A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report accuses Venezuela’s security forces of carrying out operations with the Colombian guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN), and of causing “a dramatic increase in violence in the first months of 2022” in the border departments of Arauca, in Colombia, and Apure, in Venezuela. The report Colombia/Venezuela: Border Area Abuses by Armed Groups was published on March 28.
According to the investigation, the alliance between the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and the Bolivarian National Guard with the ELN, in their offensive against dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), led to an increase in homicides, disappearances, recruitment of minors and forced displacement.
The report is based on testimonies of people displaced by the violence, community leaders, indigenous people, judicial officials, local Colombian authorities, representatives of human rights organizations, and refugees from Apure, who witnessed Venezuelan service members entering villages with ELN guerrillas and kidnapping people.
One witness told HRW that members of the FANB arrived in his community in Apure with ELN guerrillas and forcibly took away several people accused of collaborating with the Joint Eastern Command, made up of FARC dissidents. “The [FANB] service members arrived together with the ELN; I thought they were going to kill us all. They started shouting some names, entered the houses of those people and took them away tied up.”
In another case, “two armed men shot Álvaro Peña Barragán to death while he was working on a farm in Tame, Arauca. The next day, two other men killed his wife Rosalba Carmenza Tarazona Ortega” during Alvaro’s funeral, said a witness. Evidence indicated that members of the Joint Eastern Command killed both, accused of cooperating with the ELN, according to HRW.
The Colombian National Police confirmed the deaths of 103 people in Arauca, between January and February 2022, the highest number of killings since 2010.
“Many people may not have heard of [the river region of] Arauca, but it is the current epicenter of Russia and Venezuela’s effort to destabilize the Western Hemisphere,” Joseph M. Humire, director of the U.S.-based Center for a Free and Secure Society, tweeted on January 19.
“We know that some men and units of the Bolivarian military force have also been mobilized to the border with the support and technical assistance of Russia and with the support and technical assistance of Iran, there on the other side of the border,” Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said.
In two weeks at least 5,000 people (almost half of them children) crossed into the Colombian municipality of Arauquita after a conflict between the Venezuelan Army and a FARC dissident group intensified, reported BBC Mundo on April 6. “There have been bombings, homes have been raided and displaced people have reported extrajudicial executions,” he said.
Jorge Mantilla, a border and security expert at the University of Illinois, told BBC Mundo that “Colombian guerrillas, armed groups, and Venezuelan authorities” had managed to maintain peace thanks to “sometimes tacit arrangements for the distribution of rents and territorial control.”
According to Mantilla, FARC dissidents disrupted that peace. “Now there are tensions between the local arrangements that [the FARC dissident group] may have with the regional components of the Venezuelan Army and the arrangements that […] Caracas may have with the Second Marquetalia, another dissident group,” he said.
Colombian authorities have attempted to curb the actions of armed groups in Arauca by sending more Army troops in an effort to put an end to the bloodshed, reported Voice of America.
“It will only be possible to effectively counter insecurity through the integrated deployment of the [Colombian] State’s capacities to defend the rights of citizens […], and to place greater emphasis on dismantling illegal armed groups and criminal organizations,” the United Nations said on March 28.