November 18, 2014: Marcos Figueroa had friends in the highest office and the lowest corner of the Colombian state of La Guajira. From a poor indigenous family, Figueroa rose to wealth and power … to become the most wanted man in northeast Colombia. Until his arrest on Oct. 22.
In the Colombia-Venezuela border region, the man known to all as “Marquitos” — little Marcos — is the alleged kingpin of gasoline smuggling, a billion-dollar trade that has claimed an estimated 15 percent of gas sales in Colombia and swallowed up to 40 percent of Venezuelan fuel subsidies, according to Gustavo Márquez, former Venezuelan minister for trade and commerce and ex-ambassador to Colombia. To the political world, he’s the alleged assassin responsible for a spate of political murders and the financial backer of a political-criminal alliance that seized control of the La Guajira governor’s office, along with almost half the state’s mayor’s offices.
Yet to many in the poverty-stricken region, Marquitos is a legend whose exploits earned him mentions in popular ballads, whose social control earned him the nickname “the dogcatcher of bad boys” and whose financial support in communities abandoned by the state earned him loyalty. “For some he is a known criminal, a bandit, ahit man, but for others he is a good man that helps his communities,” says the commander of the La Guajira police, Col. Alejandro Calderon.
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