The Chief Commander of Colombia’s Military Forces, General Luis Fernando Navarro, said this weekend that some 1,500 members of organized crime groups, including 18 bosses of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and 20 heads of dissident gangs, are now operating from Venezuela.
In an interview with local newspaper El Tiempo, Navarro said that Venezuelan authorities’ lack of attention and permissiveness in border areas have made it easy for criminal bands from Colombia to find refuge in the neighbouring country.
“Currently, 75% of the ELN’s bosses and 900 men are in Venezuelan territory. When it comes to the dissidents, 73% of their bosses and 500 men are over there,” Navarro told El Tiempo.
Dissidents are members of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) who abandoned the peace process that was launched in 2016 by the Colombian government and the guerrilla group. These dissidents are led by Iván Márquez and their movement has been dubbed the “second Narcotalia” or “Marquetalia.”
According to general Navarro, the dissidents and, in parallel, the ELN, resort to illegal mining and drug trafficking in Venezuela to fund terrorist actions in Colombia.
“They advance drug trafficking, illegal mining and extortion actions with the blessing of the Venezuelan regime. Their goal is to destabilize and have a negative impact on the Colombian people,” the general said.
Besides planning and developing selective killings, kidnappings, and forced recruitment of minors with the final objective of undermining Colombia’s sovereignty, Navarro said that the gangs connect with international criminal organizations to given them coca base paste, sometimes in exchange for illegal guns, ammunition and explosives.