Capture of Nicaragua Cocaine Thief Spotlights Pacific Drug Transit

Police in Nicaragua have arrested a man accused of running several of the drug theft gangs known as “tumbadores,” which are one of the principal components of organized crime in the country and across Central America.

Franklin Heriberto Torres Bejarano. Photo:
Franklin Heriberto Torres Bejarano. Photo:

The flaxen-haired Franklin Heriberto Torres Bejarano, alias “La Pajara,” allegedly headed six groups of tumbadores, totaling 45 members, which robbed cocaine from other traffickers. He was captured in Granada — a tourist town on Lake Nicaragua — where he was renting a home for $1,000 a month, reported El Nuevo Diario.

Torres and his tumbadores operated mostly along a thin belt of land between the Pacific coastline and Lake Nicaragua, which serves as a major overland transit point for the shipment of drugs. He has been charged with drug smuggling and money laundering, and police have accused him of robbing at least three shipments of cocaine, including a 200 kilo haul in November 2012.

Torres had been leading the tumbadores since around 2004, and his thievery apparently did not sit well with certain cartel leaders. In 2008 his name was discovered on a hitlist carried by Mexican and Honduran assassins captured by police, reported El Nuevo Diario.

The fact Torres was able to evade both killers and police for so many years indicates he was likely being protected in some way. Tumbadores often work closely with or are even led by corrupt authorities, allowing them to ply a trade that would otherwise lead to a rapid death. They often work as free agents, moving drugs for cartels but also robbing shipments as a means of recouping unpaid debts or hitting rivals, and then splitting the profits with the police who tip them off.

While Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast has attracted more attention in recent years for its growth of crime and violence, the Pacific region where Torres operated also experiences high levels of drug trafficking and “tumbes.”

Torres’ home province of Rivas touches the official Peñas Blancas border crossing with Costa Rica and there are a number of nearby blind spots where traffickers can cross over. In contrast with the Caribbean side, where drug shipments are moved by sea and Nicaragua is predominently a stop off and resupply point, the primary transit routes on the Pacific side go overland, leaving them vulnerable to the groups run by Torres and others like him.