Marcos de Jesus Figueroa Garcia, alias “Marquitos,” is a powerful underworld figure in Colombia’s northeast provinces of La Guajira and Cesar, whose reach extends deep into the region’s political establishment. He built his criminal network around smuggling drugs and contraband gasoline between Venezuela and Colombia, and formed a criminal-political axis with La Guajira’s corrupt former Governor Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez, which was allegedly behind a series of political murders. Figueroa was captured in October 2014.
Born into a poor family of Wayuu indigenous ancestry, Figueroa grew up in the La Guajira municipality of Barrancas, where he earned the nickname “Marquitos” (“Little Marcos”) due to his small stature. By the early 1990s, Marquitos had established a criminal sphere of influence in cross-border illegal activities such as contraband smuggling. In the mid-1990s he was arrested and imprisoned in Santa Marta but in 1998 he escaped alongside two other inmates in a plot involving a dump truck knocking down a section of the prison wall.
Group: Head of private army of an estimated 200 men
Criminal Activities: Drug trafficking, contraband fuel smuggling, contract killing.
Area of Operation: La Guajira, Cesar (Colombia) and parts of Venezuela
Marquitos fled to Alta Guajira and began working for Jorge Gnecco Cerchar — the leader of a powerful criminal-political clan, which has produced a governors and senators and whose influence continues today.
Gnecco Cerchar had established a working relationship with paramilitary commander Hernan Giraldo in the mid-90s, and he began participating in drug trafficking. This arrangement was shaken by the incursion of the Northern Bloc of Colombia’s largest paramilitary group at the time, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), led by Rodrigo Tovar, alias “Jorge 40.” When war broke out between Giraldo and Jorge 40, the latter came out victorious and in 2001 Jorge 40 had Gnecco Cerchar murdered.
Throughout this time, Figueroa’s influence grew, as he developed an intimate knowledge of the smuggling routes and players involved in contraband gasoline and drug trafficking through the region. Following Jorge 40’s assassination of Gnecco Cerchar and several more of Marquitos’ underworld allies, Marquitos fled to Venezuela to avoid the same fate.
There he established a formidable criminal setup, which included smuggling contraband fuel and establishing a cooperative of low and mid-ranking drug exporters that stockpiling cocaine and, according to local rumor, sending it into Venezuela hidden in gasoline tanks, which then returned full of cash and contraband gasoline.
After the demobilization of Jorge 40 and the paramilitaries, Marquitos returned to Colombia, where he began providing financial and armed backing to corrupt politicians, and operated as the armed wing of Kiko Gomez’s political bloc as it took power in municipalities around the region. Figueroa stands accused of helping Gomez’s expansion by murdering several opponents.
After Gomez’s arrest shone a spotlight on Figueroa’s organization, the net began to close. In February 2014, Figueroa was convicted in absentia by a Bogota court of a triple homicide that took place in La Guajira in 2011. Later that month he was added to the Colombian National Police’s “most wanted list,” with a $150,000 reward offered for information leading to his capture. Police began making inroads to his organization with a series of arrests of key figures, until finally they captured Figueroa himself in Brazil in October 2014.
Figueroa was a major player in the regional drug trade but his real power came from his control over the contraband gasoline trade. As well as smuggling his own gas, Figueroa also controlled main smuggling routes and sales points and anyone involved in the trade had to pay his “quota.” He is also implicated in a string of political assassinations.
Figueroa’s main areas of operations are his native state La Guajira and neighboring Cesar in the north eastern Colombian border region. He often used Venezuela as a refuge and was hiding out in Brazil when captured.
Allies and Enemies
Former La Guajira governor Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez, now imprisoned on murder charges, was long a key ally of Figueroa, and his political influence is believed to extend throughout the region. Figueroa is also thought to work have been working with the Urabeños criminal organization in La Guajira, although the extent of their collaboration remains unclear..
Figueroa was arrested in October 2014, leaving his criminal-political network facing an uncertain future.