Colombian Gangs Extorting in Venezuela

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Colombian neo-paramilitary groups, the Urabeños and the Rastrojos, are running sophisticated extortion rackets in a Venezuelan border state, now controlling territory not only for drug trafficking but other sources of criminal earnings.

El Universal detailed extortion demands made by these groups in Tachira state, which borders the Colombian province of Norte de Santander. In the town of Rubio, the Urabeños reportedly set off a bomb in the offices of a taxi company which had refused to meet increased extortion demands, which stood at 200 bolivars ($47) per vehicle per month.

In the municipalities of Pedro Maria Ureña, Bolivar, Junin, and Rafael Urdaneta, the Rastrojos charge up to 5,000 bolivars ($1,160) a week from businesses, according to the report.

El Universal said that local groups are also involved with extortion, including one known as the “Toyoteros” in San Cristobal, as well as criminals operating out of prisons.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Urabeños and the Rastrojos are two of the most powerful of a new generation of criminal groups in Colombia, known by the government as the BACRIMs.

Like other Colombian criminal networks, including the Revoluationary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), they often find it safer and easier to operate over the border in Venezuela, out of the reach of the Colombian security forces. (See InSight Crime’s profile of the BACRIMs in Venezuela). The Rastrojos and Urabeños are currently battling for control of the border region, a valuable site for drug and contraband trafficking. Four people died in an alleged clash between the groups in Tachira in January.

El Universal reveals how well-organized the Colombian gangs’ extortion operations are, noting reports that the Rastrojos select targets through the Yellow Pages directory or through social media sites. The criminals then contact their victims in a disciplined manner, phoning them up during set hours, and appearing to choose a certain profession to extort on a certain day.

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