Fuel Smugglers Making Large Profits, Venezuelan Authorities Crack Down


Merida, 15th October 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – As part of a clamp down on trafficking of Venezuela’s regulated and subsidised fuel, authorities have confiscated 1 million litres of fuel being smuggled across the border to Colombia and dismantled a mafia gang in Bolivar state which smuggled up to 250,000 litres per week, most likely to Brazil.

Yesterday General William Barrientos, head of the Border Command being implemented in Zulia state along the border with Colombia, talked to press about how the plan has been going since its commencement 44 days ago.

He said that the Bolivarian National Armed Forces had been carrying out maintenance on water and road infrastructure, but also running operations to uncover Caletas, which he argued were the roots of the problem of food and petrol being smuggled across the border. Caletas are the places where food or petrol, bought at regulated prices, is stored.

Barrientos said that in 44 days the army had repossessed a million litres of petrol and 300 tonnes of food.

Further, in Guajira, to the north of Zulia, the Border Command is carrying out of census of families in order to distribute food in “an organised way”. Guajira, with a population of 65,000, a majority of which are indigenous Wayuu, borders Colombia and is on the Caribbean coast.

“We’re designing a system with all the institutions that are working with the Border Command in order to take basic food items directly to housing, house by house,” Barrientos said. He stated that food arrived in the Guajira municipality in amounts that are above the real consumption needs of the area.

Last month petroleum minister Rafael Ramirez also announced the implementation of a special petroleum distribution system, called Special Border Fuel Supply (Safec) in La Guajira. It involves PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company and local cooperatives selling fuel at an “international price” of Bs 5-12 per litre (US$ 0.80 – 1.90 at the official exchange rate).

The price provides cooperatives with a “reasonable profit”, but also undermines the smuggling rings. Petrol costs Bs 0.082 in Venezuela and is selling at Bs 20 on the border, or 250 times more the buying price.

Moreover, on Sunday the National Guard arrested 12 people in Bolivar state for allegedly smuggling fuel. It also confiscated 250,000 litres of gasoil they had on a boat, and shut down the smuggling complex. The complex involved storing gasoil in cisterns and transporting it through hundreds of kilometres of underground piping to the river and the boat. General Commander of the National Guard, Justo Noguera, said the boat was loaded up once a week. It would have headed to Brazil or Guyana.

Fuel smuggling to Colombia costs Venezuela US$ 1.4 billion per year, with 30,000 barrels smuggled daily, according to a report coming out of a bilateral meeting between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments in August this year. Eight states in Venezuela share borders with other countries, including the islands of Curazao, Aruba, and Trinidad and Tobago.