July 25, 2021

In Cucuta, Colombia, the trafficking of armed smugglers continues

The man in Bermuda shorts and boots carries on his back the women who want to cross the border without getting wet. “I have come to buy insulin”, Edna, 46, explains, putting her dry feet on Colombian soil. She lives, on the Venezuelan side, in the village of Palotal. “We who are from the region only paid 2,000 pesos [0,40 euro] to pass, she explains. People who migrate or transport goods obviously pay much more. ” Whose ? “To the armed men who are there”, she answers lowering her voice. Edna does not know their name or the name of the group to which they belong. In the distance, an old truck moves jerkily over the stones of the river. The «Trochas», these dozens of trails that go from Venezuela to Colombia, out of the eyes of the authorities, remain very popular.

The 2,200-kilometer-long border has been officially closed to vehicles since 2015. Bogota, which had closed it to the passage of individuals at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, has just announced its reopening on June 2. The decision was not taken in consultation with Caracas. Between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the very right-wing Colombia, relations have long turned sour.

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Having left the town of Barquisimeto four days earlier, Giovani paid 40 dollars (33 euros) to armed smugglers. A fortune, for those who live in Venezuela where the minimum wage is 2.50 dollars. Giovanni wants to reach Bogota, 660 kilometers away, on foot. “Neither the pandemic nor the closure of the border has put an end to the Venezuelan exodus”, notes Victor Bautista, departmental secretary for borders and migration.

Every day, an average of 400 migrants cross the border illegally. Colombia, where more than 1.7 million Venezuelans have settled in five years, receives 12,000 more every month. The bulk of human trafficking takes place here, between the Colombian department of Norte de Santander and the Venezuelan state of Tachira.

“Health concerns”

“The closure of official crossing points has been a gift for the armed groups and other mafias who control entire sections of the border”, considers researcher Jorge Mantilla, specialist in organized crime. Local Colombian authorities admit it, privately. “The armed groups assume with impunity the state functions of migratory control and customs service”, quips an official in the Colombian city of Cucuta. The situation is not completely new: for decades, gasoline smugglers, drug traffickers, guerrillas and other mafias have established themselves on the border. “Should the crisis be terrible in Venezuela, for Venezuelans to migrate to a country like Colombia”, remarks Mr. Mantilla.

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