Recently, the border between the cities of Cucuta in Colombia and San Antonio in Venezuela, was blocked by a crowd of smugglers who protested because of the abuses suffered inflicted by the Venezuelan police. The disturbances began on the Simon Bolivar international bridge that is the main link between Colombia and Venezuela, where protesters blocked the road with burning tires, sticks, stones, and more.
The authorities of Caracas, in order to stop or at least contain the negative consequences on their balance of payments have increased the price of some food in the hope of stabilizing the economy stemming the illegal flow of goods to Colombia, where prices are much higher than it absorbs, through the cross-border smuggling about 40% of its domestic products. The Venezuelan government, deeply concerned by this phenomenon, certainly not recent, but lately has reached unsustainable levels so as to involve the relations between the two countries, must run for cover. The economic policies of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, revolutionized by the President Hugo Chavez, were and still are focused to a pervasive nationalism that reflects its effects in the management of major companies failing, however, to attract foreign capital.
This state of affairs, according to the international economic analysts, while it led to a strong U.S. influence dissociation, although Venezuela still exports most of its oil in the U.S., conversely, it is leading the country to the financial collapse.
In Venezuela, for example, gasoline is actually far more cheaper than water, so much so that a gallon of fuel of 95 octane only costs just 5 cents whereas a litre of bottled water, by comparison, more than a dollar. Smuggling along the shared border with Colombia is 1274 miles long is as old as the border itself and the cities along the border are practically grown thanks to this kind of illicit trade.
The Venezuelan goods are often five times cheaper than in Colombia and for gasoline the difference is even greater, in fact it costs 5 cents a gallon in Venezuela, on the other side of the border it costs $ 4.36.
This situation has a negative impact on relations between the two countries that are further cooling the bilateral relations, already strained due to, mainly, the influence that the Americans exercise in Colombia through a strong military presence; but it is not all, both have to deal with problems related to cocaine trafficking in the entire area. First of all we must consider the return to the scene of the drug route in the Caribbean and so the return to the Venezuelan sea to move large quantities from the producing countries, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, to North America and Europe.
It should be also considered that cocaine traffickers, and large criminal organizations, in order to recycle the huge illegal gains exploit the commercial channels also clothing; approximately 60 % of all clothing entering Colombia is smuggled and much of it is part of chains of money laundering. The drug lords do not want to benefit from these goods, but only move money undetected. In Colombia, the clothes are sold at ridiculous prices and also the smuggled Venezuelan fuel is part of this recycling industry. Still it is important to note that from some sources the Mexican sign of Sinaloa, the Colombian guerrillas and the criminal organizations usually benefit from various forms of smuggling.
As I have already made it clear in the past, smuggling is one of the first crimes by which an organized criminal network can easily accumulate money and then develop itself. The smugglers have always worked throughout history and around the world; they have always been taking advantage of the natural configuration along the borders that divide the States to transfer the goods. This activity has paved the way for the growth of organized criminal networks operating both locally and also globally. This was the case with the Italian mafia, the Chinese Triads or the Turkish mafia involved in the trafficking of heroin from the east to the west.
The smuggling of goods moving through the long border between Colombia and Venezuela, has created very structured and organized gatekeepers that control and regulate this illegal flow and are in the pay of powerful local criminal organizations. This phenomenon, so common, would not be possible without the endemic scourge of corruption of the authorities on both sides of the border. The index reported by Transparency International estimates Venezuela at the 160/177 and Colombia 94/177 place in the world ranking of corruption thus highlighting the permeability of the administrative structures to the phenomenon of crime that opens the door to the realization of their illicit trade.
Venezuela and Colombia are facing many problems which have a strong influence on the domestic situation: the activities of smugglers, organized crime, both local and from neighbouring countries, the uprising of organizations such as the FARC, but that reverberate their effects at the level of geopolitical balance of the entire area south-central U.S. because Venezuela is inclined to follow the Chavez policies, looking for partners ideologically similar as Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, away from those who choose the U.S. as privileged partner.
Far from being an obvious way out to follow, once again is clearly given that organized crime plays a crucial role in international relations where this is allowed to act undisturbed and to the benefit of economic and political relational systems that protect the assets.