By Camilo Osorio Sánchez, EL COLOMBIANO, January 4, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The FARC dissidents killed him in Venezuela. The vendetta left 23 dead in 24 hours.
The killing in Venezuela of Álvaro Padilla Tarazona, alias Mazamorro, who was the second-in-command of the Domingo Lain Saenz Front of the ELN, was the spark that set off the spiral of violence that left 23 dead in less than 24 hours in the department of Arauca. However, he was not the only commander of those guerrillas that was killed in this war; another one showed up dead on Monday afternoon.
In fact, this is one of the principal events behind the bloody trail that started the year in that department of the country, and the reason that the Catholic Church, the Public Defender’s Office, and defenders of human rights have gone out in unison to demand a cease fire and the intervention of the authorities.
“Mazamorro: was killed in El Nula, Apure, by dissidents of the 10th Front of the FARC, who report to “Gentil Duarte”, the head of the Southeastern Bloc and the one they say is behind the killing of the sadly historic leaders “el Paisa” and “Romaña”, who were killed in early December in the same Venezuelan state. This new homicide was immediately charged to the ELN, setting off killings of alleged middle level commanders of the dissidents in the municipalities of Arauquita, Saravena, Fortul, and Tame, even though it has not been ruled out that the victims were civilians.
With the killing of “Mazamorro”, the dissidents broke the alliance they had had with the ELN, leaving them in control of the border and of the drug trafficking routes through Venezuela. General Carlos Carrasquilla, Commander of the Quirón Task Force, said that the death of “Mazamorro” has not been confirmed, but he indicated that there are reports of confrontations in encampments located in the neighboring country. “We know that this breakup is for control of the drug traffic. Historically these groups have been fighting for the domination of Arauca and other departments,” he added.
And, while in the capital of the department they were putting together a security council, headed by Defense Minister Diego Molano, they learned of the killing of another commander of the ELN known as alias Carramán. That happened in the main street of the place called El Amparo, in the state of Apure, where later a big explosion was reported. The new killing led the ELN to order the closing of the Arauca River crossing to the boaters that travel between the two countries.
The situation has become so serious that President Iván Duque ordered two Army battalions deployed to the department to restore public order, instructed by Defense Minister Molano, and by the military command staff which has been travelling since Monday to Arauca, one of the departments most battered by the actions of the criminal groups because—like Norte de Santander—they are separated from Venezuela by a border that is almost invisible and without much control.
“After those two homicides, the illegal armed groups are trying to kill each other’s militias and to frighten the civilian population. In that area, there are armed groups operating that have been tolerated in Venezuelan territory, where they receive support and protection from the dictatorial regime, and it’s clearly that situation that has set off the violence,” said the President during the strategic review by Defense officials. They also reconfirmed that “Otoniel” will be extradited.
“Mazamorro”, who had been captured in 2011 because of his terrorist activities and extortions in Arauca and Casanare, had gone back to crime after being set free. Besides his killing, there had been two other homicides of members of the ELN in Venezuela at the end of the year.
Even though the FARC dissidents are going deeper into Venezuela, the ELN has been on the border for years and is expanding in that country. It has at least 1,100 members there. In addition, on the second day of 2022 there was a confrontation in Barrancas, in the state of Monagas, which left nine dead after a clash with a Venezuelan gang known as Unite Barrancas against the ELN.
Duque is sending two Army battalions to Arauca because of the security crisis.
The threats don’t stop.
The circulation of threatening messages on social media clouded the New Years celebrations in the department. “We must declare a military objective to all companies; cars carrying all transportation in the department are required to stay parked. Do you get it?” is one of the audios broadcast this weekend in Arauca and blamed on the illegal groups.
But the threats aren’t just found on voicemail. The photos of 23 people killed, apparently shot to death, have gone from cell phone to cell phone and were compiled by the authorities to help identify the victims. Some of them showed that the dead are allegedly members of those same illegal armed groups, but Duque himself preferred to keep his distance and just said, “It’s probable that civilians have been killed; we want to verify everything.”
The community leaders are also afraid to complain about what’s going on. Residents who asked that their names not be used told EL COLOMBIANO that they are afraid to talk about the human rights situation, and they complain about the limitations on communication, because the illegal gangs are having an effect on networks.
“The massacre itself has not yet come to light. In Botalón (in a rural area of Tame) there was a man carrying (vegetables) and he said he had never been so scared in his life as he was today, with 18 dead bodies on just one side. He said he saw the whole thing,” was one of the complaints that the citizens were collecting.
“We need humanitarian corridors.” There are people that need to leave their houses, but they can’t, because of the fear,” said Juan Carlos Villate, the Tame local clerk.
Conversely, EL COLOMBIANO heard an audio from FARC dissidents downplaying the declaration of an armed strike, and rejecting the attacks on the civilian population in that department.
The dissidents blame the ELN for starting the armed confrontation intended to “annihilate our forces”, using alleged agreements with the Colombian Army and with the Venezuelan Armed Forces. “We are using our right of legitimate defense, we will continue carrying out our operations,” says the audio.
In spite of the fact that it’s a territory that’s free of coca plantings, Arauca is dominated by illegal armed groups because of the ease of passing from there to Venezuela, where there is support for airstrips from which the narco-guerrillas can take out drugs to the Carribbean. When “El Paisa” and “Romaña” were killed, the authorities insisted that there were negotiations with the chiefs of Los Balcanes going on in Apure.
Besides that, the former governor of Arauca, José Facundo Castillo, is being prosecuted for the alleged connections that the ELN had with the department’s contracting system.
The people that live in the municipality of Tame took to the streets, wearing white, with balloons and flowers, to ask for an end to the violence in their territory, one of those affected by the war between the FARC dissidents and the ELN. The clerk of that municipality, Juan Carlos Villate, argued for the rights of the citizens, asking for a humanitarian corridor that would allow some circulation of people living in the rural area. They are the ones most affected by the presence of the illegal armed groups. The Catholic Church supported his call, and requested that international organizations support the defenders of human rights in the department.