Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship initiated a major military operation against groups accused of carrying out criminal activities in Venezuelan territory near the Colombian border, including dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who did not surrender their weapons after the peace treaty. signed in 2016. The actions provoked a mass flight of civilians to Colombia.
The conflict began on March 21, when the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB) led an offensive against FARC dissidents in the Venezuelan state of Apure.
According to the Chavista regime, that day two soldiers were killed and nine wounded in the clashes. Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said the deaths were caused by “mine detonation” activated by guerrillas against a patrol operating in the José Antonio Paéz municipality in Apure.
On Saturday (3), two more Venezuelan soldiers were killed during an operation on the border with Colombia, bringing the number of soldiers killed to six, according to armed forces sources.
The regime also reported that a total of 15 “terrorists” were killed and 30 wounded in the operation against guerrilla groups, dubbed “Escudo Bolivariano 2021”.
The operation, described by experts as Venezuela’s largest military campaign in decades, started with air strikes and continued with ground attacks. The target of the actions is a faction of FARC dissidents known as the Tenth Front, which operates on the outskirts of La Victoria, in the state of Apure.
About 3,000 Venezuelan soldiers have been sent to the border region, whose residents have witnessed explosions daily since March 21.
The actions forced about 5,000 people to flee Venezuela to the neighboring country. Witnesses report human rights abuses by the FANB military, such as arbitrary arrests, civilian deaths, forced disappearances and looting of homes.
A 26-year-old Venezuelan who is a refugee in the Colombian city of Arauquita says his parents, a brother and an uncle were killed by Venezuelan military personnel. In an interview with AFP, Emir Ramírez said his family members “were not guerrillas” and accused the armed forces of manipulating the facts. He received photos of the bodies, which were dressed in military uniforms and next to weapons.
Human rights groups in the two countries last week called for humanitarian intervention by the United Nations (UN) to help resolve the crisis. In a letter, the 60 or so groups said it was “urgent for the UN Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy for the border crisis”.
Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for the Americas, described the actions of the Venezuelan authorities as “a case study of all the barbarities that the regime has been committing and continues to do with impunity”. She also said that the International Criminal Court should investigate those responsible for “the most atrocious international crimes”.
Change of posture
The Maduro dictatorship is accused of having tolerated, and even supported, the presence of left-wing Colombian insurgent groups in its territory in recent years – although the alleged allies have already been involved in small conflicts in the past. Colombian President Iván Duque said Maduro supports dissidents from the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
The current Chavista offensive represents a change in the regime’s treatment of these groups, accused of operating drug trafficking and smuggling in the region. According to the local press, the reasons behind the change are still unclear.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano says the hostilities are due to a dispute between the Chavista armed forces and armed groups over drug trafficking routes. The Venezuelan opposition agrees that the offensive serves to help an allied group of guerrillas in the dispute for control of the traffic. Padrino López, Venezuelan defense minister, treats the case as a response to the foreign offensive in his country.
The Chavista regime accuses the Colombian government of supporting the actions of the guerrillas, who “intended to illegally occupy sectors of the Venezuelan geographic space to develop criminal activities”. Maduro said the operation reflected his government’s policy of zero tolerance towards irregular armed groups in Colombia.
Venezuela and Colombia cut diplomatic relations in 2019, when the government of Iván Duque, as well as dozens of other countries, supported opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who tried unsuccessfully to remove Maduro from power.
Speaking of the recent open confrontation, Bram Ebus, consultant to the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG), stated that “at the height of the Cold War, leaders in Washington and Moscow still had a direct line to avoid nuclear catastrophe. But, so far, Colombia and Venezuela have not been able to put their differences aside. and open diplomatic channels to avoid escalating the conflict. “
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