Venezuela Border Clash Points to Colombia Spillover Violence

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Gunmen, claiming they were seeking to oust the Colombian drug cartel of the Rastrojos, carried out an attack in a Venezuelan border state, another sign that the war between the Rastrojos and their rivals has spilled over the border.

The group of 15 gunmen entered a bar in the rural hamlet of Los Cocos, in the Venezuelan state of Tachira, and opened fire, leaving two people dead, reports El Nacional. They painted graffiti on the walls, identifying themselves as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a disbanded Colombian paramilitary organization. The graffiti messages demanded that criminal group the Rastrojos leave the area. Similar messages have reportedly been seen in other Venezuelan villages in Tachira, according to El Nacional’s report.

InSight Crime Analysis

Firefights between rival criminal groups, many of them claiming the name of Colombian paramilitary organizations like the AUC and the Aguilas Negras, have been reported in Tachira since last year. In January, a reported clash between the Rastrojos and their primary rival, the Urabeños, left four people dead in the border state.

The Rastrojos are currently thought to be the primary criminal group that controls the drug and contraband gasoline trade along the Venezuelan frontier, according to a report released this year by Colombian think-tank Corporacion Nuevo Arco Iris. But it’s clear from these sporadic outbreaks of violence that other criminal interests in the region are unwilling to accept the Rastrojos as the dominant force.

Gunmen who claim they are acting in the AUC’s name are seeking to associate themselves with a once powerful organization that commanded significant fear and respect. It is also possible that by claiming the AUC’s name, these gunmen in Tachira are attempting to point out the stark differences between the Rastrojos and the AUC, and hence strengthen their assertion that the Rastrojos have reason to fear them. The Rastrojos is the only major Colombian criminal organization to draw much of its recruits from a drug trafficking cartel, rather than recruiting primarily from the ranks of a former paramilitary bloc.

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