Venezuela is launching the most concerted military operation in years. The target is a criminal group operating within the borders near Colombia, but it is estimated that 5,000 civilians have fled to neighboring countries.
The attack began in a few days of air strikes, and security experts say it is Venezuela’s largest use of firepower in decades. This is inconsistent with the country’s long-standing inaction against illegal organizations that flourish along its borders. The approach is quite different.
Over the years, officials in the administration of President Nicolás Maduro have tolerated and sometimes cooperated with these armed groups, many of which are rooted in Colombia because they transfer drugs and other contraband between countries.
Analysts are skeptical of the official explanation.
“We have never seen anything on this scale,” said Kyle Johnson, founder of the Conflict Response Organization, a non-profit organization dedicated to security issues based in Bogota, of the battle.
The military operation began on March 21 in Apure, one of the poorest states in the country, and resulted in the deaths of at least 9 people. The Venezuelan government believes this to be a guerrilla, and two of its own personnel, the Minister of Defense Vladimir. · Padrino (Vladimir Padrino), said it.
In recent years, some Colombian insurgent groups have operated on Venezuelan territory, including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who refused to lay down their weapons after reaching a peace agreement in 2016.
Local residents in Venezuela said that the Venezuelan attack centered on about 10,000 towns in La Vitoria and targeted a faction of the FARC’s dissidents, the Tenth Front. The Maduro government or its allies.
Juan Francisco García of Fundaredes, a human rights organization in Venezuela, said that after the Venezuelan army’s airstrikes, ground fighting between the Venezuelan army and the Tenth Front “increased every day”. Extensive communication network.
He described “civilians trapped by warring groups.”
During the interview, eyewitnesses in Ravido and surrounding areas said that when they woke up on March 21, the rumble of government trucks passing through the town was followed by the roar of low-flying planes.
“When I first heard the sound of the truck, it was still very dark.” The 66-year-old Lavidonia Community Council chief spokesperson, Miguel Antonio Villegas (Miguel Antonio Villegas) walked through the car. The window saw the convoy. He said, soon, “the bomb started.”
Mr. Villegas said that when the villagers woke up, they gathered outside and saw the explosion in the east.
Mr. Villegas said that in the next few days, the bombing continued in the area around La Victoria, and soldiers began pouring into towns, interrogating civilians and entering their homes, accusing them of cooperating with the guerrillas.
Dissidents in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia apparently responded. Two days after the start of military operations in Venezuela, a bomb exploded at the tax office and the town lost its power. This was an attack attributed to the FARC group by Fundaredes.
Mr. Villegas said that the next day, the government aircraft bombed very close to La Victoria and “even the floor moved.” Frightened, he stuffed his backpack with all his belongings and fled with two family members to a narrow river bank that separated Ravido from the Colombian town of Aloquita.
Villegas said that the bank was crowded with neighbors who had fled, and he used a boat to cross Colombia and stay with his family.
A civilian witness, who asked not to be named, said that the military has since strengthened its presence in La Victoria because of concerns about the retribution of Venezuelan security forces.
This man is the owner of a small market and described soldiers rounding up villagers, asking them to identify them, nailing them to the wall, and pointing weapons at them. He said that on one occasion, a resident was forced to kneel and then was beaten and detained.
The organization said a person who spoke to a researcher from Human Rights Watch said that four members of his family, namely his mother, father, brother and uncle, had been killed by Venezuelan security forces, who accused the family of being a guerrilla. . Researchers said that at least 11 civilians were detained by Venezuelan security forces.
Venezuelan Justice Minister Tarek Saab said that the Venezuelan government has appointed two prosecutors to investigate allegations of human rights violations. But according to Fundaredes, the government is also trying to limit news coverage of military operations.
On Wednesday in La Vitoria, Venezuela, the Venezuelan authorities arrested two journalists on Venezuela’s NTN24 channel and detained two human rights activists in Fendered, who was trying to document the crisis. According to family and friends, they were released after being held for a day.
Tamara Taraciuk Broner, deputy director of the Americas of Human Rights Watch, said that the abuses recorded by the organization are “a case study of impunity that the regime has been conducting and will continue to conduct. .”
She continued: “This should be a wake-up call to the International Criminal Court, which has the responsibility and power to conduct criminal investigations of those who are ultimately responsible for the most heinous international crimes.”
Isayen Herrera provided a report from Caracas, Venezuela.