By: Migration and Border team
Translation by: María Victoria Ramírez
The new Colombian government has offered Total Peace. President Petro has said he will carry out negotiations with the ELN and, with his firm commitment to comply with the Peace Agreement signed with the FARC in 2016, he will resolve the persistence of those groups, heirs of the FARC. To top it off, the new government has also promised to subdue the Gulf Clan and the entire world of mafias and heirs of the old paramilitaries.
Today the border between Colombia and Venezuela is under the control of the ELN and other illegal armed structures, which command more and more effectively than the state armed forces. There is strong evidence demonstrating the active control of these organizations over the territory. Particularly notorious their control on Catatumbo and Arauca, but which also occurs over the territories of Cesar and La Guajira, where the border is controlled by mafias and irregular armed forces that impose their rules and authoritarian action.
ELN control is most severe in Alto Catatumbo and has grown to even reach certain areas of the Cúcuta1 metropolitan area. There has been a confrontation for pre-eminence in the rural area, a struggle in which the ELN has gained ground against Los Rastrojos and groups linked to the Gulf Clan, who have struggled to keep this important corridor for drug trafficking, smuggling and transit of arms and ammunition that come from the Venezuelan market, in which historically there has been supply for Colombian illegals. In Venezuela, neither before Chavismo, nor in these twenty-three years of the Bolivarian revolution, it has been possible to overcome this situation linked to extensive corruption in security institutions, a very serious issue to keep in mind.
Arauca is experiencing intense violence that has claimed more than 300 lives so far this year, which could set the homicide rate this year at 150 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, or higher. A true tragedy in a territory that has been one of the most victimized in this long history of violence.
The main reason of the ongoing dispute between the ELN and the structures coming from the FARC is the control and use of the territory: who is in charge and how they do it. This year the dispute began in January, due to the enormous growth of the FARC structures: new combatants, many resources from drug trafficking, a broad policy of extortion and an overwhelming action on territories with a historical presence of the ELN.
This was what the Eastern War Front of the ELN and its most important structure, the Domingo Laín Front, realized to make the decision to open a confrontation that on January 2 left twenty-two people dead simultaneously in the municipalities of Tame, Saravena , Fortul and Arauquita, and that to date it is not certain how many of the more than 300 homicides in Arauca correspond to actual combatants. What is certain is that many civilians have ended up in the middle of this terrible violence and today they are dead, as is the case of the deputy to the Departmental Assembly, Carlos Hernández, who was assassinated on June 30 and that several versions point out his death is related to this confrontation. Thus there are at least twelve social and community leaders assassinated.
If today you take a drive through the battered roads of Ábrego, Convencion, El Carmen, El Tarra, Hacarí, you will see ELN flags and banners with messages alluding to their presence. And they are flags firmly installed on pedestals that are not improvised, which have not been there for months, but at least two years, which is new evidence of their extensive control in the territory, in which, of course, there is a presence of the State Force, but confined to their well-guarded posts. Even so, every two weeks in the last four years the ELN has assassinated a member of the Army or the Police by sniper action. In this four-year presidential term, nearly one hundred soldiers and policemen have died in Catatumbo.
The Total Peace policy faces enormous challenges on the Colombia-Venezuela border. Fortunately, Colombia will return to diplomatic dialogue and the joint construction of policies. There is the possibility of advancing in a peace process with the ELN, with the broadest participation of the communities, their organizations and the territorial governments. That should be the start point to build a peace process to solve the conflicts and guaranty the rights violated for decades in a particularly martyred area of Colombia.
With the announcements of the Petro, On the Colombia-Venezuela border, it should be felt in the coming weeks that there is a fresh air, the democratic air of a government that comes to build a territory with rights and in peace with the communities, hopefully.