For years, the Venezuelan government has permitted armed groups from neighboring Colombia to operate within its borders. It has even occasionally conspired with these groups, taking a cut of the profits from their drug trafficking, extortion and other illicit activities in exchange for allowing them freedom to maneuver.
But last month, Venezuela launched a major military offensive against a faction of Colombian guerrillas that is active near the two countries’ border, and which is believed to have fallen out of favor with President Nicolas Maduro’s autocratic government. These are not the first clashes between Venezuelan security forces and Colombian armed groups, but experts say the current fighting is fiercer than ever before. The violence has sparked a humanitarian crisis, displacing thousands of civilians, while also bringing the Maduro regime’s shadowy ties with Colombian guerrillas into the open.
The Venezuelan military’s assault has centered around La Victoria, a small town in western Apure state on the Venezuelan side of the Arauca River, which marks the country’s border with Colombia. The target of the campaign is the 10th Front, a group of dissident rebels who once belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the prominent leftist guerrilla group that agreed to demobilize when it signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016. Venezuelan officials said earlier this month that eight of its soldiers and nine members of armed groups had been killed in the clashes, while 33 people were being prosecuted by its military justice system.