Authorities in Venezuela have discovered two clandestine graves near the border with Colombia, raising the possibility that violence between warring criminal groups may be claiming even more victims than reported.
During the first week of May, Venezuelan authorities discovered two hidden graves containing a total of 12 bodies in the western state of Tachira, less than four kilometers from the Colombian border, reported El Tiempo. The first grave, which was found on May 4, contained victims whose hands were tied with barbed wire and whose bodies showed signs of torture. Tachira Governor Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora stated that the killings had been perpetrated by rival criminal groups fighting for control of the border region, reported El Nacional.
An alleged paramilitary member who was recently detained told authorities about the homicides and gave them information that helped locate the bodies, according to Noticias al Dia. The detainee reportedly claimed that at least three of the victims were members of a paramilitary group, but authorities have yet to release information on their identities.
Governor Vielma Mora stated that authorities believe the killings took place in December 2014 and January 2015, reported El Nacional.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although the authors and motives behind the clandestine graves have yet to be confirmed, Colombia’s two main neo-paramilitary groups (also known as BACRIM from the Spanish for “criminal bands”) — the Rastrojos and the Urabeños — operate in the Venezuela-Colombia border region. This territory is prized by criminal groups for its drug trafficking routes and for the opportunity to control the heavy flow of contraband goods across the border. Criminal groups are also involved in kidnapping and extortion in this area, and often flee to Venezuela to hide from Colombian authorities.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of BACRIM
The frontier region was previously a Rastrojos stronghold, but as this criminal group has declined, the Urabeños have waged a bloody battle for control of the territory. Although the Urabeños have largely taken over the criminal enterprises in the border region, fighting between these groups persists, and in November 2014 the Urabeños allegedly massacred eight members of the Rastrojos in the Venezuelan border state of Zuila.
The recently discovered bodies are not the first sign that criminal groups are disposing of their victims in clandestine graves along the border. In March 2014, five individuals were forced to dig their own graves before being killed by alleged Urabeños operatives. The use of hidden graves — as well as the large number of disappearances in the Colombian border city of Cucuta — suggests levels of violence in this area may be even higher than reported.