Venezuelan Police Clash With Indigenous Suspected Fuel Traffickers

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A shootout between police in northern Venezuela and a suspected fuel trafficker, who was a member of the Wayuu people, draws attention to the role of the indigenous group in this trade.

El Universal reports that police sighted the alleged trafficker when he was filling up his vehicle at a pump in a northern neighborhood of the city of Maracaibo, which is about 100 km by road from the Colombian border.

According to the police, the suspect fled and hid in a building, where he and other traffickers engaged in a shootout with police that left him dead and 12 others injured. A group of protesters then went to the police station and mayor’s office, demanding that the police who had fired the fatal shots be handed over. They claimed that the shooting had broken out when the suspects refused to pay bribes to the police.

InSight Crime Analysis

Fuel trafficking from Venezuela to Colombia is profitable because of the Venezuelan government’s generous fuel subsidies. The country topped a recent list by UK insurance company Staveley Head of the cheapest gas prices in the world, at an average of $0.18 per gallon. This is thanks to generous subsidies from the government. Over the border in Colombia the price rises dramatically — in border town Cucuta a gallon of gas currently costs 4,036 pesos, which is the equivalent of $2.27.

The northern border region of the Colombian province of La Guajira and the Venezuelan state of Zulia, where Maracaibo is located, is a popular crossing point for fuel smugglers. Much of the land on the Colombian side is a reserve for the Wayuu indigenous group, who are present on both sides of the border, meaning that there is less presence from the security forces. In the past, the trade in this region was controlled by the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), who had a branch called the Wayuu Counter-Insurgent Front.

Now, with the demobilization of the AUC in the mid 2000s, the fuel trade is thought to be in the hands of members of the Wayuu, who work in groups constituted by extended family ties. In crossing points elsewhere on the border more organized criminal groups are involved, such as the Colombian Rastrojos in Norte de Santander province, further south.

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