering through the country’s border with Venezuela. However, Venezuela's oil production has plunged amid the country's economic crisis.

Oil sector workers claim that Venezuela’s gasoline needs amount to about 500 thousand barrels daily. However, since the end of 2018, the state-owned oil company has only managed to produce 300 thousand, requiring it to import the rest. Additionally, the situation has been exacerbated by bans imposed by the United States on importing oil and refinery products.

As a result, there has seemingly been a massive drop off of smuggled fuel from Venezuela into Colombian border regions, including the departments of La Guajira, Arauca and Norte de Santander. In Norte de Santander, towns known to be hotspots for fuel smuggling have seen a massive decrease in “pimpineros,” small-time traffickers who sell gasoline from plastic containers and tanks hitched to the backs of trucks and motorcycles. Some three thousand people in this informal economy have been left without work.

The president of Ecuador's Association of Gas Station Owners in Guayas, Leonardo Alvarado, says that maritime smuggling accounts for the the majority of gasoline moved from Ecuador to Colombia. In Esmeraldas, along the Pacific coast, motorboats haul between 2,000 to 5,000 gallons in drums that are then dropped off in Tumaco, just north of the Ecuador-Colombia border. The gasoline smuggled by boat is mostly used to fabricate precursor chemicals needed to produce cocaine.

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

ARGENTINA / 27 NOV 2019

Authorities in Argentina are prosecuting 48 customs officials accused of leading an elaborate network that made millions forging records of…

COLOMBIA / 23 NOV 2010

Colombian National Police on Monday captured Rastrojos leader Hector Eudoro Rivera Erazo, alias "Caballo," in the town of Soacha, just…

COCAINE / 2 MAR 2018

The unprecedented seizure of more than half a ton of cocaine at an Albanian port suggests Colombian crime groups seeking…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.