EL ESPECTADOR, March 28, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Human Rights Watch is sounding the alarm about the war starting early this year in the border area. It has brought more than 3,300 displaced people to Arauca and Vichada, including both Colombians and foreigners from the State of Apure in Venezuela. Besides that, the combat has left 103 homicides in a two-month period.

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) visited Arauca and Vichada this last February, and their conclusions are not at all encouraging. They found a region subjected to armed abuses, because of combat between the ELN and FARC dissidents. According to statistics in their new report, there have been 103 homicides and at least 3,860 internal displacements in Arauca. Besides that, there were more than 3,300 residents of the State of Apure in Venezuela who were forced to migrate to Colombian territory, and they remain in disgraceful conditions.

“I think we have to give strong emphasis to the situation of these vulnerable people. They are Venezuelan indigenous people that are in Vichada. These Venezuelans, who had to flee the serious abuses by the armed groups, are totally abandoned and they urgently need assistance. The Colombian government has given a feeble response and they seem more interested in making invisible the situation in which people are living here than in aiding and protecting them,” explained Juan Pappier, a researcher from the HRW Americas Division.

In the report “Colombia/Venezuela: Abuses by armed groups in the border area,” HRW calls attention to the fact that control of the territory and of the illegal activities in Arauca are being disputed between the ELN and the Eastern Joint Command, a coalition of FARC dissident groups. One of them, 28th Front, was found guilty of using a bomb in Saravena last January 19. The bomb exploded in a place used by several community and human rights organizations as their headquarters. The tour by HRW, in which more than 100 testimonies were collected, produced evidence of hundreds of murders and thousands of displacements.   

HRW found that the border department, Apure, in Venezuela, has been as hard hit as Arauca itself. Citizens of the border area have been, for example, in improvised shelters on the shores of the Meta River, where they are staying. They risk malnutrition and threats of forced recruitment by the illegal armed groups. In fact, researcher Juan Pappier recommended to the administration of Puerto Carreño, the capital of Vichada, that they declare a state of public calamity in order to obtain more resources from the national government and more attention to the migrant population.

“It’s urgent to take more steps to help these displaced people. They desperately need food, water, humanitarian assistance, and, really, they are in a situation where these measures are absolutely imperative. We have talked with displaced families, some of them are indigenous, and they are in excruciating situations. The attention by the municipal, departmental, and national authorities in Colombia has been beggarly,” added Pappier.

HRW recommended to the Iván Duque administration, specifically about the people displaced from Apure, that he grant them access to legal status in Colombia. Last week, Vice President Marta Lucia Ramírez announced that 700,000 Venezuelans had received regularization status; that is, they will have a Temporary Protection Statute card, and will be able to work legally and have access to health care. HRW hopes that there will be similar support to the displaced people in Vichada and Arauca, while also keeping in mind their culture, their necessities, and their habits and customs.

In addition, HRW recommended that President Iván Duque develop a security policy focused on the protection of the population. “Up to now, we have seen a deployment of troops to capture the members of the armed groups, that’s great, but it hasn’t served to improve the unprotected situation that the people are experiencing right now,” HRW explained. Besides that, they pointed out that it’s difficult to recommend any measures to the Venezuelan government, as they have proved to be “a regime with not much interest in human rights, a regime that commits massive violations of human rights, and is much more interested in the mafioso economies.”

Between homicides and alliances

According to statistics claimed by Colombian Police, there were 103 homicides in Arauca between last January and last February. It was the highest number of killings since 2010, which included not only civilians but also members of the illegal armed groups. Reporters interviewed by HRW stated that the ELN is looking for people they accuse of collaborating with the FARC dissidents, in order to kill them or take them to their enclaves.

Among the cases collected is the case of social leader Álvaro Peña Barragán, who was shot to death while he was working on a farm in Tame, Arauca. The next day, two men murdered his wife, Rosalba Carmenza Tarazona, during his funeral. The hypothesis of HRW, through the interviews they put together, is that the Eastern Joint Command had killed them both, claiming supposed cooperation with the ELN.

According to the researcher Pappier, there are contradicting accusations between both groups. While the ELN say that the FARC dissidents are abusing the civilian population, the people that reject the Peace Agreement claim that the guerrillas aren’t supporting them in the confrontations with the Venezuelan Armed Forces. HRW even has the hypothesis that the ELN for months have had a tight alliance with the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). Testimonies on the ground consider that they might even have been accomplices in recent joint operations.

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