Are Colombia Paramilitaries to Blame for Venezuela Civil Unrest?

Posted on Feb 22 2014 - 1:24am by Rico

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has blamed civil unrest in the border region on Colombian paramilitaries and drug traffickers, a claim that makes little sense even though he is correct such groups have established a strong presence in the area.

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A poster of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez hangs in the wire of a barricade during a protest against the government in Caracas, on February 21, 2014 (AFP, Raul Arboleda)

As opposition protesters continue to clash with security forces and government supporters around the country, the Venezuelan government dispatched paratroopers to restore order in the border town of San Cristobal, where the confrontations have been among the fiercest.

The minister of the interior, Miguel Rodriguez, told media the deployment was because the government had detected “Colombian personnel that have come to carry out missions for paramilitaries.”

President Nicolas Maduro also spoke to blame trouble in the town and the surrounding state of Tachira on a “fascist attack,” in which the local opposition mayor was colluding with Colombian paramilitaries and criminal groups, reported El Colombiano.

“They want to bring the violence of drug traffickers and paramilitaries here,” said Maduro.

The San Cristobal mayor, Daniel Ceballos, denied the protests were influence by armed groups and blamed the government for their presence, reported Panorama.

“The only ones who have control of the border is the government, and if paramilitaries have entered [the country] then they are responsible,” he said

Maduro is correct that the narco-paramilitary groups labelled by the Colombian government as the BACRIM (from the Spanish abbreviation of “criminal bands”) are present in San Cristobal and Tachira.

The Colombia-Venezuela border is a hotbed of criminal activity, much of it managed by the BACRIM. First the Rastrojos, and more recently the Urabeños have long controlled drug routes through Venezuela, as well as other lucrative criminal activities such as gasoline smuggling. There have been indications that not only do they maintain a presence in the country, but also that they may be recruiting Venezuelans.

SEE ALSO: BACRIM in Venezuela Profile

However, the BACRIM have little interest in politics beyond where it intersects with their own abilities to make criminal profits. They have no ideological quarrel with the Venezuelan state, which may be considered friend or enemy depending on what corrupt contacts the group manages.

The presence of the BACRIM in the region also pales in comparison to that of the guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Both have operated with the tacit permission and sometimes secret support of the Venezuelan government, however they too are unlikely to have any inclination to wade into domestic politics, on either side of the confrontation.

A far more likely explanation of the militarization of the region is that is not only a hotbed of protest but also a stronghold of the political opposition.