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Colombian, Venezuelan Armed Groups Exercise Abusive Control at the Border, Says HRW

Colombian, Venezuelan Armed Groups Exercise Abusive Control at the Border, Says HRW

By AFP
February 10, 2020

Colombian and Venezuelan armed groups exercise “abusive social control” on both sides of the border, in Colombia’s Arauca department and Venezuela’s Apure state, in collusion with Venezuelan authorities, said nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) on January 22.

José Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, denounced operations carried out by guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), and the Patriotic Forces of National Liberation (FPLN, in Spanish), a Venezuelan Chavista group, during a presentation of the report “The Guerrillas Are the Police.”

All of them “have the strength and abilities to impose their rules” and subdue the population with killings, torture, extortion, kidnapping, child recruitment, sexual abuse, and forced labor, Vivanco said.

The investigation revealed that both ELN rebels and dissidents of what was once the most powerful guerilla in the Americas “operate with near-to-absolute impunity on both sides of the border, keeping camps in Apure and using Venezuela as their rearguard.”

According to the NGO director, the FPLN armed group is concentrated in Apure.

Although the organization’s size and firepower are unknown, HRW says that some of its members were part of the so-called “illegally armed colectivos” — groups that the opposition considers a Chavista armed wing — and that these groups “act in collusion with Venezuelan security forces and local authorities.”

The NGO, which didn’t address an alliance among the three forces, reported forced labor as punishment.

The victims are taken to Venezuelan camps and are forced to carry out farming tasks or cook for combatants.

Around 44,000 Venezuelans live in Arauca, most of whom fled the worst crisis in the country’s modern history, aggravated by hyperinflation and lack of supplies.

These migrants escape “a violent dictatorship” and end up in “an extremely risky situation” in Colombia, Vivanco said.

A porous, 261-mile border separates Arauca department from Apure state.

With 240,000 inhabitants on the Colombian side and 460,000 on the Venezuelan side, the population suffers high poverty rates, despite living in an oil-producing area, with narcotrafficking and smuggling operations into Venezuela.

According to HRW, “the Arauca authorities are not capable of administering justice,” and the Colombian military in the region are “mainly focused” on “protecting” the infrastructure of state-run oil company Ecopetrol.

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