Meet the “Bachaqueros”

Having the cheapest gasoline in the world is nice, but there are downsides. Beside the huge fiscal losses, cheap gas creates big opportunity for those who want to make a quick buck. Fuel smuggling is a major problem in the Colombian-Venezuelan border, as well as in the East of the country.

Those living near the border deal with the worst of the consequences. There are already limitations for drivers wanting to fill their tanks, and nearby states are now suffering as well.

In Venezuela’s second largest city, the so-called “bachaqueros” or “pimpineros” smuggle with impunity. When, exceptionally, they’re confronted by law enforcement, they fight back.

After a shootout with Maracaibo’s city police, the bachaqueros went to the police’s headquarters with the body of one of their own. From that point, all hell broke loose. Many of the pimpineros are of Wayuu descent, and justify their actions by reference to their unwritten laws, which say that deaths must be paid for … in cash.

In the end, the Mayor of Maracaibo personally negotiated a truce and the victim’s family received some compensation. In other words, the Mayor paid off the gang that had just laid siege to her police station. ¡Que belleza, nuestra alcaldesa!

The most complete reports about the March 2nd incident are here and here. An overview from La Universidada de Zulia on wayuu law and justice can be found here.

14 thoughts on “Meet the “Bachaqueros”

  1. This is a very interesting topic, and I can say I’ve seen the fuel smugglin on first hand. On the 2011 Semana Santa, one friend and decided to spend the week on Colombia, so we took a plane from Barcelona to Maracaibo and then to save some money we traveled across the border on a carrito por puesto, drived incidentally by a wayúu. To make the experience much more exciting, we didn’t tell our parents how we planned to cross the border fearing they would freak out.

    On the car, we befriended two Colombian-Venezuelan arijunas (the term wayúus use to call non indigenous people). One of them was born in La Guajira but worked in Venezuela, and the other was born in Venezuela from Colombian parents and worked in Riohacha. They told us about many things we had never heard. One of them was the “caravanas de la muerte”, cars traveling at great speed across the border, full with gallons of gasoline to be sold in Colombia, which at times crash in violent explosions.

    I remember our driver paying a Guardia Nacional one time we stoped at one of the many alcabalas in our way. I noticed it, but because of my youth and inexperience, I didn’t think anything wrong was happening (yeah, I’m that naive). It all made sense when we stopped at some kiosko (or restaurant, I don’t remember) just before the border. The driver got off the car, opened the truck and downloaded two gallons of gasoline, and then received some money in compensation.

    The women who were in the car with us were outraged. They told us the driver had put our lives in a great risk, since on the border it isn’t rare to hear about cars exploding because of the enormous amounts of smuggled fuel they carry. To me it didn’t mattered, I was just amazed by the experience.

    Now that I read this story, I’m surprised they reacted against the local police, since the border is patrolled by the GN, and they by my experience are usually bribed to let the pimpineros act freely. In any case, it is an extremely interesting topic we usually know nothing about (I live more than 1000 km away of the border), and I’m glad you brought it up.

    And by the way, I loved that trip to Colombia. I will never forget those ours we spent looking at the arid landscape of La Guajira and talking with those wonderful women about the wayúus, the vallenato, the Colombia-Venezuela relations, Gabriel García Márquez, etc. I learned A LOT.


  2. Nice text, Gustavo.
    Just one thing: I’d heard that according to Wayú Law (I’m far from being an expert on this), the “eye for an eye” principle means you have to pay a dead with a dead.
    As much is stated in one of your links:
    «Queremos que nos paguen al muerto, pero por la ley guajira… un muerto por un muerto» (
    So, in theory, they were bought off through negotiations. They were demanding the police kill someone on their side, as per Wayú Law.
    Venezuelans probably know this. There is an unwritten principle/urban legend that states that if you kill a Wayú (say, you run him over by accident), you might as well go ahead and kill all his family as well. The next of kin will come after you, and if you kill him, the next one; and so on.
    This, of course, without any attention paid to the actual laws of the Republic.
    Salutations (enjoying your texts, btw. Keep ’em coming).


    • Thanks for your comment, Vinz.

      I must admit that I’m not an expert in Wayuu law. For that reason, there are links to places where information on the subject can be found. The link you mentioned is from a tabloid-like newspaper, so there’s a certain tone of sensationalism in their description.


      • Cool, thanks. One of the things I appreciate about your articles is the profiency with which you link. It’s not easy, but you take the time to do it and it really adds seriousness. I did check out that scribd document you linked to on here -some serious description of Wayuu laws. Nice.


          • Gustavo,
            You’re doing great, Quico and I are really happy with what you bring to the blog. I’m glad our loyal readers agree.


            • From the little I remember from Law School, according to wayuu law, when a crime is committed a negotiator called “palabrero” helps the victim (or its family) and the aggressor to reach an financial agreement. After the agreement is reached and the money is paid no retaliation is allowed. Keep the good posts Gustavo, a really nice addition to the blog.


      • I’d like to congratulate you too for the amazing posts geha
        Just make sure you spend some time in AoT to let some steam off.


  3. Good stories from Geha and commenters. All those links are the work of a careful and thorough journalist. If there were ever an increase in the price of gasoline more in accord with market prices, perhaps the bachaqueros would lead a campaign against the increase, as they would be one of the primary losers in a price increase. Which reminds me of years ago hearing a “public service announcement” on the radio against legalization of marijuana. The “public service announcement” was paid for by an association of liquor manufacturers.


  4. I like articles that focus outside of the usual capital city mayhem. Venezuela is so much more – keep it up!


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