Sep 23/05 - On a shortsighted view of success: the spill over of Plan Colombia, or Plan Venezuela 200X?
PMBComment: the ostensible success of
While wholeheartedly behind President Uribe’s efforts to regain control –once and for all - of his beleaguered nation, pushing the problem across the border is no solution, and we should say so as loud as possible. Reports of repeated incursions into Venezuelan territory by elements of the Colombian Army can be explained – though they are hard to swallow - given Chávez’s absolute connivance with the FARC and ELN, but let’s keep in mind that
It is time that President Uribe talks openly – and with proof in hand - about Hugo Chávez’s duplicitous behavior. Taking unilateral action is putting all of
PS: a little noticed article on Colombian violence’s spill over into
Colombian violence spills over
By Sharon Behn
Published September 20, 2005
"There are more and more FARC in Apure and in Tachira [two western
"That makes people inside the country, and the Venezuelans, worried about security and selective killings," she said, near the end of four years of working in
FARC is the acronym in Spanish of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla army founded in 1964 by the Communist Party of Colombia.
On the outskirts of this hot, dusty town several hundred yards from the border, Colombian refugees fleeing the violence take shelter in dusty shacks of paper and branches.
Mrs. Trimarco estimates there are about 1.5 million Colombian refugees now living on the Venezuelan side of the border. Government estimates are as high as 3 million, and nongovernmental organizations have put the number as low as 350,000.
Venezuelan cattle ranchers and a local state official -- who asked not to be named -- said the government of President Hugo Chavez turns a blind eye to FARC guerrillas operating in
Right-wing Colombian paramilitaries are not far behind them, running "protection" operations.
Restaurant owners, taxi drivers and even Colombian refugees are forced to pay what is locally known as a "vaccination" -- money to protect themselves from these armed groups.
The FARC's favorite fundraisers are kidnapping for ransom and cocaine trafficking.
Illicit commerce rife
"There is arms trafficking, drug trafficking, people trafficking," said Mrs. Trimarco, one of the few officials ready to speak out about what many in these border towns will say only in private.
"The situation is slipping out of their control. Nobody wants confrontation or war, but the military are worried," she said.
Much of the violence is invisible. Villages of whitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs clinging to the sides of the Andean foothills appear idyllic, but cafes are guarded with shotguns at night and drivers head home after 11 p.m.
"As [Colombia's President Alvaro] Uribe pushes his war and illegal armed groups to the borders, they are moving over the borders, and moving their [cocaine] labs into neighboring countries," said Mrs. Trimarco.
"The border areas are heavy with conflict between the illegal armed groups fighting for turf," she said.
Venezuelan ranchers reportedly sometimes hire Colombian paramilitaries to protect themselves -- either from the FARC or from rural workers trying to invade their land. Even so, in towns like
More obvious is the daily gasoline-smuggling operation at popular border crossings like San Antonio de Tachira, which leads to the bustling shopping town of
Hundreds of beat-up Dodges, Fords and Chevrolets from the 1970s -- the period of
Moms, children hide
Colombian women who have survived the killings of their villages come straggling over the border with numerous children in tow. They settle in dusty shantytowns like El Cuji on the outskirts of Urena, and until they get Venezuelan papers, they are not allowed to travel more than 10 kilometers [about 6.2 miles] from the border.
Their shacks are not much more than mud and paper, sometimes just plastic bags and empty flour sacks glued together and held up on sticks above the dirt floor. Many of the children suffer from respiratory diseases and blisters from the unsanitary conditions.
Local government officials fill each family's drum with water, but it runs out fast, and families are forced to cope. The lucky ones, whose children or newfound husbands do underpaid work in small factories nearby, pool their money to buy extra water.
The UNHCR, along with Caritas and Jesuit Relief Services, two Roman Catholic charity groups, struggle with meager resources to integrate the asylum seekers into the Venezuelan community and process their claims. But many of the Colombians streaming across the border are too afraid to identify themselves.
"There is a great degree of insecurity, because of the high rate of murder and crime" all along the border, said Jenncy Penaranda, a UNHCR protection assistant. The husband of one woman seeking help was slain last month on the dirt track outside his home, she said.
A 34-year-old mother of seven bathed her youngest child, who stood naked in a cement wash tub, using a small plastic pail to pour water over the crying child, trying to keep her children clean to prevent the diarrhea and skin diseases that plague many people here.
"I came from
"I lived in a village far from the border, but my kids were in danger," she said, light brown hair blowing around her face. "They would cut off people's ears. I was so scared I could not even sleep."
One of her young sons added from behind his mother's shoulder: "And cut their tongues out." Life for this young mother and other families nearby is measurably better, she said. But the guerrillas and paramilitaries that tortured and killed their fathers, brothers and husbands have not disappeared with their move to
Her husband works in a furniture factory, earning the equivalent of $10 per week, barely enough for water and food for the family of nine. A teenage son manages to bring home about $2.50 a week in bolivars for working in a motorbike maintenance shop.
"There is no safety," said the mother. "Anyone can come here and rip the wall," she said, gesturing at the burlap bags and tin roof beside her.
"We also pay the 'vaccination' here for protection," she added when the UNHCR representatives were out of earshot. "Someone comes to pick up the money."
Government commissions have dealt with 700 asylum requests in the past two years, and only 300 applicants were considered refugees, said Mrs. Trimarco in her office in
"It is a very slow procedure, but they are slowly getting better. At this pace, we will not meet the needs," she said.
And the needs increase every day as the guerrillas and paramilitaries penetrate deeper into the border towns, not only of