Salvatore Mancuso’s statements gave visibility to what they have faced for years on the Colombian-Venezuelan border: the horror of disappearances, murders, recruitments and other vexations of the irregular groups already with a binational character.

(Read also: «Gustavo Petro was part of the military objectives that the DAS gave us»: Mancuso)

According to Mancuso, There are 200 bodies deposited in mass graves in municipalities of the Venezuelan state of Táchirawhere, according to its governor, 12 structures of the National Liberation Army (ELN), three of the dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), one of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) and three of the Clan del Golfo operate.

But we must add the actions of 45 paramilitary groups installed in the North of Santander and that, according to Freddy Bernal, governor of Táchira, «they are trying to take the border.»

The sum is extended with the participation of 26 criminal groups of the Tren de Aragua, the criminal gang exported from Venezuela to several Latin American countries.

This detail in numbers comes days after the Defense Ministers of both nations, Iván Velázquez and Vladimir Padrino López, will meet in Caracas to address issues related to border crossings, in which the mafias have not been able to be dissolved and in which both States appear weak in the face of criminal actions.

Now, Mancuso did not detail the nationality of these 200 victims, who are presumed to be both Venezuelans and Colombians. Today many families do not know the parade of their loved ones nor if they are in any of those pits.

For example, 10 years ago, in the state of Táchira, a young man named Andrés decided to sell a computer to obtain money to cover the birth of his son. At the age of 22, he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and had to find a way to pay for the birth.

This was the panorama in the irregular steps after the reopening of the pedestrian traffic of the binational bridges, in Norte de Santander.


Gustavo A. Castillo Arenas / EL TIEMPO

His friend Juan told him that in Cúcuta he would give him a good amount for the purchase of the computer and that he could accompany him «because crossing the border was dangerous,» but together they would be safer. At least that’s how one of his relatives, who now lives in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, told EL TIEMPO.

Both boys left very early because they did not live near the border. However, Andrés never returned. Juan did return, but he did not fail to give a coherent explanation. First, he said that Andrés was lost and could not be found and then the versions changed over the days.

After so many investigations, it was learned that Andrés was in the hands of the Farc, said one of his relatives. Juan did not return to town.

a coordinated operation was carried out together with the Arauca Military Gaula, CTI and National Police.


Juan Pablo Rueda Bustamante. WEATHER Archive

Until today, Andrés’s mother is still waiting for her son in the living room of her house. She put her bed at the entrance to the house and she sleeps there «waiting for the young man to return,» says the relative, who prefers not to go into details for fear.

Testimonials like this are part of the statistics that some organizations manage. Fundaredes, for example, in its most recent report detailed that from 2019 to the end of 2022, it has a record of 942 missing persons, to this is added that 228 families await answers from the State authorities to learn about the parade of their relatives.

Mancuso’s statements contrast with the follow-up that NGOs have done for years. Walter Márquez, President of the El Amparo Foundation and General Director of the International Committee Against Impunity in Venezuela (Ciciven), consider that to the figure of 200 victims, at least 300 citizens disappeared on trails since 2015 should be added.

With all the commotion, in the state of Táchira a security operation was installed that has already left some detainees and the installation of a telephone line to report acts of violence or prevent them.

The Tachirense government reported on the deaths of three citizens allegedly involved in criminal acts. They were identified as 24-year-old Acuña Gómez, known as Diómedes; Acosta Carrero, 23, and Rodríguez Vargas, 25, alias Bocachico. Three individuals managed to notice the leak.
The telephone number +58416 4958611 was enabled by the authorities to receive complaints from border municipalities.

“Unfortunately in Colombia, the armed groups have returned to position themselves in the North of Santander, more than 18 groups of a paramilitary nature and 26 delicious bands. Now they pretend to extrapolate the violence to Táchira, but we are not going to allow it, that is why we launched the Peace Border Operation plan,” said Governor Bernal.

We have spent years denouncing criminal associations that not only remain on the so-called trails

For Karim Vera, coordinator of the Venezuelan opposition party Primero Justicia, in the state of Táchira, Mancuso’s statements must give way to a transparent investigation.

“We have spent years denouncing the criminal associations that not only remain on the so-called trails, but have spread to a large part of the state of Táchira, among irregular groups and officials of the Venezuelan security forces that live on the border,” said the former deputy.

Although the governments of both countries agreed on «prompt and effective institutional mechanisms» to locate the mortal remains of the victims of the conflict, Vera believes that it is not enough to locate the remains but that there must also be «political will to combat the scourge that is they take the regular and irregular steps that remain active once the border opens.”

For Marino Alvarado, from Provea, the participation of the united nations in this process is important and that it be the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with personnel on the ground, both in Colombia and in Venezuela, to help locate the remains of the victims.

“Here, without a doubt, what is certain is that there is responsibility on the Venezuelan side, either by action, because there were officials who collaborated, or by omission, which shows the inability of the authorities to guarantee the protection of national sovereignty,» said Alvarado.


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