At least 10 illegal armed groups from various political sectors are fighting for control of Venezuelan territory near the border with Colombia, reports from the Strategic Center for Homeland Security and Protection (CESPPA, in Spanish) — an institution of the Nicolás Maduro regime — indicate.
In November 2018, CESPPA produced a detailed mapping of these organizations in the states of Zulia, Táchira, Apure, Bolívar, and Amazonas near the Colombian border, based on data provided by the Integral Defense Strategic Regions of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB, in Spanish).
Venezuelan nongovernmental organization FundaRedes, devoted to promoting human rights and democracy, had access to the CESPPA report, which indicates the presence of three Colombian insurgent groups in Zulia state: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army, and the People’s Liberation Army (FARC, ELN, and EPL respectively, in Spanish). In addition, the report also identified Colombian criminal rings, such as the Clan del Golfo and Los Rastrojos narcotrafficking networks, as well as the paramilitary group Águilas Negras.
Táchira is the state where the largest number of groups operate, FundaRedes said, adding that the CESPPA document indicates that Los Rastrojos, the Clan del Golfo, the Venezuelan guerrilla group Bolivarian Liberation Forces (FBL, in Spanish), and Tren de Aragua, a very violent Venezuelan criminal gang, operate in the area. The ELN is the group with the largest presence, with 700 members deployed in several municipalities throughout the state.
According to InSight Crime, a U.S. research organization that specializes in security threats in Latin America and the Caribbean, these groups are behind the increased violence in the state, with frequent shootings and murders (33 victims of violence in October 2019 alone) to control human trafficking, narcotrafficking, and smuggling on the border.
Javier Tarazona, president of FundaRedes, told Diálogo that the ELN controls a radio station and a magazine (Antorcha Elena) in Zulia and Táchira, and that according to their research it also recruits minors. Their activities, he said, include extorting ranchers and farmers and controlling the government’s program that distributes food at subsidized prices known as CLAP.
David Smolansky, coordinator of the Organization of American States’ Working Group for Venezuelan Migrants, said that another profitable activity for criminal groups is controlling the movement of people and goods between Venezuela and Colombia through hundreds of unofficial border crossings. Smolansky said that the activity may yield up to $10,000 a day.
According to FundaRedes, authorities detected the presence of the FARC and ELN in Apure, where they also control the CLAP program. The state is home to the FBL, but the group is splitting into factions, Tarazona said, with some members remaining close to the Maduro regime and others accusing him of betraying Hugo Chávez’s original project.
In Bolívar and Amazonas states, where the gold mines of the Orinoco Mining Arc are located, FundaRedes said that the FARC and ELN (with more than 500 members) have joined forces to control mining resources.
Tarazona warned that a large part of the FARC has withdrawn into Venezuela since their former leaders announced their return to the armed struggle in late August. “Now, they not only want to have armed men, but also to consolidate a parallel economy in Venezuela,” he said.
Rear Admiral (ret.) Carlos Molina Tamayo, former FANB director of armaments who is in exile in Spain, said the Maduro regime has partnered with FARC and ELN leaders.
“It’s clear that the FARC and the ELN have a safe haven in Venezuelan territory. They are partner forces. The only way to change this is to change the regime,” he said.