World’s Lowest Gas Prices Fuel Andean Smuggling

By Dialogo
June 16, 2011


In a dusty field just over the border in Colombia, Venezuelan drivers wait at a line of wooden shacks full of jerrycans to have their gas tanks emptied and the fuel sold on.

Having filled up minutes earlier in Venezuela, the smugglers stand to make up to 4,000 percent profit on a single trip thanks to the disparity of gas prices between the two nations.

While soaring pump prices are a worry for many in the West, the streets of Venezuela remain dominated by four-wheel-drive vehicles and old American gas-guzzlers running on the world’s cheapest fuel — around 2 cents per liter (7.5 cents per gallon) — thanks to generous subsidies.

Taxi driver Ricardo can buy 50 liters (13 gallons) of petrol for about a dollar in San Antonio, a small border town in Venezuela. Pulling up to a tarpaulin-covered shack in Cucuta, on the Colombian side, he is then able to sell it for nearly $40.

Middlemen then sell the fuel to hundreds of vendors openly lining the streets of Cucuta every day, while the town’s few legitimate service stations are empty.

“Everyone here is selling petrol,” said Colombian driver Mario Nunez, funnelling smuggled fuel into his bright yellow taxi. Despite the massive markup, the Venezuelan fuel is still cheaper than buying from Colombian service stations.

Fuel smuggling is just one of many illicit activities on the lush and mountainous Venezuela-Colombia border, which for decades has been riddled with drug trafficking and activity by Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries.

“In this region, we have illegal oil, drugs and some legitimate business. But the profit is made in illegal oil,” added Nunez.

Nowhere is that better illustrated than on the Simon Bolivar International Bridge — named for South America’s independence hero — that is the main border crossing.

Queues of primarily old American vehicles with their large gas tanks flow across day and night, as many in the region rush to make their own profit from the trade.



Good morning. If selling gas in the streets of Cúcuta is illegal; ¿What are the authorities of Colombia doing? ¿Why are they not arresting those who are selling and those who are buying freely in the city streets? This is an old practice protected by the same authorities that “guard” the borders and the Venezuelan population that live on those borders have to wait in lines constantly to buy 20 liters of fuel. Imagine, the Venezuelan gas cost 0.10 BsF, that means: 4.30 Bolivars per dollar. And .023 dollars per liter. And one liter of mineral water in the stores cost about 1.25 dollars!!! What nerve. Another of Chavez’s demagogies, the market has to level competitively. What a shame and how heartbreaking to see my dear state submerged in this type of illicit activities, drug trafficking, paramilitary and murders. I missed so much the 80’s and 90’s when that was not seen. That’s why when you go to San Cristóbal, with your own car, one has a hard time waiting in line to buy fuel. That would never stop as long as the Venezuelan fuel continues to be the cheapest in the world. And, of course, there are always people ready to take advantage, because of them many honest people pay for sinners. And it is not just the fuel, but also all the products of the basic food basket, because in Cúcuta everything is more Expensive, well everything except shoes. All this is happening due to the corruption and the mobs of the Venezuelan government. The people that work on the Customs, both civilians and the army, fill their wallets with this type of illicit job, and you can see them showing off their fabulous brand new cars and incredible homes, while the honest people of the state pay the consequences. They have to make lines for everything, from buying fuel or buy a little of oil or a bag of cement, among others. That is why I say that the President must investigate all those white collar criminals. All of them have to be in prison for robbing the Tachirense people. Why is the water cost, the fuel cost, electricity cost equal for everybody? When the poor and the big companies ask for credits or loans from the banks, the interest rate is lower, but the rate for a low-middle class citizen for the same things, the rate is higher. So they are not equal. People in Colombia and in many countries are forced to work at illegal activities. Is it legal to tolerate white collar criminals, owners of the countries and banks, who place more than a half of the population in misery… What kind of authorities are working on the border? Are they the ones who receive more money and dollars? If they want to enforce the law well, the officers must be changed frequently. These sorts of anomalies occur because of corruption and lack of oversight.
Well, I am from Venezuela and live in San Cristóbal. On the border with Cucuta, barely an hour from here, the only smugglers are the military. They have diesel trucks with double tanks and vehicles with modified tanks. Besides, people pay for the vaccines who also work with that. This is public knowledge. It's a pity that nobody can appreciate what they have… we Dominicans have to pay the most for gas in the Caribbean… four dollars per gallon. I only drive my car on Sundays, just to warm it up, what is that? I thank God for what they have and do not value here in Guatemala, one gallon of gasoline costs Q38.00 also the minimum wage is Q1.800. The people of the Venezuelan authorities should export and that way they could have large profits and they will not need to tap on more taxes and submerge its population into poverty and living in cardboard houses.
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