Bracho was working as part of the government’s “National Commission for the Fight against Contraband”, which was launched on August 11th in an attempt to halt the smuggling of government subsidised foods, medicines and oil over the Venezuela-Colombia border.
The commission has seen night time border crossing between the two countries temporarily suspended, as well as over 17,000 soldiers and 12,000 police dispatched to the 2200 metre stretch of land which links Venezuela to neighbouring Colombia.
¨Honour and glory to our Major in the Bolivarian Army, Raul Bracho, assassinated in the battle against contraband,¨ said Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.
According to local media in the Western state of Zulia where Bracho was killed, the military official was called late Friday night to an altercation between a smuggling gang and an army unit which had been patrolling the border. The official received a bullet to the head in what the country´s Minister of Defence, Carmen Melendez, has denounced as a ¨cowardly ambush¨.
¨He was a patriot who gave his life defending the people, a Venezuelan and a citizen from Zulia who today has been stolen from us by a group of criminals involved in contraband,” said Melendez during a service on Saturday in which an honorary military promotion was awarded to Bracho.
Battle against Smuggling
Over 620 people have been arrested and a total of 12 criminal organizations dismantled by the Venezuelan armed forces since the government launched its offensive against smuggling, which has become a multi-million dollar business in recent years.
¨We are in an irreversible and all-out battle against contraband, protecting the Venezuelan people, Venezuelan families, their food, health, and the materials which we use to construct our homes,¨ said Venezuelan Vice-president Jorge Arreaza on Saturday from Zulia, where an illegal consignment containing 63,000 litres of oil and 10,000 tonnes of food was intercepted by the country´s armed forces.
The government currently estimates that 40% of its nationally produced and imported food items are haemorrhaging over the border to Colombia, where the government does not regulate food prices and the items can be sold at a much higher price.
Many of the goods smuggled into Colombia include food which is sold in Venezuela at a government subsidised cost, as well as millions of barrels of Venezuelan oil, which is notoriously sold at rock bottom prices within the oil producing country.
¨What those outside of Venezuela have to realise is that, although they might have earnings in dollars higher than those of Venezuela, price levels inside Venezuela are much lower than in other Latin American countries, especially Colombia. Because of this, if you take a Venezuelan food product and sell it on the other side of the border, you´re talking about a profit of 20-30 times its value,¨ explained economist, Dr Fernando Travieso, in an interview with TeleSur English.
According to the Colombian government, almost $400 million worth of contraband products from Venezuela have been seized by the country´s security forces in recent months. The two governments have been working together since the beginning of August in order to put an end to the criminal activity, which are leading to sporadic bouts of scarcity of many basic goods in Venezuela.
This Monday the government also approved a longterm plan for dealing with the problem of smuggling across the Venezuela-Colombia border, which is notoriously dangerous and in some parts controlled by armed gangs.
“This is not an easy struggle, but we are prepared to fight it,” said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.