In December, three Venezuelans were arrested in the northern Colombian towns of Barranquilla and Valledupar and were found to be carrying ‘weapons of war,’ including an assault rifle, a 9mm mini-Uzi, ammunition, and a stun grenade. On 29th December, Colombia’s Foreign Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, announced that this arrest had been made in conjunction with wider ongoing intelligence investigations into ‘credible’ plots to assassinate the right-wing Colombian President, Ivan Duque.
Posting a video on Twitter, Trujillo announced “with immense concern and the utmost condemnation” that “for the past several months intelligence investigations have been taking place about possible attacks on the president’s life,” and that this arrest “further increases [pre-existing] concerns.” Colombia’s Defence Minister, Guillermo Botero, claimed that “the president’s security has been strengthened with intelligence and eventually with some additional measures.” Statements from these senior officials clearly demonstrate two key facts. Firstly, the threat to the president’s life is a credible one that is being taken seriously with preventative measures and intelligence being actively pursued. Secondly, Colombian intelligence services were evidently aware of this threat well before the December arrest.
Despite ongoing tensions between the two countries, Venezuelan officials have pledged to support investigations into the assassination plot, with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza promising to provide “the necessary police and intelligence cooperation.”
The relationship between Venezuela and Colombia has been a problematic one full of disagreements over the past several months since Maduro’s re-election as President of Venezuela in May 2018. This recently uncovered plot to assassinate Duque should be condemned as an unacceptable plan to utilize violence in order to convey a political message. The assassination of a single politician would not resolve any of the issues that the act would be making a stand against, including Duque’s right-wing policies, his attitude towards drug trafficking, and his government’s rhetoric directed towards Maduro. Venezuela’s offer to assist the Colombian intelligence services in the investigation should be praised and, if acted upon, could actually encourage the two countries to open channels of communication more going forward and to collaborate on these wider issues. The arrest of the three Venezuelans and the assassination plots that they may be associated with should serve as a reminder to the two respective governments of the potentially undesirable effects of conflicts not being resolved in a non-violent manner between senior officials.
What issues have caused such rifts between Colombia and Venezuela in recent months? In May 2018, President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected to serve a second term, however, the vote was surrounded by accusations of rigging and widespread boycotting. This led the Colombian president, amongst other international politicians, to condemn Maduro as a ‘dictator’ and to call for another election. In response, Maduro has accused Colombia and the U.S. of working together to overthrow him. This has led to a mutual expulsion of senior officials. Intensifying these tensions is the ongoing migrant crisis, with millions fleeing socialist Venezuela- and lots settling in Colombia- and its associated poor economy and endemic violence. Blu Radio, without citing its sources, has claimed that the assassination plot would have been supported by leftist Colombians and drug traffickers, and may have been intended to coincide with the commencement of Maduro’s second term in January.
Looking forward, this situation has the potential to go one of two ways. If intelligence services are unable to uncover all of those involved in the assassination plots against Duque, the political unrest and violence that has come to characterize Venezuela in 2018 could spread into neighboring Colombia, further damaging the relationship between the two countries and further tarnishing the reputation of Latin American politics to the international community. In contrast, if Colombia and Venezuela can effectively work together to gather intelligence on those plotting against Duque, violence can be avoided and perhaps this could symbolize one small step on the long journey to recovering a damaged relationship between two neighboring countries.