An area in the northeast of Colombia, which sits on the border with Venezuela and includes the cities of Arauca and Buenaventura, continues to be very dangerous, as dissidents of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) and other criminal organizations — the leftist-guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) — fight for control of that region.
A major counteroffensive, carried out by the Colombian government, took place February 25, when a bombardment carried out by the Colombian Military Forces neutralized 23 FARC dissidents.
According to Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano, military planes and helicopters took part in the bombardment in the municipality of Puerto Rondón, in the Arauca province. Molano confirmed that the FARC-dissident commander in Arauca, Jorge Eliecer Jiménez, alias Arturo, was among those neutralized. “Colombia and Arauca have been liberated from a criminal, from a FARC-dissident leader, to bring more security, more peace, and to better protect the people of Arauca,” Molano said in a news conference at the site of the operation. The Colombian government accuses the dissidents —who rejected a 2016 peace deal — of murdering community leaders and civilians and say they have become a security threat.
The government in Bogotá accuses Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro of harboring FARC dissidents and members of the ELN who cross the border to launch attacks in Colombia, something Maduro has repeatedly denied, Reuters said. Leaders and residents in this border community say they are living in terror unlike any they have experienced before. More than 60 people have died in the Arauca region so far this year, according to human rights groups.
Among them is Arauca community leader Álvaro Peña Barragán, who was gunned down in his brother’s home in the last week of January. He was the 12th social leader killed in Colombia this year. The next day, while his widow was grieving at her in-law’s house, gunmen shot and killed her too, reported The Washington Post.
According to The Washington Post, what makes this moment particularly alarming — civil society leaders say — is the targeting of social leaders and human rights defenders. Both FARC dissidents and the ELN threaten and kill local leaders they accuse, often without evidence, of having links to the opposing side.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Arauca — i.e., how difficult it has become for the civilian population to meet their essential needs — and how it’s affecting the infrastructure civilians rely on, such as housing and health care facilities in both urban and rural areas, according to a February 4 report of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Arauca is a department of eastern Colombia, with a population of about 260,000 people, located in the extreme north of the Orinoco Basin, bordering Venezuela, and plays an important role in Colombia’s oil and cattle ranching industries.