Venezuela’s drastic measures to secure its border with Colombia have now reached the southern state of Amazonas, but while President Maduro repeats his warnings about right-wing paramilitaries flooding in, local leaders are more concerned about the leftist guerrillas already there.
On October 26, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro declared a state of exception in the municipality of Atures, the capital of the southern state of Amazonas, in response to what he claimed was the growing threat posed by paramilitary groups, drug trafficking, and contraband smuggling reported El Nacional.
The state of exception grants security forces broad powers to conduct searches, intercept private communications, and restrict free movement and assembly in the area. Under Venezuelan law, a state of exception can last for up to 60 days before an official extension becomes necessary.
The move was labelled “hypocritical” by Amazonas Governor Liborio Guarulla, who said he had long warned of the threat posed to the region by Colombia’s leftist guerrilla groups without response from the government. Guarulla instead characterized the declaration as politically motivated, saying that it is designed to spread fear and limit the mobility of residents before elections.
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The declaration of new security measures in Amazonas follows similar actions taken in the border states of Apure, Tachira, and Zulia, and the Venezuelan government has now imposed states of exception in at least part of all of the states along the Venezuela-Colombia border. The reason for the security crackdown has ostensibly been to halt the flow of drugs and contraband across the border and to prevent the spread of Colombian paramilitary groups. However, the decision to extend it to Amazonas casts further doubt on the government’s already suspect motives.
Along much of the Colombia-Venezuela border, the criminalized remnants of Colombia’s paramilitary groups do indeed operate on both sides of the border and profit from contraband and drug smuggling, although there is little evidence to support Venezuelan claims they are also seeking to gain political influence in the country.
However, as highlighted by Guarulla, in much of the border region, leftist guerrilla groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) have a larger presence and pose a greater security threat, and yet they have been largely absent from Maduro’s fiery speeches on border security. While this is unsurprising given the persistent allegations that factions of the Venezuelan state have colluded with the rebels, it also raises questions about the government’s assertions as the guerrillas also profit from drug trafficking and contraband smuggling in the region. In Amazonas, for example, the FARC’s 16th Front have a presence on both sides of the border and are involved in moving cocaine into Venezuela.
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In addition, the fact that the move targets one of only a handful of states with an opposition governor and comes just over a month before parliamentary elections also adds weight to the theory that Maduro and his government are more interested in using the security problems in the border region for political gain than they are in resolving them.