The governments of Colombia and Venezuela on Tuesday consolidated their joint fight against Colombian rebels, militarizing both sides of the border in the hunt for guerrillas who killed 12 soldiers in Colombia and later returned to their base in the neighboring country.
The northernmost stretch of the border is now being patrolled by security forces from both countries who are seeking members of the 59th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
That was the unit that on Monday attacked a squad of Colombian troops who were protecting efforts to rebuild an electrical tower knocked down by the guerrillas in a rural portion of La Guajira province, killing 12 troops.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said on Caracol Radio that the 59th Front “probably has its base area” in the neighboring Venezuelan state of Zulia.
Pinzon emphasized in remarks to reporters the importance of Colombia and Venezuela coordinating with one another to “mobilize troops and conduct military operations in that area.”
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos communicated to his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, that Colombian authorities had noticed that the guerrillas had fled into Venezuela, to which the government in Caracas responded quickly and willingly.
Chavez’s response was immediate, saying “We reaffirm our position: we’re not going to allow incursions by any armed force, wherever it may be from, into Venezuelan territory,” and he announced the deployment of military brigades to Zulia.
The cooperation between the security forces of the two nations received a push in August 2010, when Santos assumed power and met with Chavez to reconstitute the bilateral diplomatic ties that had gone through their worst period during the latter stages of the 2002-2010 administration of Alvaro Uribe.
Since then, Venezuelan security forces have captured drug traffickers and Colombian guerrillas.
The mutual jungle border region between the two countries is a hotbed of crime, particularly drug trafficking and gasoline smuggling, as revealed in the book “La frontera caliente entre Colombia and Venezuela” (The hot border between Colombia and Venezuela) published recently by the non-governmental organization Nuevo Arco Iris, which specializes in studying Colombia’s internal conflict.
According to that investigation, crime and violence are spreading in the remote areas on either side of the border because local authorities have been “permeated” by criminal interests and the action of the national governments has been insufficient to quell the problem.