Venezuela Suspends Border Governor After He Speaks Out on Crime

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The governor of a Venezuela border state who frequently pointed out criminal activity by Colombia’s rebel armies on his part of the frontier has been banned from public office for 15 years by the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Liborio Guarulla, governor of the southern state of Amazonas and a prominent figure of the opposition party Venezuela’s Progressive Movement (Movimiento Progresista de Venezuela – MPV) was suspended from public office by the Comptroller General of the Republic (Contraloría General de la República – CGR) on May 7, reported El Nacional.

Guarulla shared the news via his Twitter account.

“We’re not as desperate as the red regime, so on Tuesday in Caracas we will discuss our supposed political suspension before the CGR,” the governor tweeted.

The state that Guarulla governors is on the southernmost part of Venezuela’s shared border with Colombia, which has long been used as a rearguard and safe haven by both the recently-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and their guerrilla cousins, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN).

Amazonas in particular is the most rural and uninhabited of Venezuela’s four border states, and research by InSight Crime suggests that dissident members of the FARC who rejected the peace agreement signed last year with the Colombian government have taken refuge there, including Géner García Molina, alias “John 40,” one of the rebel army’s most notorious drug traffickers. 

Guarulla is the second Venezuelan governor to be recently suspended from public office. On April 7, Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of the state of Miranda and former presidential candidate, was also banned by the CGR for 15 years, due to alleged budgetary irregularities. 

“Let this suspension be another reason to take to the streets across the country,” Capriles said in comments reported by El País. 

Venezuela has witnessed mass anti-government protests since April this year, which have claimed dozens of lives.  

InSight Crime Analysis

Guarulla may not be as politically prominent as Capriles, but he has long been an outspoken critic of the Maduro administration. He has denounced the alleged complicity of the Venezuelan armed forces with Colombian guerrilla groups in contraband, illegal mining and drug trafficking activities in the state of Amazonas.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

On October 26, 2015 President Maduro declared a state of exception in Atures, Amazonas’s capital, in an apparent effort to fight paramilitary groups and organized crime across the state — part of a number of such declarations that closed the border with Colombia for a year, to the benefit of organized crime. Guarulla called the move by Maduro “hypocritical,” and argued it was designed to limit the mobility of residents before elections rather than address security problems. 

Maduro’s fight with Guarulla got personal in 2013, when the president reportedly called the governor of Amazonas a drunkard and corrupt.

Some of Guarulla’s claims are yet to be proven, such as allegations that there are 4,000 Colombian rebel fighters in Amazonas, which seems a very high number, and the accusation that the FARC stole a helicopter belonging to the Venezuelan Air Force. But the governor has been a powerful critic of the government’s failures on the border and highlighted the criminal complicity between the state and criminal actors there. 

Links between the current Venezuelan government and Colombia’s rebel armies is nothing new and spiked after Hugo Chávez became president in 1999. Chávez was open about his sympathy for both the FARC and the ELN. Files retrieved from the computer of slain FARC commander alias “Raul Reyes” in 2008 revealed an alleged meeting between Chávez and Raul Reyes in 2000, and many high-level members of Chávez’s government have met with key FARC leaders. A number of them have been subsequently sanctioned or indicted by the United States for their alleged role in drugs and weapons trafficking.

SEE ALSO: Profile of the FARC in Venezuela

As protests in Venezuela seem set to continue, Maduro is facing increasing national and international pressure to resign or reach a political compromise with the opposition. As a result, his administration — accused of heinous levels of corruption as well as links to drug trafficking — is keen to silence any further accusations of criminality.

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