A Colombian soldier patrols the entrance to the Tienditas bridge, which connects the state of Táchira (Venezuela) with Norte de Santander.
Photo: JOSE VARGAS ESGUERRA
After the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela, the appointment of the ambassadors in Caracas and Bogotá, today the border is reopened. From 10:00 am, the passage of cargo transport through the Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander international bridges will resume, marking a new course in relations with the neighboring country.
The bet is big: if in 2008 bilateral trade exceeded US$7,000 million and in 2020 it fell drastically, reaching US$222 million, the reopening of the border crossing represents an opportunity for improvement, emerging as a long-term project. This is how Germán Umaña Mendoza, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, made it known: “This has been a permanent purpose since day one of President Gustavo Petro’s inauguration. This is one of the liveliest borders in Latin America and that is why we are moving forward, because it must be a stable, lasting and secure opening”.
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Precisely, beyond commercial issues, the reopening of the border poses challenges in other areas. Already the researcher Lina Arroyave, from Dejusticia, addressed concerns regarding migration. Now, several teachers analyze the decision against security. Thus, for example, according to Jorge Restrepo, professor at the Javeriana University and director of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC), “going from a closed border to one that is not, since it may be open but not necessarily being used, it takes away from criminal organizations the monopoly they have acquired over trade. Thus, criminality would be deprived of illegal income, being perhaps the main relief generated by the reopening of the border.
Now, he fears, given the possible loss of control, an increase in extortion. “This, in an attempt by criminal organizations to maintain their income. Although this will most likely be a more important challenge for the Venezuelan side than for the Colombian side, since Colombia is going to be more of a supplier than a buyer,” adds the teacher.
To the above, Víctor Mijares, professor of Global Studies at the Universidad de los Andes, adds that one of the great challenges has to do with illegal groups and how they take advantage of migrants. “Here comes the control of legal and illegal steps, police coordination, between the National Police and the National Guard, tax coordination, between the DIAN and the Integrated National Service of Customs and Tax Administration (Seniat), and military coordination. ”. As he comments, all this requires “clear political coordination” that allows to dismantle the mistrust that exists and the mafias that have been created along and across the border.
And it is that several illegal actors are present on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. The PEPs, for example, under a network of corruption, would be responsible for processing false IDs and visas for Venezuelans who decide to migrate. The raid on a building in the municipality of Villanueva (La Guajira), carried out in 2021, in addition to showing that women were sexually exploited there, revealed that the group had 5,000 pages with multiple identification procedures, 80 citizenship cards, 500 copies of civil registries, ten passports and 109 seals from different courts, from public, private, national and foreign entities. Apparently, the gang forged papers from Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, the Dominican Republic and France.
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Regarding the neighboring country, Mijares comments that “this is a problem that has to be solved in Venezuela and Colombia cannot solve it, beyond the intention of the Petro government, because it is an internal Venezuelan matter of giving or not give documents. To the extent that citizens are not offered the possibility of having normal access to the relevant documentation, these mafias will be created”.
For her part, Nastassja Rojas, a professor at the Javeriana University and a human rights consultant, affirms that “these gangs, like the PEPs, will continue to exist, precisely because the Venezuelan population, despite the fact that documents such as passport, most do not have the resources to get them. Assuming they do, this does not mean that they will be able to access the documents they need to be able to migrate on a regular basis. These gangs will continue to exist and, on the other hand, the issue of migration has not been an issue on the agenda. In fact, they have tried to ignore it in the government of Gustavo Petro and in the Venezuelan regime.”
But it’s not just PEPs. Los Pelusos, dedicated to drug trafficking, fuel trafficking and extortion of smugglers, and the Eln, which according to the third report of the independent international mission of the UN on Venezuela reached agreements with Venezuelan state authorities to control mining resources and has been involved in the exploitation of gold, diamonds and coltan, are other illegal actors with a presence on the border. There, even, criminal networks move that extend their reach through several countries in the region, such as the Aragua Train which, according to a study by InSight Crime, has settled in several Latin American nations to establish a migrant smuggling corridor. , making way for the vacuum left by the lack of regional coordination to deal with migration and confront this crime.
According to Rojas, institutional cooperation would be needed, especially from Venezuela, to try to confront said criminal organization. However, as he comments, “it seems that there is no intention to move forward, taking into account Diosdado Cabello’s position.” For his part, Mijares concludes that “first you have to make the decision to fight it or not, and the Venezuelan government, for a long time, decided not to do it.”
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