Colombia Arrest of EPL Middleman Shows Booming Venezuela Arms Market

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+

Authorities in Colombia arrested an alleged intermediary of the EPL rebel group in charge of acquiring weapons from Venezuela’s military, a reminder that the current crisis in Venezuela is having a regional impact on criminal dynamics.

Rubén Darío Morales Garnica, alias “Camilo Barrera,” was captured in the Villa del Rosario city of Colombia’s Norte de Santander department on April 24, right next to the department’s capital Cúcuta, which lies adjacent to the Venezuelan border, reported CanalTRO.

Authorities assert that Camilo Barrera was the logistics chief responsible for acquiring weapons from Venezuela to supply the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) rebel and criminal group, which Colombia’s government now calls “Los Pelusos.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the EPL

The EPL has recently been expanding its territorial presence and drug trafficking activities in Catatumbo, as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) have withdrawn from certain areas as part of a peace agreement signed with the government last year.

Colombia’s police said the scheme involved small arms, rifles and grenades that were supplied by Venezuela’s military and smuggled across the border into Colombia, where the weapons were redistributed among EPL members throughout the Catatumbo region, as well as among elements of the powerful Urabeños criminal group.

In addition, Colombian authorities allege that the apprehended individual also controlled the extortion business along certain areas of the border, and is behind several attacks against Colombian state officials.

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrest of Camilo Barrera in Colombia points to an ongoing phenomenon in neighboring Venezuela, where the current economic and political crisis has exacerbated corruption and institutional weaknesses and fed criminality. This particular example of arms trafficking is illustrative of how the evolution of illicit activites in Venezuela can have strong repercussions outside of its borders.

Soldiers’ wages lose value every day as hyperinflation continues in Venezuela, providing an added incentive for members of the military to try to make money on the side. Selling stolen weaponry on the black market is an additional quick and lucrative way of earning some substantial additional income.

In addition, given the current social and political crises ravaging Venezuela, there are even less checks and balances on how arms are administered within the armed forces, which is the main muscle behind the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Despite the fact that the 1999 constitution establishes the military as the sole rightful carrier of “weapons of war,” a severe lack of oversight continues.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

The Maduro administration’s policy of arming unregulated, pro-government civilian groups, known as “colectivos,” has further increased the number of weapons circulating in an already booming market fueled by spiking insecurity. Some estimates suggest there may be as many as 3.5 million privately owned firearms in Venezuela, up to 2.7 million of which could be illegal.

Unfortunately, Venezuela’s economic crisis and corrupt, unchecked institutions have favored an array of other illicit activities. Vast proportions of communities along the country’s Caribbean coast have turned to piracy, drug trafficking and human smuggling to make a living. And a recent investigation by the Associated Press showed how the military became involved in widespread food contraband after being given full control of the country’s food production and distribution networks.

As shown by the recent arrest of Camilo Barrera, the repercussions of Venezuela’s out-of-control criminal trends have spilled outside of its borders. A US court case chronicled by InSight Crime has shown that the South American country’s illegal gun running networks reach as far north as the United States, suggesting a strong demand for high-quality illegal weapons in Venezuela, either for use domestically or for re-export.

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+