At more than 2,000 kilometers long, the border separating Colombia from Venezuela is one of the most tense regions in Latin America and has seen migrants pass from one side to the other for decades.
A new chapter in a story that includes, in addition to migration crises, drug and human trafficking and conflicts between criminal factions, has unfolded in recent weeks at the point separating the regions of Apure, Venezuelan side, and Arauca, Colombian side.
On March 21, the Venezuelan army attacked a Colombian criminal group that was in La Vitoria, Venezuela – the exact number of agents sent to the area was not disclosed. The clash ended with the deaths of two Venezuelan soldiers, six Colombian criminals and more than 40 detainees.
In addition, an estimated 5,000 Venezuelans had to take refuge in La Arauquita, Colombia. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, houses have been shelled in the region and there are reports of massacres of civilians. Caracas says the action served to dismantle nine terrorist camps. In addition to the army, fae (special action forces) units and the Bolivarian National Police are present in the region.
At the height of the conflict between the Colombian government and the Marxist guerrillas, in the 1970s and 1980s, the flow in the region was mainly formed by Colombians crossing the border by the thousands to take refuge in a then modern and prosperous Venezuela.
Since the onset of the recent humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, however, the situation has reversed – of the 5 million Venezuelans who have left the country in recent years, around 3 million have gone to Colombia.
Thus, the border urban centers on the Colombian side, such as La Arauquita and Cúcuta, have been transformed with the emergence of hostels and guesthouses serving Venezuelans, in addition to the creation of camps that house hundreds of people who do not cannot afford to pay a daily rate.
The “displaced” also live there, Colombians who had to flee their region of origin because of the action of criminal factions and guerrillas. Among the countries that are not at war, Colombia has the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, with 7 million people in this situation.
They flee violence in the countryside and generally take refuge on the outskirts of large cities, usually in very precarious conditions, making the border region a fertile space for the recruitment of new members by criminal factions.
It is not yet known what happened in La Arauquita, as there are no reliable sources of information in the area. The border is porous, full of clandestine paths, and highly militarized on both sides. According to Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, the camps attacked were by dissidents of the former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), disarmed in 2016.
As Caracas usually does, Padrino López accused the disaffected Colombian President Iván Duque of infiltrating dissidents into Venezuelan territory. The minister also said that “Colombia is acting under the command of the United States, and the idea is to divide and occupy the region”.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said the country had nothing to do with the issue. Bogotá accuses Nicolás Maduro of condescending towards the guerrillas and criminal factions, allowing them to act freely on the Venezuelan side of the border to generate instability in Colombia.
According to the UN, since the end of the government of Hugo Chávez (1954-2013), the Venezuelan side has welcomed a large number of former guerrillas, drug traffickers and criminals on its territory, where they have found refuge. According to the NGO Insight Crime, the reception of criminal groups in Venezuela increased after the 2016 peace agreement between Colombia and the FARC, when dozens of dissidents of former guerrillas crossed the border to continue to work in drug trafficking. Some leaders of the group, such as Iván Márquez and Jesus Santrich, have also emigrated to the Venezuelan side.
“For the Venezuelan dictatorship, it is interesting to welcome these groups, because it destabilizes Colombia and destroys the efforts of the Colombian army to dissolve these factions”, says Mario Varelo Martínez, of the Universidad de Los Andes (Colombia) .
One version of what may have happened, supported by the Colombian government and the Venezuelan opposition, is that Maduro sent troops to the border to secure space for regime-linked criminal groups, who reportedly lost roads and roads. territories for the benefit of other factions.
According to reports from residents of the region to human rights officers at international organizations, a new FARC dissidence, called Front 10, is believed to be at work in the region.
By occupying places previously controlled by groups linked to Caracas, his unwanted presence was reportedly suppressed by the Venezuelan armed forces.