By: Raúl Cubas, Coordinator Odevida Venezuela
Translation by: María Victoria Ramírez
Undoubtedly, the victory of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez in Colombia has raised up many expectations in Venezuela, and of course the social and human rights organizations that in recent years have been denouncing the consequences of the closing of the borders between our countries hope that our complaints and proposals are taken into account by them.
Among the most dire consequences suffered by the populations located in the more than 2,200 kilometres of border, which artificially separate us like dots and lines, are: the increase in the cost of living caused by the smuggling of goods and gasoline; the submission of the population to the control and extortion of irregular groups of criminals and guerrillas, owners of the “trochas ” crossings with the complacency and consent of the immigration and military authorities; the increase in violence generated by the presence on both sides of the border of members of the National Liberation Army (Spanish: ELN Ejército de Liberación Nacional) and the so-called dissident groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Spanish: FARC Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), who are fighting among themselves and, lately, also with the Venezuelan military forces in the state of Apure; the ordeal suffered by Venezuelan migrants in their eagerness to cross to Colombia in search of staying or transiting to a third country that welcomes them; and also the helplessness in which Colombian residents or refugees live, as the consulates are closed for so long.
The Colombian guerrilla presence in Venezuela is a judgment shared by Colombian and Venezuelan civil society organizations. The Observatory for the Defense of Life (Odevida), in a recent report entitled "Transiting and inhabiting the Colombian-Venezuelan border, a violent geography in Norte de Santander and Aragua", states that: "today the Colombia-Venezuela border is under the control of the ELN and other illegal armed structures, command more and more effectively than the state Armed Forces, there is ample evidence of this, which demonstrates the real control they have over the territory”.
In this sense, Alerta Venezuela has specified that “the presence of the ELN on the Venezuelan side is long-standing. In the 1980s and 1990s, both the ELN and the FARC made frequent incursions into Venezuelan territory and raided military border posts to stock up on weapons. The border was used as a spillway and supply zone, but without a major permanent presence. As of the arrival of Hugo Chávez to power, the attacks on military posts by Colombian guerrilla groups ceased, which suggests that their supply and protection no longer had to be by force.
Meanwhile, the Odevida Chapter Venezuela has documented that “since the start of operations of the Orinoco Mining Arc (Spanish: AMO Arco Minero del Orinoco), the alleged perpetrator of violence linked to mining in Bolívar and the state of Amazonas are the military or police forces of the State. Venezuelan by action or omission; criminal gangs called "sindicatos" or "pranatos"; illegal Brazilian garimpeiros and members of the Colombian guerrillas, including the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Dissidents)”.
Faced with this reality, the environmental organization Clima 21 affirms that "the problem of violence, environmental destruction, corruption, looting and the destruction of indigenous cultures are not problems of a country, because criminals regardless of their supposed ideology they move freely throughout the region with extensive criminal routes. So it is a regional problem and must be faced by all countries if they want to have any success”.
Clearly, the situation is very complex, that diverse and even conflicting interests intervene in its development, which will influence the Colombian government to achieve the objective of Total Peace in Colombia. There are more than 60 years of internal armed conflict in which violence has reigned and has not yet been defeated. This new peace process has many powerful enemies within Colombia. According to Jorge Mantilla, director of the Conflict and Organized Violence area of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP): “the issue of illegal mining, the issue of deforestation, the issue of extortion, on which we have very little information. As long as that is not on the table and there is the possibility of deactivating or containing these economies, well, what we are going to have is a recycling process […] it will be very difficult to deactivate, let's say, the phenomenon of organized crime” .
This situation is also recognized by the Peace & Reconciliation Foundation, which affirms in a recent work published by the Migration, Region and Border Line, that "Venezuela has also suffered our armed conflict and there are not a few military and guerrilla actions Colombian guerrillas in its territory and, like Colombia, the Venezuelan State has lost control over parts of its territory, where the Colombian guerrillas have taken root and today the ELN remains autonomous, in a framework of control of resources and capacity to subordinate corrupt officials or to impose themselves subtly and effectively”.
Given the recent proposal by President Gustavo Petro that Maduro be the guarantor of the peace negotiations that his government plans to resume in the coming weeks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), reasonable doubts arise on the Venezuelan side about its results. In order for Maduro to be a genuine and independent guarantor of the negotiations for Total Peace in Colombia, he should, in principle, publicly acknowledge the presence of the ELN in Venezuela and commit to evict the members of the Colombian guerrillas as part of the final agreement with the ELN.
The Venezuelan human rights activist, Ligia Bolívar, general coordinator of Alerta Venezuela, highlights several aspects that concur with the previous approach to the proposal of the Colombian government: “first, that this opens an opportunity window from a Venezuelan perspective, meaning that President Nicolás Maduro could resume negotiations with the Venezuelan opposition in Mexico through his representatives; second, that the negotiation with the ELN must go through the determination of its presence in Venezuela, because it is a factor that affects the Venezuelan population; and third, that these negotiations should not only be based on an end to the conflict in the relationship with the Colombian State, but also on the consequences of ELN’s presence in Venezuela”.
This is the reality of the two countries’ border that the governments of Gustavo Petro and Nicolás Maduro must face and give an adequate response to. There is certainly an opportunity for Venezuela to contribute so that the Total Peace policy becomes an effective reality in Colombia and for Venezuela to benefit from an agreement for the definitive withdrawal of the Colombian guerrilla groups from the national territory, and we can also achieve peace in the territories where they are settled.
Finally, for this proposal to be successful on both sides of the border, it is necessary that civil society organizations and human rights organizations from both countries and the international community be called to be observers and facilitators of the Total Peace process, in this way to support a process that ultimately benefits the indigenous, peasant and urban populations, who are and have been the victims of this long internal armed conflict.
In other words, the “nobodies” on both sides of the border want to be part of this Total Peace process and that is why we are already working to build a Binational Agenda that contributes by giving victims a voice.
 Odevida/Pares: “Transitar y habitar la frontera colombo-venezolana, una geografía violenta en Norte de Santander y Aragua”, Colombia. 30.08.2022. Pág. 3. https://e7c20b27-21c2-4f2b-9c38-a1a16422794e.usrfiles.com/ugd/e7c20b_50dfccc8a3bc417cb40ddacb8da7c9a9.pdf. Consulta el 14.09.2022.
 Alerta Venezuela: equipo de análisis e incidencia internacional en derechos humanos, registrado como asociación sin ánimo de lucro ante la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, Colombia, el 24 de mayo de 2022.
 Odevida, Capítulo Venezuela: Ecocidio y violencia: panorama del extractivismo en Venezuela. Pág. 25. https://provea.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12//odevida-informe-ambiente-colombia-y-venezuela.pdf. Accessed 15.09.2022.
 Entrevista telefónica realizada el 11.09.2022.
 Insight Crime/ Juan Diego Posada: La arriesgada apuesta de Colombia por la 'Paz Total'. Bogotá, Colombia, 13.09.2022. https://es.insightcrime.org/noticias/arriesgada-apuesta-colombia-paz-total/. Accessed 15.09.2022.
 Fundación Paz & Reconciliación (Pares): La paz total y los desafíos en la frontera Colombia-Venezuela. Pág. 1. Bogotá, Colombia.https://www.pares.com.co/post/venezuela-es-socio-para-una-colombia-en-paz. Accessed 17.09.2022.
 Fundación Paz & Reconciliación: Venezuela será país garante del proceso de paz con ELN. Pág. 1. Bogotá, Colombia. https://www.pares.com.co/post/venezuela-ser%C3%A1-pa%C3%ADs-garante-del-proceso-de-paz-con-eln.Accessed 17.09.2022.