Fierce fighting has intensified along the Colombia-Venezuela border over the last two weeks. Bloody clashes between rival paramilitary groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have left at least 27 dead, including civilians. The shared 2,200km frontier has long been a haven for organised crime groups who exploit the scarce government presence, as well as the permeability of the border, to engage in extensive drug smuggling and human trafficking. The intensification in combat comes as militants wrestle for operational control of this coveted territory. In response to the violence, Colombian president Ivan Duque has sanctioned the deployment of two military battalions to the border region of Arauca, as well as the expansion of intelligence measures.
Emerging hostilities pose a whole raft of risks for local populations and travellers. Civilians, caught in the crossfire, are already suspected amongst the dead, whilst reports of kidnap, adolescent recruitment, and extortion are rife amongst impacted communities. Although recent violence remains largely concentrated within the regions of Arauca (Colombia) and Apure (Venezuela), clashes threaten to spill over into neighbouring areas, especially once military engagement increases.
Moreover, recent incidents demonstrate the wider threat that paramilitary activity poses to civilian travellers and inhabitants alike. The majority of attacks perpetrated by the ELN are directed against government targets; on 07 January a bombing in Colombia’s third largest city, Cali, injured a dozen police officers. However, unsuspecting civilians are often amongst the casualties. Furthermore, businesses in the region are not exempt from operational risks; landmines, planted by guerilla groups, pepper the landscape, and attacks on infrastructure have become a frequent occurrence, notably those targeting oil pipelines.
The resumption of violence has aroused significant unrest amongst the affected communities, which threatens to disseminate across Colombia in advance of this year’s presidential elections, scheduled for the spring. The incumbent president, Ivan Duque, is already under sizeable pressure. A wave of mass protests and rioting has swept the country since April last year, as what began as a challenge to a proposed governmental tax reform soon cascaded into multifaceted government criticism.
In a bid to quell public dissent, the president has acted quickly in deploying military assets to the impacted regions. Duque was elected in 2018 on a platform to root out the unremitting threat of radical paramilitary groups, which have destabilised Colombian society for decades. Although violence has mostly abated since FARC signed a government-brokered peace deal in 2016, recent events serve to remind that both the ELN and FARC dissident groups remain active, providing kindling for political instability.
The situation has aggravated existing contention between Bogota and Caracas. Ivan Duque accuses Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro of harbouring ELN combatants and FARC dissidents within his territory, as well as facilitating their operations. Maduro vehemently denies this charge, and blames his Colombian counterpart for failing to effectively guard the border region.
Intergovernmental relations have become increasingly embittered since 2019, when Ivan Duque declared support for Juan Guaidó’s breakaway Venezuelan government. As violence along the border region spikes, diplomatic tensions will become further exacerbated. Both governments have stationed troops on their side of the frontier in order to stem violent crime, but given Maduro’s links to the ELN, the situation risks deteriorating into a complex web of violence.
NGS recommends that travellers to Venezuela and Colombia:
– Avoid all travel to the Colombian department of Arauca, the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander and the municipality of Puerto Carreño in Vichada, and otherwise any travel within 5km of Colombia’s Venezuelan border.
– Avoid all travel within 80km of Venezuela’s Colombian border.
– Avoid rallies and demonstrations during the Colombian presidential election period.
– Conduct security assessments in advance of travel and implement appropriate security measures.
– Make plans for tracking and emergency evacuation.
Author: Ed Soane, Risk Analyst, Northcott Global Solutions
Material supplied by NGS is provided without guarantees, conditions or warranties regarding its accuracy, and may be out of date at any time. Whilst the content NGS produces is published in good faith, it is under no obligation to update information relating to security reports or advice, and there is no representation as to the accuracy, currency, reliability or completeness. NGS cannot make any accurate warnings or guarantees regarding any likely future conditions or incidents. NGS disclaim, to the fullest extent permitted by law, all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on content and services by any user with respect to acts or omissions made by clients on the basis of information contained within. NGS take no responsibility for any loss or damage incurred by users in connection with our material, including loss of income, revenue, business, profits, contracts, savings, data, goodwill, time, or any other loss or damage of any kind.
Background Fierce fighting has intensified along the Colombia-Venezuela border over the last two weeks. Bloody clashes between rival paramilitary groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have left at least 27 dead, including civilians. The shared 2,200km frontier has long been a haven for organised […]
As politicians all over the world gather to prepare for the year ahead, COVID-19 will retain its place at the head of the global agenda. In 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape policy decisions, define the recovery of the world economy, and underpin freedom of travel. Government treasuries will have to contend with […]
Two connected border situations: Belarus-Poland and Russia-Ukraine As many as 4,000 Middle Eastern migrants (primarily from Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Afghanistan) are currently stuck near the Polish border in Belarus. Having been invited there by the autocratic President Lukashenko of Belarus, with the promise of a swift entry into the EU, they have been […]
The UK city of Glasgow will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference this November. The two-week-long event, beginning on 31 October, will attract large numbers of VIPs, including 120 heads of state. A further 30,000 delegates from 200 countries are expected to join to discuss changes to the climate and make commitments towards stalling […]
Lauren Snelling, Risk Analyst at Northcott Global Solutions, discusses risk mitigation solutions for companies and charities operating in one of the world’s most unstable regions. Risks to NGOs in East Africa The work of NGOs in East Africa has garnered considerable attention in recent months, most notably the result of the […]
Since the seizure of Kabul by the Taliban in mid-August, the most pressing question for Western governments has been whether the group will once more allow terrorists within its borders to conduct international attacks. The threat to the West will be shaped by a complex pattern of internal Taliban alliances and interlocking regional interests, with […]
Current situation Twenty years after the Taliban were removed from power following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, roles have been reversed with Westerns now fleeing the country and the Taliban expected to form the next government. The past two months saw the extremist Sunni militant group rapidly advance towards Kabul, taking successive provincial capitals […]
UNREST On Wednesday 07 July, Jacob Zuma handed himself over to police. The following Friday, his appeal against prison on grounds of poor health was rejected, and violent protests broke out across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, particularly in parts of Durban and Johannesburg. The violence rapidly developed into deliberate property damage, arson and looting […]
News of a unilateral truce offered by the Ethiopian Federal Government to the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) has raised hopes that the eight-month conflict between the two may be coming to an end. The war has further diminished the prospect of stability and democratisation of Ethiopia, which had begun to show signs of development. Amid […]
Overview According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), 2020 was the deadliest year in the Malian conflict so far, with 2,825 civilian and combatant deaths. This high death toll was driven by the growth of the rival jihadist groups Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the […]
Context The second round of the Peruvian presidential election will take place on 06 June, following a first round on 11 April that saw a record 18 candidates compete in an atmosphere characterised by political disillusionment. The two candidates with the highest vote share and now in the second round, the far-left Pedro Castillo […]
Latest Incident Two Spanish journalists and an Irish national were killed on Monday by gunmen in Burkina Faso’s Pama national park, a large nature reserve adjacent to the Benin border. Not much detail is available on the incident, but it appears that the journalists were filming a documentary about poaching activities with the help […]