Three Colombian police officers were killed today along the Venezuelan border as they were on the lookout for gasoline smugglers, authorities said. Venezuela's gasoline cost just pennies the liter, and there's a thriving blackmarket for the cheap fuel on this side of the border.
The government has not released details about today's murders but authorities have increasingly accused ELN and FARC guerrillas of muscling into the trade.
I recently talked to the commander of the Pacific Navy fleet and he said there are indications that the FARC are not only in the blackmarket gas business but illegal logging, too.
Here's that story:
BUENAVENTURA, Colombia -- In a muddy creek on the outskirts of town, hundreds of thick logs were piled up waiting to be turned into planks and plywood. Luis Mercedes, a veteran logger, admits he felled the trees and floated them downriver without a permit, but he says poverty forces him to cut corners.
Authorities see it differently. They fear that unregulated logging, mining and other gray-market activities along the coast are turning into sources of income for rebels and criminal gangs that haunt the area.
Colombia and the nation’s largest guerrilla group resumed peace talks in Havana this week in hopes of ending a bloody, 50-year civil conflict. The talks come as the country is braces for a possible new spate of violence starting Sunday when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, lift a unilateral ceasefire imposed over the holidays.
Both sides have said they’re optimistic that the sweeping five-point peace plan will bring an end to the violence by year’s end. But hurdles remain. Among them, the FARC will be required to give up the drug trade.
But on this marshy western Pacific coast, long-known for its cocaine smuggling routes, authorities say the guerrillas are diversifying into industries that are harder to detect because they’re easily camouflaged amidst the poverty, and the final products — wood and gold — are legal.
“The narco-terrorists have realized how lucrative these businesses are, and there are areas along Colombia’s Pacific that are abandoning coca cultivation and turning to illegal mining and other activities,” said Vice Admiral Rodolfo Amaya, commander of the Pacific Navy fleet. “These bandits want to control any industry that is producing cash.”