Reports that criminal groups in Colombia are increasingly recruiting migrants from Venezuela shows how these armed actors are taking advantage of those fleeing the neighboring country’s economic crisis in order to strengthen their criminal structures.
In the last three months, authorities in Colombia have recorded 27 cases where migrants from Venezuela were recruited by members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and dissident members of the largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), according to General Helder Giraldo from the 8th Division of the Colombian Army, El Colombiano reported.
The ELN’s Domingo Láin Sáenz Front and ex-FARC mafia networks — mainly bands of dissident former FARC fighters comprised of members from the now-disbanded 1st and 28th Fronts — are recruiting those fleeing from Venezuela into the ranks of their groups to partake in criminal activities along the border, according to General Giraldo.
The general emphasized that criminal groups are taking advantage of the poverty facing Venezuelan migrants. Some of them have been caught in the middle of extortion activities, as well as drug and arms trafficking, while others have died in confrontations with soldiers.
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Although the information published in El Colombiano offers more detail about the recruitment of Venezuelan migrants, these reports are not new. The Venezuelan non-governmental organization Fundación Redes has reported throughout 2018 on the ELN’s presence in Venezuela and even the group’s recruitment of children from schools.
In some cases, those fleeing are threatened or pressured by criminal groups to join their ranks. But the forced exodus of Venezuelans has allowed these armed groups to prey on the hunger and desperation of those fleeing for other purposes as well.
Citizens living in the border towns of Venezuela’s western Táchira state claim that those being recruited are from remote regions of Venezuela where they do not have enough money to eat. Armed criminal groups operating in the border region offer them an opportunity to earn money, something that many have never had in their home country.
Sources along the Colombia-Venezuela border told InSight Crime that those recruited by armed groups receive up to 50,000 Venezuelan bolívares per month (around $300 at the current exchange rate). This is equivalent to more than 27 monthly minimum wages in Venezuela (one month’s minimum salary is around $12).
It is in this context that fleeing Venezuelans have to choose between hunger or joining the ranks of organized crime groups, which is helping them strengthen and reorganize their criminal structures while also facilitating the spread of their illegal activities into Venezuela.