The Tumbadores: Cocaine Theft and the CentAm Police

The Tumbadores: Cocaine Theft and the CentAm Police

The robbers of drug shipments known as “tumbadores” are the pirates of the Central American cocaine trail, but their stories of theft, corruption, murder and drug trafficking are closely intertwined with the region’s police.

Three key stopovers for drug shipments making their way to the United States from Colombia are Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala, where tumbadores are rife, and the line between criminals and police is often blurred.

A version of this report first appeared in Critica. See the original here.

- payin the bills -

Panama

There are currently an estimated 40-50 groups dedicated to the “tumbe,” or robbery, of drug shipments in Panama, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Staging tumbes has become one of the most lucrative organized crime activities in the country, and one that has undermined the Panamanian national security apparatus.

Several cases from the recent past show how these groups operate and the role of the security forces. When on July 14 2004, a criminal group decided to break into the vaults of the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ), a group of detectives robbed 103 kilos of cocaine, splitting the profits with the police captain and the criminals.

An anti-narcotics police report from the same year shows it was not an isolated incident. The report describes how a captain of the police called Eduardo Perez and a deputy lieutenant called Bernal from the district of La Chorrera planned and executed a tumbe targeting Colombians living in Panama that used a nearby beach to unload drugs. Perez, along with another policeman and one other man, was sentenced to eight years for drug trafficking when an appeals court overturned a previous ruling in 2007.

- paying the bills -

While discussing the current status of the local tumbadores, Panama’s chief anti-drugs prosecutor, Javier Caraballo, confirmed that over the last few years their investigations had led to the capture of several police officers involved in drug trafficking, most commonly involving agents that drive vehicles carrying drugs. However, there are no statistics showing the number of internal affairs investigations into security forces involved in tumbes for the last two years.

Nicaragua

Another of the routes for Colombian cocaine is through Nicaragua, where the situation has been deteriorating.

In September 2008, a tumbe led to the episode that local security analysts identify as the moment Nicaragua woke up to the fact that drug war violence could take root in the country.

In the southwestern city of Rivas, security forces discovered eight people with a stash of arms and a list of people to kill. The hit squad, which was led by a Mexican and included Hondurans as well as Nicaraguans, planned to kill six locals accused of robbing an 800 kilo cocaine shipment.

One of their targets, according to Commissioner Carlos Espinoza, who at the time was head of the local council, was Jairo Cerda Calero, who various sources identified as an ex-policeman.

- paying the bills --

According to Nicaraguan security analyst Roberto Orozco, officials believe that in 2012 there were at least 17 groups operating as tumbadores, five more than the year before. The groups are made up of young criminals working with former police and members of the military, Orozco said.

However, the robbery of drugs for resale on local markets is a phenomenon that has existed in Nicaragua since the 1990s, but, except with a few notable exceptions, it has not yet had a serious impact on security and the country remains one of the safest in the region, with a murder rate of 11 per 100,000 people.

Guatemala

After drug shipments cross the Guatemalan border they must negotiate a territory divided up by rival Mexican cartels. They must also deal with the tumbadores, whose ranks include both criminals and the police.

A tumbe in June this year led to one of the biggest security operations against organized crime seen during the tenure of President Otto Perez Molina. The operation was launched after a group of around 13 hitmen opened fire on a police substation in Salcaja, killing eight unarmed police officers. The only survivor, deputy inspector Cesar Augusto Garcia, was kidnapped. His dismembered body was found a week later.

The assault was blamed on the previously little known organization of Francisco Eduardo Villatoro Cano, which operates in the department of Huehuetenango on the Mexican border. The authorities’ investigations pointed to a tumbe carried out by the police shortly before. According to their theory, the load belonged to Villatoro, who decided to recover his money and take his revenge on the police.

*This report was produced as part of a project by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in which InSight Crime has collaborated. A version of this article first appeared in Critica, see here.

  • Guatemala
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama

    Related Articles

    Nicaragua restores 95% electricity service

    TODAY NICARAGUA - After the damages caused by Hurricane Iota a...

    They Survived Two Hurricanes in a Row, but Their Lives Came to a Halt

    (EFE) In the area of Nicaragua that received the worst part...

    MOST READ

    Rosario Murillo: La Heredera (The Heiress)

    Rosarion Murillo, the "eternally loyal" to her husband and political partner, Daniel Ortega. In a profile by Confidencial in October 2016, before her election as...

    Better Air Connectivity Between Nicaragua and the US

    The private companies' association is in talks with United Airlines to promote the opening of a route that connects Nicaragua with the east coast...

    Nicaragua Unveils Central America’s Largest Baseball Stadium

    Nicaragua has unveiled its long-awaited baseball stadium in Managua, replacing the former baseball field built in 1948. The new structure will hold up to...

    Bianca Jagger Gets Into The Nicaragua Act Again

    (American Thinker)  Remember Bianca Jagger? You know, the disco queen and former rock-star's wife turned leftwing "human rights activist" who was last seen mourning...

    What Are Some of Nicaragua’s Popular Food?

    TODAY NICARAGUA - Nicaragua is an interesting place, with a tumultuous history and a relatively peaceful present. and even if many things can be...

    Nicaragua Praised by the IMF

    The IMF noted the positive evolution of all the country's economic indicators, and the drastic fall in poverty, with an increase of 33% in...

    Poll Shows Declining Expectations on a Nicaraguan Canal

    According to the results of the most recent survey conducted by Cid Gallup, the Nicaraguan interoceanic canal project, a concession given to the Chinese...

    Let's Keep This Going!

    To be updated with all the latest news and information about Nicaragua and Latin America.

    Log In

    Forgot password?

    Forgot password?

    Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

    Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

    Log in

    Privacy Policy

    Add to Collection

    No Collections

    Here you'll find all collections you've created before.