Mérida, March 29, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López has accused the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Colombian authorities of promoting ongoing skirmishes on the Colombo-Venezuelan border.
Clashes with “irregular armed groups from Colombia” kicked off on March 21 close to La Victoria in Apure state and continued through last week, leaving two Venezuelan soldiers and at least six Colombians dead.
An undisclosed number of Venezuelan servicemen and women have also been injured. While skirmishes have continued, the armed forces strategic command dismissed reports on Monday that a further nine soldiers had been injured in an ambush. Caracas has likewise announced “hundreds” of arrests of armed militants.
Venezuelan authorities have accused the armed group of replying to the army’s operation by destroying local tax and electricity offices on the Venezuelan side of the border, as well as attacking small-scale oil installations and military checkpoints. Armed forces also claim to have caught a large number of weapons, drugs, and explosives at a series of “camps.”
Speaking to the press on Saturday, Padrino López offered an update on the “surgical” and “transparent” operations, part of the so-called “Bolivarian Shield” on the border, to neutralize the groups.
He revealed that undisclosed intelligence gathered since January proved that the unspecified Colombian groups are involved in “drug running, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, sexual child exploitation, smuggling, illegal mining (…) and the use of antipersonnel mines.”
In his statement, the minister blamed Washington and Bogotá for funding and organizing the clashes, suggesting that they form part of greater regime change efforts against Venezuela and vowing to defend Venezuela’s territorial sovereignty.
“The aforementioned groups have the backing of the Colombian government and of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As such, their incursions into Venezuela should be considered as an attack by [Colombian President] Ivan Duque who (…) is creating a criminal corridor on the border under the advice of the US Southern Command,” he explained. The armed forces chief went on to also denounce a “misinformation campaign” run by NGOs and foreign media outlets against the Venezuelan military.
While Padrino did not answer when asked about the identity of the “irregular groups,” a number of commentators have pointed to the diverse guerrilla fractions generated by the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). Following the 2016 peace accords, a number of guerrilla fronts dissented, while others took up arms again after accusing Colombian authorities of not fulfilling their commitments.
For her part, Venezuelan journalist Erika Sanoja claimed last week that the border clashes have been led by a “dissident FARC group which decided to break away after the peace agreement and which now follow [guerilla commander Miguel Santillana alias] Gentil Duarte.”
Duarte reportedly controls over 1500 dissident guerillas in the former First Front FARC group in the southeast of Colombia. In addition, Sanoja claimed that he has since switched sides and “now follows the paramilitary blocs (…) in favor of the Colombian oligarchy” as a “type of [US] franchise.” She provided no evidence and did not disclose any sources to substantiate her claims.
Another former FARC dissident group, the Second Marquetalia, which returned to armed struggle in 2019, has recently clarified that it does not have ties to Duarte’s organization. The Second Marquetalia’s leadership includes former guerrillas Iván Márquez, Jesús Santrich, and Enrique Marulanda, the son of deceased FARC commander Manuel Marulanda. Santrich allegedly enjoys close relations with the Maduro government, with unconfirmed reports that he visited Caracas in May 2020.
Thousands displaced by fighting
As a result of the border clashes, an estimated 4,700 people of both nationalities living in Venezuela have reportedly been displaced from their homes and have crossed the border, according to declarations made by local Colombian authorities on Sunday.
Many of those who fled the fighting have since alleged human rights violations and scare tactics from all parties involved, prompting Caracas to send a special investigative commission to the border over the weekend.
The commission, comprised of criminal investigators and representatives from the ombudsman’s office, has pledged to “sanction” any soldier found to have committed such abuses.
The displaced Venezuelans are currently being housed in makeshift refugee centers around Arauquita, Colombia, where a state of public emergency has been decreed. Reports on social media showed some families returning to Venezuelan territory in recent days after a localized outbreak of Covid-19 was reported in one of the camps.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.