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.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 21 JAN 2013

Rebels from Colombia's smaller rebel group have kidnapped five prospectors and launched attacks across the country in an…

BRAZIL / 22 APR 2014

A recent report has highlighted the increasing role of the East African nation Mozambique in the international drug trade, adding…

COLOMBIA / 13 MAY 2016

Colombia's National Police has carried out the biggest purge of its ranks in over 20 years, but it will have…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…