Venezuelan Joint Operations With Rebel Group Highlight Civilian Crisis On Border Area

A Human Rights Watch report published on Monday March 28 revealed joint operations conducted between Venezuelan soldiers and Colombian rebels earlier this year. These operations were carried out on the border which separates the Colombian state, Arauca, from the Venezuelan state of Apure. According to The Guardian, the report also detailed the end of a truce between the National Liberation Army or ELN — who the Venezuelans conducted their operations with — and another rebel organization called the Joint Eastern Command. This divide has displaced over 3,800 people in Arauca and 3,300 in Apure so far.

Refugees and humanitarian workers from Apure detailed these joint operations, informing the Human Rights Watch on how Venezuela’s national guard worked with ELN rebels to truck away people accused of working with the Joint Eastern Command. These operations are ultimately indicative of a much larger issue along this shared border that has persisted for years.

Smaller conflicts have persisted along the border for decades between groups vying for its riches. But since 2016 when Colombia signed a demobilizing peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, armed groups have attempted to further take over parts of the border, leading to increased violence and displacement. According to the International Crisis Group, ELN has used this opportunity to expand on both sides of the border.

The Venezuelan government since Hugo Chavez became president in 1998 has been a source of major contention with Colombia. Even following Chavez’s death, the rise of President Maduro in Venezuela and the fall of United States and Colombian-backed interim President, Juan Guaido, has only heightened tensions between the two countries and within Venezuela itself. While Guaido has received aid through international organizations from countries including the U.S.

On an international scope there has been a mixed showing of support for the two countries and for the two contested presidents of Venezuela. The U.S. and over 60 international countries have pressured President Maduro to step down, throwing their support behind Guaido who they consider a legitimate interim president, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The citizens of both countries that live along this border have consistently faced state neglect because of their location and distance from major cities. Unfortunately, they most heavily reap the consequences of this neglected territory and the turmoil of both countries blaming the other for a border conflict that neither seems willing to address. Due to this neglect the area also remains with few job opportunities, poor public service, and the violent rise of guerilla rebel groups according to the International Crisis Index.

One of the major problems with current solutions to this civilian crisis is the failure to disband smaller groups. Although the 2016 peace accord in Colombia disbanded FARC, a huge rebel group, the countries have yet to actively address — in the same way — the smaller groups that have begun to fight for the business possibilities left behind by FARC and its former scope. Results of this peace accord have ultimately been unsuccessful in the long term because of this contestation for profitable territory.

Further, Venezuela’s newly instated joint operations with EPN gives the once small rebel group increasing over both other small groups and the citizens and refugees caught in the crossfire. With FARC disbanded, the Venezuelan alliance with EPN might be the aid that the rebel group needs to become a dominant power over these border states which would be detrimental to moving forward.

From an international perspective, many countries and organizations including the U.S. and Colombia have responded to tensions between the two countries by condemning President Maduro and putting their support behind recognized interim president Guaido. The U.S. is the largest single donor of aid to Venezuela, according to U.S. Aid, supplying over 1.9 billion dollars of aid since 2017. It is important that this aid continues to help those citizens who are victims of displacement, violence, and poverty as this rebel fighting will only encourage the targeting of immigrants in these countries.

In response to past attempts at fixing the civilian safety crisis along the border of Colombia and Venezuela, there needs to be action taken by both sides as well as other international entities to ensure lasting change. In the two countries in particular, Colombia and Venezuela, increased peaceful communication between both governments to alleviate the blame of the border crisis will prove necessary. As mentioned, these territories are often overlooked because of their location even though they are areas of high crime and trafficking rates — a result of that distanced location as well. Focused talks will help to end this neglect so that sustainable solutions can be worked towards looking ahead.

In addition, the current President Maduro and Guaido whom many countries remain supporting should have taken part in their own talks within Venezuela itself. With the Lima Group — who rejects the rupture of democracy and human rights violations in Venezuela according to the Congressional Research Service — issuing its last statement in 2021, it’s important that the countries leaders can meet peacefully and ensure a fair election looking ahead to 2024. The Lima Group has consistently called for a peaceful transition of power to Guaido’s rule, stressing the international call for democratic values. Although Maduro will unlikely concede his position now, there is still the potential for less radical positions to be taken before the upcoming election, especially in regard to their current partnership with the EPN which remains threatening.

Venezuela itself must end its joint operations with the EPN immediately. Their partnership is allowing what was once a small rebel group to potentially start growing and eventually take control over these contested border regions. With FARC recently disbanded because of the violence it unleashed in the area, it is detrimental that Venezuela does not allow this to happen again. Instead, all rebel groups must be disbanded for the sake of citizens living on the border, seeking safety within their day to day lives. Solutions must be sought in this respect, and Venezuela’s current efforts must change course from a creating a partnership with violent rebel groups to providing aid for its citizens.

As the two countries work on cohesive efforts to solve this citizen safety crisis, international bodies such as the U.S. and members of the European Union have a human responsibility to provide aid for migrants from both sides looking to escape the conflict or receive aid in their home countries as they face the threat of these rebel group’s efforts to claim the territory. Importantly, as mentioned by the International Crisis Group, the areas of this border region are hard to reach by mutual aid efforts. Despite these complications, mutual aid efforts remain one of the vital pieces of helping these citizens who live in a neglected region of both countries, in order to ensure they have the support they need to remain in good health and safety as negotiations and efforts continue to fix this systemic and looming issue. For that reason, new methods of accessing these regions need to be prioritized so that sending direct aid is not seen as an unattainable method.


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