The Border Heats Up: Venezuela’s War with Colombia’s Paramilitaries Continues

Misión Verdad
This week the narco-paramilitary gang Los Rastrojos made a failed attempt to attack the Venezuelan army as it passed through an area of Catatumbo, a border municipality in the state of Zulia.

According to journalist Madelein García, the paramilitary cell attacked a column of Venezuelan army vehicles that were passing by the bridge connecting Caño de Medio to Caño Motilona, two sectors of the aforementioned Zulia municipality. The combat lasted one hour and four members of Los Rastrojos were killed, according to the journalist.

Photo: Madelein García

The area where the clash between the Venezuelan military and the irregular forces occurred forms part of the trails connecting Venezuela to Colombia, controlled by Los Rastrojos for fuel smuggling and human trafficking.

Regarding the latter, President Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly warned of the threat that, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Venezuelans are entering the country illegally without passing through the proper epidemiological controls that the state has ordered to be carried out at the borders.

Wednesday’s event is probably connected to the coup d’état that took place in Los Rastrojos on June 14, only three days before, when the army’s 12th Caribbean Brigade, which was on patrol, dismantled a camp of the aforementioned paramilitary gang in the same place, after a confrontation against its members.

At that time, ZODI Zulia reported the seizure of military equipment including explosives, anti-personnel mines, AK-47 rifle loaders and grenades.

Photo: El Pitazo

Since the national government ordered the mandatory social quarantine throughout the country, other events related to the irregular group have occurred in Venezuelan states bordering Colombia, while health, police and military personnel remain deployed at the Points of Integral Social Attention (PASI) to attend to and detect cases of Covid-19 in the migrant population returning to Venezuela, to avoid a further increase in the number of infections imported from the neighbouring country, which now exceeds 1,500 cases.

Freddy Bernal, protector of Táchira state, announced on April 24 that Juan Montero Buitrago, Los Rastrojos’ chief financial officer, had been captured.

Bernal said Buitrago “has a long record of smuggling gasoline, drug trafficking and extortion. In the Colombian media he is identified as the gang’s top leader in Norte de Santander, Colombia.

On 20 May, Moisés David Contreras Santana, a lieutenant in the paramilitary group in Coloncito, Táchira, was arrested and weapons and military equipment were seized.

Ten days later, Bernal reported that three other paramilitary members of Los Rastrojos had been captured during an operation to combat the mafias that are moving people through illegal passes from Colombia to Venezuela.

2020: the data on narco-paramilitary violence in Colombia

In recent weeks there have been clashes between irregular gangs in the Colombian region bordering Venezuela.

W Radio, quoting the residents of the village of Banco de Arena, in rural Cúcuta, reported on June 2 that there were several explosions and gunfire, pointing to Los Rastrojos and the Colombian guerrilla group ELN as the perpetrators.

Colombia’s attorney general, Fernando Carrillo Flórez, denounced an increase in the forced recruitment of minors, pointing not only to guerrilla movements, but also to criminal structures linked to drug trafficking, kidnappings and murders, acts that continue to be perpetrated in parallel to the health emergency that currently exists in the country, leading to the forced displacement of communities far from the conflict territories, even though this implies the risk of contagion from Covid-19.

Among the armed groups listed by the head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office are the Rastrojos, the Urabeños and the Black Eagles, all of whom have open files in the war against Venezuela.

Despite the fact that the Peace Accords have been signed for four years, the Attorney General’s Office indicated that in 30% of the Colombian territory, especially the rural areas, children and adolescents continue to be affected by the disputes triggered by paramilitarism and drug trafficking.

Victims of the war by criminal gangs are growing up in the interior of Colombia. Photo: Colprensa

Similarly, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), quoted by El Espectador, revealed the worrying figures regarding the 43 massive displacements detected in Colombia so far in 2020; due to the clashes between illegal armed groups, 11,800 people had to flee their homes, while another 1,000 did so due to threats.

The departments affected are Nariño, Chocó, Antioquia, Norte de Santander and Cauca. In addition, UNHCR mentions that in Norte de Santander there were more confinements due to the confrontations.

The threat of Los Rastrojos on this side of the border

The FANB has had to maintain permanent military exercises in this period of pandemic, even more so after the terrorist incursion of Operation Gideon failed.

The low-intensity paramilitary war against the Venezuelan state is continuing despite the global health emergency.

In this sense, and as the Venezuelan president himself has denounced, it cannot be ruled out that the transfer of Venezuelans by road is a deliberate action of paramilitary groups, in alliance with the Colombian extreme right, to damage the effective control of the pandemic in the country.

A recent development that could be triggering the latest clashes with Los Rastrojos is the new plan to distribute gasoline in the country, which by reducing the wasteful subsidy for gasoline, would be touching the interests of the mafias that smuggle it.

The relationship of this criminal gang with the leaders of anti-Chavism who are leading the coup against Venezuela is obvious.

Images of Guaidó being escorted by Jhon Jairo Durán Contreras, alias “Menor”, and Albeiro Lobo Quintero, alias “Brother”, who travelled the world in 2019, became the main evidence of a series of investigations compiled by the Venezuelan government that show that, beyond criminal activities, narco-paramilitary cells have been incorporated into the destabilization scheme against Venezuela that the Casa de Nariño itself promotes.