Diálogo: What is Colombia’s contribution to the Venezuelan crisis?
Army General Luis Fernando Navarro Jiménez, commander of the Colombian Military Forces: It’s a tragedy what the Venezuelan people are going through right now. This crisis is causing serious problems for the countries that share borders with Venezuela, but the crisis also extends to all of South America, even Central America. It is estimated that about 4 million Venezuelans have had to emigrate from their country, and most of them fled south on the continent, many going through Colombia.
There are 1.5 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. For a country like ours, which doesn’t have a thriving economy, this creates several serious problems, such as providing for basic services to both our Colombian fellow citizens and the Venezuelans who have arrived. The Colombian government has done a lot for the Venezuelans fleeing their country. The State has done everything possible to help them; they were welcomed, housed in shelters, and treated in medical centers and hospitals. Likewise, 24,000 Venezuelan children have received the Colombian nationality, which means recognizing their rights and making plans to guarantee their access to education. Adults have received employment counseling, although it’s very difficult and complicated.
The Venezuelan crisis has also reached our borders, since insecurity has increased. Nowadays we have security issues involving Venezuelan migrants. Our hope is for it all to stop in Venezuela and for the serious humanitarian crisis and human rights violations occurring in our neighboring country to come to an end.
Diálogo: General, you mentioned security issues at the border, mainly due to Venezuelan migrants. What kind of problems are you referring to?
Gen. Navarro: We have two types of border security issues. First, immigration is increasing crime rates in border areas. The second problem is related to the presence of Colombian armed groups that have reorganized and settled in Venezuelan states bordering Colombia. Nearly 50 percent of the National Liberation Army’s (ELN, in Spanish) combatants are in Venezuelan territory. There are also organized armed groups which are remnants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) and which are also settling in border areas. These two illicit groups are using the Venezuelan territory as their strategic rearguard. Transnational organized crime, smuggling, narcotrafficking, illegal mining, and arms, explosives, and ammunition trafficking thrive in these border areas. Obviously, the Nicolás Maduro regime doesn’t fight transnational organized crime, so this criminal situation is overwhelming security in the border region, causing serious harm to both Colombian and Venezuelan civilian populations.
Diálogo: What kind of international cooperation is required to address the humanitarian crisis the Venezuelan people are experiencing?
Gen. Navarro: We need the international community to really understand that there is a very serious humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The Colombian government has been firm in its position to find a political solution to the situation in Venezuela. To this end, as the State, we have used all means available to us, mainly diplomatic ones. International cooperation is required to help with economic means to support the Venezuelan migrants who are arriving in our countries. For example, in Colombia we need to improve infrastructure, so that we can provide more medical assistance and education to the Venezuelans.
Diálogo: Colombia and the United States are working together to provide support to Venezuelan migrants. The U.S. Southern Command carried out humanitarian mission Continuing Promise 2019 in late August, with the hospital ship USNS Comfort’s visit to Santa Marta, Colombia. What are your thoughts on the matter?
Gen. Navarro: This is USNS Comfort’s second visit to Colombia to help Venezuelans, providing medical care, surgery, and medications. U.S. support for Colombia to address the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis in our country is vital in terms of economic resources and also regarding humanitarian assistance. I believe that Colombia-U.S. cooperation is a strong and total cooperation, because the United States is our main strategic partner, as we share democratic values and the same view of security.