why is violence on the rise? While Colombia reached a peace agreement years ago

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This year began with violence on the Colombia-Venezuela border, where dissident militant factions have been vying for territorial control of the lucrative drug routes connecting the South American country to the United States and Europe. At least 23 people were killed in violent clashes earlier this year, followed by a car bomb and the killing of a local community leader and his wife.

The renewed violence comes more than five years after Colombia’s government signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), ending a 52-year-old armed conflict that killed nearly 220,000 people and displaced up to 5 million people.

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque vowed to end the violence during his presidency. But it’s a common scenario in rural areas, where peace was supposed to bring development and new opportunities, raising concerns that the country’s most violent days are not over.

Here’s what you need to know about the simmering conflict on Colombia’s border with Venezuela.

Who is fighting and why?

Colombian authorities have accused some groups of triggering the recent clashes in the department of Arauca: the National Liberation Army, the country’s largest remaining leftist guerrilla group, known by its acronym ELN, and dissident factions of the FARC.

The FARC disarmed and disbanded after the November 2016 peace agreement. A political party was formed using the same acronym, but was renamed “Commons” last year. Colombia’s National Police patrol the streets of Savarena, Arauca on January 23.

FARC dissident groups are made up of rebel fighters who refused to enter the peace process. Among them are other dissident groups, which are also at odds with each other.While the presence of these groups in the region has been reported since the 1980s, competition between the ELN and the FARC in Arauca intensified between 2006 and 2010.

President Duque, Defense Minister Diego Molano, and several generals who have visited Arauca in recent weeks blame the violence on competition between all of these groups, which they say are backed by Venezuela’s support. The Colombian government alleges that Caracas has allowed these criminal groups to take refuge in its territory, allowing them to escape prosecution by Colombian forces, something Caracas has always denied.

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The groups fight over drug smuggling routes from Colombia to Venezuela, a gateway to lucrative markets in North America and Europe, according to the Colombian government.

At present

Fighting on the border came to a halt in 2010 after warring factions signed a truce they called “no more confrontation between revolutionaries.” By that time, at least 868 civilians had been killed and 58,000 people displaced, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

However, tensions continued to grow until this year’s violence erupted. It is not yet clear what triggered the Jan. 2 clash, but all groups have accused each other of withdrawing from the truce in a bid to seize control of the region.

Colombian military guards patrol the Arauca River in Arauca, Colombia, on Jan. 22.

What is the role of Venezuela’s

Colombia’s government has long accused Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro of harboring FARC dissidents and ELN fighters to destabilize and exacerbate Colombia’s internal conflict. Maduro has repeatedly denied those allegations.

However, it wasn’t until last spring that Maduro’s government launched a military campaign to quell violence on its southern border, admitting for the first time that Colombian criminal groups operated in the area. Venezuela deployed special forces and intelligence units in March 2021.

At least four Venezuelan soldiers were killed in clashes with Colombian criminal groups in Venezuela’s Apure state during that campaign, according to Venezuela’s Defense Ministry, as a result of which thousands of people sought refuge in Colombia. The situation leaves Colombia and Venezuela with the same problem: the presence of highly skilled criminal groups that control parts of their border territories.

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But since the two neighbors have ceased any diplomatic communication since 2019, as Colombia — like the United States and most countries on the continent — does not recognize Maduro’s government, they cannot develop a common strategy around their porous 2,219-kilometer border.

Who is at risk?

At the heart of the suffering are the people, mostly from indigenous groups, of Arauca, one of Colombia’s poorest areas. People living on both sides of the border have been affected, and Colombia’s ombudsman tweeted last week that a growing number of Venezuelan citizens, particularly from indigenous groups in Apure state, are seeking refuge from the fighting.

Venezuelans from Apure state arrive in Colombia’s Arauca area after clashes in March 2021.” Armed groups in Arauca and Apure routinely threaten people to secure social control,” according to the HRW report. Those threats “are often directed against people who violate the groups’ ‘rules’ or to pressure civilians to do what the groups want.”

Colombia’s Victims Unit has registered more than 6,000 such threats in Arauca as of December 31, 2021. A human rights activist in Apure told HRW that it is as if there are two forms of government. “They (the armed groups) threaten you twice and the third time is a death sentence.”

Who can stop the violence?

All eyes are on Colombia, where presidential elections are expected in May 2022. Under Duque’s supervision, the peace process has largely stalled.Part of that pause can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the president, who campaigned against the deal in 2016, has faced harsh criticism for the lack of attention his government has devoted to the issue.

According to a recent study by the University of Notre Dame, less than a third of the agreement’s stipulations had been fully implemented by the end of 2021, with the number of human rights leaders killed in the country — a key statistic that helps indicate the country’s overall security. Situation– on the rise.Arauca residents protest violence in their area at a demonstration in Bogota, Colombia, on Jan. 23.

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Many presidential hopefuls have vowed to undo Duque’s policies by changing Colombia’s security focus. Left-wing candidates are campaigning to return to the framework of the peace agreement and investing resources to implement the promises of the agreement, while right-wing candidates promise more support for security operations.

The main left-wing candidate, Gustavo Petro, has signaled that he is open to re-establishing diplomatic relations with Caracas and the Maduro government. However, it is unclear whether the two countries could begin cooperating after years of diplomatic silence and long-standing distrust, regardless of the outcome of the elections.

What role does the United States play?

The United States is Colombia’s main military partner and the country’s most important ally.

In late 2021, during a visit to the country, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Duque to do more to implement the peace agreement and recommended that he “increase and strengthen the state’s presence in rural areas.”

That recommendation follows years of economic and logistical support from Washington to end the country’s conflicts, from drug trafficking to guerrilla warfare. The U.S. military is usually present in Colombia through training programs and joint operations with the Colombian Armed Forces. In 2020, a U.S. Army brigade was deployed to the country, including Arauca, to strengthen counternarcotics capabilities.

The White House has also signaled that it will not commit to Maduro’s government anytime soon.

But to stop the violence in Arauca, the new president will have to walk a very fine line: Open a line of communication with Venezuela, without distancing himself from the US.

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