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The bi-national Colombian-Venezuelan guerrilla character provides the Maduro regime with another shock force in the face of external military harassment or a coup.
The ELN has reached some 2,400 fighters between the two countries; its main funding now comes from illicit businesses in Venezuela, such as drugs and illegal mining.
FARC dissidents number at least 2,300; the group with the greatest projection is the one led in Venezuela by Iván Márquez, former FARC leader issue two.
Elenos' and ex-FARC cooperate operationally in certain activities promoted by the Maduro regime, but their future organic convergence is unclear.
FARC dissidents led by Iván Márquez announce their return to arms, August 2019 [video image].
report SRA 2020 / María Gabriela Farjardo[PDF version].
The consolidation of the two main Colombian guerrilla groups - the ELN and some remnants of the former FARC - as active forces also in Venezuela, thus articulating themselves as Colombian-Venezuelan groups, constitutes one of the main notes of 2019 in the field of regional security in the Americas.
Both groups are said to have around 1,700 troops in Venezuela (two thirds of them from the ELN), of which a third (570) are said to be recruited from among Venezuelans. Used by the Chavista regime for guerrilla training of its irregular forces and as a shock force in the event of external military harassment or a coup, the ELN and ex-Farc are involved in drug trafficking, smuggling and the extraction of gold and other illegal mining, both in areas close to the border with Colombia, where they have operated for many years, and in the Venezuelan interior, such as the mining-rich states of Amazonas and Bolívar.
Following the agreement peace agreement signed between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2016, the National Liberation Army (ELN) began a process of expansion that allowed it to fill the vacuum left by the FARC in various illicit activities, although its estimated issue of 2,400 troops is a far cry from the more than 8,000 that the FARC had at the time of its demobilisation. Although it has had to compete with FARC remnants that are still active as mafia elements, the ELN has become Colombia's main guerrilla force, also focused on organised crime. The ELN's 17 January 2019 attack on the Police Cadet School in Bogotá, in which 22 people were killed, marked the end of an agonising peace dialogue with the government and a flight forward as a criminal organisation.
In the process, the ELN has also been establishing itself in Venezuela, not only in border areas and as a place of refuge and hiding place as before, but also in other parts of the neighbouring country and as an area of activity. The same has happened with the FARC dissidents led by Iván Márquez, Jesús Santrich and El Paisa, who on 29 August announced their return to arms, in a video presumably recorded in Venezuela. The interest of Nicolás Maduro's regime in having the help of such armed elements has meant that the ELN and the ex-FARC of Márquez, who was the FARC's issue 2 and its chief negotiator in the peace negotiations held in Havana, have become bi-national groups, also recruiting Venezuelans.
The growing presence of these groups in Venezuela has been reported by the Colombian authorities. The commander of the Armed Forces, General Luis Navarro, indicated in mid-year that some 1,100 ELN members (just over 40 per cent of the organisation's 2,400 fighters, although other sources consider this total figure to be leave ) were taking refuge in Venezuela, and that group had at least 320 Venezuelan citizens in its ranks.
Meanwhile, during his visit to the UN General Assembly in late September, President Iván Duque raised the ELN's presence in Venezuela to 1,400 troops. Duque indicated that there were 207 geographical points controlled by the ELN on Venezuelan soil, including several training camps and twenty airstrips for drug trafficking, as documented in a controversial dossier that was not released to the public because it contained some test erroneous photographs.
A few days earlier, Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo had told the OAS about the location of ELN fronts and FARC dissidents in Venezuela and referred to their close connections with the Chavista regime. "The links would be with members of the armed forces, the national guard, military intelligence, as well as irregular groups such as the Bolivarian Liberation Force," he said.
Other details were investigated by the Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP), which in its report stated that the ELN finances itself through criminal activities such as extortion and maintains control of gasoline smuggling and mining in several regions of Colombia and Venezuela. In Venezuelan territory, with a presence in at least twelve of its 24 states, it controls gold mines in Bolivar state, hundreds of kilometres from the Colombian border, and coltan mining activities in Amazonas state. According to information attributed to Colombian intelligence, these illicit activities account for 70 percent of their profits. source Thus, the ELN's base of operations in Venezuela is currently the largest source of income for the insurgent group .
As for FARC dissidents, Colombian government sources put the number of FARC dissidents at around 2,300 in mid-2019 (including non-demobilised elements, others who have returned to arms and new recruits). While this is close to the figure offered for the ELN, it should be borne in mind that FARC dissidents are atomised.
Some 600 of them are reportedly in Venezuela, including some 250 Venezuelans who have joined their ranks (almost 10 per cent of their total strength). Although these are separate groups that operate on their own, most attention has been given to the one led by Iván Márquez, due to its coordination with the Maduro regime. One episode involving this group was the alleged assassination attempt in Colombia on Rodrigo Londoño, who led the FARC as Timochenko and who has remained loyal to the peace accords. Londoño accused Márquez and El Paisa of ordering the action, foiled by Colombian security forces and unveiled in January 2020, so that other ex-guerrillas would return to arms as they ran out of leadership in civilian life.
Internal documentation of the Venezuelan secret services published by Semana reveals the close relationship between the Maduro government, the ELN and the ex-FARCpartnership . "The regime went from hiding fugitive guerrillas in the early 2000s to serving as the headquarters of operations for these groups. Not only do they prepare militarily, but they also train the militias and the so-called colectivos in guerrilla warfare tactics and strategies," the weekly said.
All this is producing an operational convergence in Venezuela between the ELN and the ex-FARC. However, status does not necessarily lead to a merger of the two groups, which in Colombia maintain their differences, further encouraged by the aspirations of the different criminal groups into which the FARC dissidents have split, and which are referred to in the plural for a reason.
signature On the other hand, the implementation of the Peace Accords was framed in 2019 in a growing climate of insecurity caused by the murder during the year of 77 former FARC guerrillas (173 since the peace agreement was signed in 2016) and 86 local social leaders, according to the report of the UN's University Secretary, António Guterres. Colombian organisations put the latter figure higher, such as the high school of programs of study for development and Peace(Indepaz), which reports 282 homicides, often linked to the attempt to replace coca with legal crops in regions where drug trafficking is active. In any case, this is a decrease compared to 2018, something that can be attributed to the fact that the new territorial distribution of armed groups has already been consolidated and they have less effective resistance.
US Southern Command highlights Iranian interest in consolidating Hezbollah's intelligence and funding networks in the region
Throughout 2019, Rosneft tightened its control over PDVSA, marketing 80% of production, but US sanctions forced it to leave the country.
The arrival of Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops comes amid a US naval and air deployment in the Caribbean, not far from Venezuelan waters.
The Iranians, once again beset by Washington's sanctions, return to the country that helped them circumvent the international siege during the era of the Chávez-Ahmadinejab alliance.
▲ Nicolás Maduro and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting in Tehran in 2015 [Hossein Zohrevand, Tasnim News Agency].
report SRA 2020 / Emili J. Blasco [PDF version].
financial aid In a short period of time, Venezuela has gone from depending on Chinese loans to relying on the Russian energy sector (as was particularly evident in 2019) and then to asking for the help of Iranian oil technicians (as was seen at the beginning of 2020). If the Chinese public loans were supposed to keep the country running, Rosneft's aid was only intended to save the national oil company, PDVSA, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's financial aid only aims to reactivate some refineries. Whoever assists Venezuela is getting smaller and smaller, and purpose is getting smaller and smaller.
In just ten years, China's big public banks granted 62.2 billion dollars in loans to the Venezuelan government. The last of the 17 loans came in 2016; since then Beijing has ignored the knocks Nicolás Maduro has made on its door. Although since 2006 Chavismo had also received credits from Moscow (some $17 billion for the purchase of arms from Russia itself), Maduro turned to pleading with Vladimir Putin when the Chinese financial aid ended. Unwilling to give any more credit, the Kremlin articulated another way of helping the regime while ensuring immediate benefits. Thus began Rosneft's direct involvement in various aspects of the Venezuelan oil business, beyond the specific exploitation of certain fields.
This mechanism was particularly relevant in 2019, when the progressive US sanctions on Venezuela's oil activity began to have a major effect. To circumvent the sanctions on PDVSA, Rosneft became a marketer of Venezuelan oil, controlling the marketing of most of the total production (between 60 and 80 per cent).
Washington's threat to punish Rosneft also led the company to shift its business to two subsidiaries, Rosneft Trading and TNK Trading International, which in turn left the business when the US pointed the finger at them. Although Rosneft generally serves the Kremlin's geopolitical interests, the fact that it is owned by BP or Qatari funds means that the company does not so easily risk its bottom line.
The departure of Rosneft, which also saw no economic sense in continuing its involvement in reactivating Venezuela's refineries, whose paralysis has plunged the country into a generalised lack of fuel supply to the population, left Maduro with few options. The Russians abandoned the Armuy refinery at the end of January 2020, and the following month Iranians were already trying to get it up and running again. Within weeks, Iran's new involvement in Venezuela became public: Tarek el Assami, the Chavista leader with the strongest connections to Hezbollah and the Shia world, was appointed oil minister in April, and in May five cargo ships brought fuel oil and presumably refining machinery from Iran to Venezuela.
The supply did not solve much (the gasoline was barely enough for a few weeks' consumption) and the Iranian technicians, at least some of them led by the Revolutionary Guard, were unlikely to be able to fix the refining problem. Meanwhile, Tehran was getting substantial shipments of gold in return for its services (nine tonnes, according to the Trump Administration). The Iranian airline Mahan, used by the Revolutionary Guards in their operations, was involved in the transports.
Thus, suffocated by the new outline sanctions imposed by Donald Trump, Iran returned to Venezuela in search of economic oxygen and also of political partnership vis-à-vis Washington, as when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allied with Hugo Chávez to alleviate the restrictions of the first sanctions regime that the Islamic nation suffered.
US naval and air deployment
Iran's "interference" in the Western Hemisphere had already been mentioned, among the list of risks to regional security, in the appearance of the head of the US Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller, on Capitol Hill in Washington (in January he went to the Senate and in March to the House of Representatives, with the same written speech ). Faller referred in particular to Iran's use of Hezbollah, whose presence on the continent has been aided by Chavismo for years. According to the admiral, this Hezbollah-linked activity 'allows Iran to gather intelligence and carry out contingency planning for possible retaliatory attacks against the United States and/or Western interests'.
However, the novelty of Faller's speech lay in two other issues. On the one hand, for the first time the head of the Southern Command placed China's risk ahead of Russia's, in a context of growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing, which is also manifested in the positioning of Chinese investments in strategic infrastructure works in the region.
On the other hand, he announced a forthcoming 'increased US military presence in the hemisphere', something that began to take place at the end of March 2020 when US ships and aircraft were deployed in the Caribbean and the Pacific to reinforce the fight against drug trafficking. In the context of its speech, this increased military activity in the region was understood as a necessary notice towards extra-hemispheric countries.
"Above all, what matters in this fight is persistent presence," he said, "we have to be present on the field to compete, and we have to compete to win. Specifically, he proposed more joint actions and exercises with other countries in the region and the "recurring rotation of small special operations forces teams, soldiers, sailors, pilots, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and staff National Guard to help us strengthen those partnerships".
But the arrival of US ships close to Venezuelan waters, just days after the announcement on 26 March from New York and Miami of the opening of a macro-court case for drug trafficking and other crimes against the main Chavista leaders, including Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, gave this military deployment the connotation of a physical encirclement of the Chavista regime.
That deployment also gave some context to two other developments shortly thereafter, offering misleading readings: the failed Operation Gideon on 3 May by a group group of mercenaries who claimed they intended to infiltrate the country for Maduro (the increased transmission capabilities acquired by the US in the area, thanks to its manoeuvres, were not used in principle in this operation), and the arrival of the Iranian ships at the end of the month (the US deployment raised suspicions that Washington could intercept the ships' advance, which did not happen).
Venezuelans leaving the country to look for a livelihood in a place of refuge [UNHCR UNHCR].
report SRA 2020 / presentation
The Covid-19 pandemic has radically altered security assumptions around the world. The emergence of the coronavirus moved from China to Europe, then to the United States and then to the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Already economically handicapped by its dependence on commodity exports since the beginning of the Chinese slowdown, Latin America suffered from the successive restrictions in the different geographical areas, and finally also entered a crisis of production and consumption and a health and labour catastrophe. The region is expected to be one of the hardest hit, with effects also in the field of security.
This annual report , however, focuses on American regional security in 2019. Although in some respects it includes events from the beginning of 2020, and therefore some early effects of the pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on issues such as regional geopolitics, state budgetary difficulties, organised crime and citizen security can be found at report next year.
To the extent that other security developments in 2019 have been somewhat transitory in recent months, Venezuela has remained the main focus of regional insecurity over the past year. At report we analyse Iran's return to the Caribbean country, after first China and then Russia preferred not to see their own economic interests harmed; we also note the consolidation of the ELN and part of the ex-FARC as binational Colombian-Venezuelan groups.
In addition, we highlight the progress made in the first time that Hezbollah has been designated by several countries as a terrorist organisation, group , and we provide figures on the drop in Russian arms sales to Latin America and the relative lack of marketing in the region of the defence material produced by Spain. We also quantify the contribution of Latin American troops to UN peacekeeping missions, as well as Bolsonaro's success and AMLO's failure in the evolution of homicides in Brazil and Mexico. In terms of drug trafficking, 2019 saw the first coca crop eradication operation in the VRAEM, the most complicated area of Peru in the fight against drugs.
Venezuela's worsening crisis reduces vigilance at sea, increases official corruption and pushes coastal villages to seek subsistence
April 2018 saw the attack with the highest death toll in recent years issue : 15 Guyanese fishermen died in Surinamese waters
Increased attacks prompted Trinidad and Tobago authorities to create an elite air unit to fight piracy
Coast-wide alert as news broke in 2018 that the previous year's incidents had risen from 27 to 71, up 167 percent
▲ Coast of Guyana, whose fishermen have been affected by increased piracy.
report SRA 2019 / Manuel Lamela[PDF Version].
The significant increase in piracy in the Atlantic waters between Colombia and Suriname, with Venezuela at the center of this criminal activity, has fueled media headlines about "the new pirates of the Caribbean".
Although far from the scale of piracy recorded in and around the Gulf of Aden between 2008 and 2012, and then in the Gulf of Guinea, the issue of attacks in these other waters increased markedly in 2017, and 2018 saw the highest issue casualty attack.
The deterioration of maritime security, which mainly harms local fishermen and some pleasure boats, from which pirates steal gasoline, engines, fish and whatever valuables they can find on board, has gone hand in hand with the worsening of the Venezuelan status and also affects neighboring countries.
Suriname and Guyana
The attack on four boats on which twenty Guyanese fishermen were fishing, which occurred between April 27-28, 2018, turned out to be the piracy incident with the highest issue death toll in recent years. Suriname authorities recovered five bodies and reported ten fishermen missing, whose bodies were possibly left at the bottom of the sea, as the perpetrators of the attack forced the crew members to throw themselves into the water with the anchor or other weights attached to their feet, from agreement with the official report. Only five occupants of the fishing boats were able to save themselves, with at least one of them freeing himself from the ballast to which he was tied, according to his own testimony. Subsequently, a thirty-man group was arrested for these events.
Despite the fact that the status is not unknown to Guyana or Suriname the increase in both issue and violence of this subject of incidents in the last year is remarkable. At the beginning of 2018, a report published by the NGO One Earth Future, within its Oceans Beyond Piracy program, indicated that the issue of attacks recorded in Latin American waters increased in 2017 from 27 in the previous year to 71, an increase of 167%. Most of them (64) occurred in territorial waters, without affecting international routes as was the case with Somali pirates or happens in the Gulf of Guinea. While on these routes the main targets were merchant ships or large fishing vessel owners, including the hijacking of vessels and crews, in the case of what is occurring mainly in the waters of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname it affects small boat owners.
Gulf of Paria, Trinidad and Tobago
Particularly thorny is status in the Gulf of Paria, located between the coasts of the Venezuelan state of Sucre and the island of Trinidad, separated by only 10 nautical miles at their closest point. The geographical peculiarity of the area is a perfect scenario for illicit activities. The area was already known for the existence of several gangs dedicated to smuggling and trafficking of basic necessities, such as diapers and other items in high demand among the Venezuelan population. Given the shortage suffered by Venezuela, this is a relief for the demand of certain products and injects dollars to the already large Economics submerged. To the ineffectiveness and passivity of the governments of both countries when it comes to combating piracy, as reflected in their failed bilateral negotiations in 2017, is joined by a more than presumable cooperative relationship between officials and criminal gangs, as pointed out by the Venezuelan NGO association civil de Gente de Mar.
Other areas of Trinidad and Tobago's territorial waters, in addition to those of the Gulf of Paria, are affected by piracy, which is contributed to by local gangs fed by the arrival of Venezuelans who find it difficult to find a job employment. In the last few years some 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to the neighboring country, destabilizing the already precarious working conditions of Trinidadian society. With a population of just 1.3 million, the archipelago has a relatively high crime rate, which in 2018 manifested itself in the commission of close to 500 murders. These figures are starting to hurt tourism, which is one of the main economic assets. Trinidad and Tobago is at risk of being perceived as a successor to the infamous Tortuga Island, a haven for 17th century Caribbean pirates.
Faced with this status, the island authorities announced at the end of January 2019 the creation of an elite air unit within the Police to act against illegal migration, piracy, kidnapping and smuggling of weapons and drugs. The advertisement came immediately after six fishermen from Trinidad were kidnapped and taken to Venezuela by their kidnappers, who demanded a ransom of $200,000.
Venezuela: Sucre and Anzoátegui
The economic and social crisis in Venezuela is one of the main causes of the increase in piracy. This is carried out especially from the state of Sucre, which has already been mentioned, and from the coastal state of Anzoátegui.
The criminals operating in the area can be divided into two types. On the one hand, there are well-trained, well-armed attackers who are part of a criminal organization and related to the drug trafficking that controls the Paria peninsula (the eastern end of Sucre). Specifically, there are two different criminal gangs fighting for control of the area. These drug trafficking groups are based in the towns of San Juan de Unare and San Juan de las Galdonas, in the municipality of Arismendi. Through violence and extortion, they have managed to take over the most important maritime routes, driving away all fishermen who might witness their actions. Their activity is mainly focused on drug and arms trafficking. written request Regarding the former, the merchandise is obtained from Colombia and after crossing Venezuela is shipped to the coasts of Trinidad and Tobago to be transported to the European market, sometimes with a stopover in West Africa. As for the arms, the shipments are obtained in Venezuela itself, coming from theft and smuggling (corruption and lack of security also affect the national factories that produce armament; in 2019 it is foreseen the entrance operation of a factory with capacity to produce 25,000 AK 103 rifles per year).
On the other hand, piracy activity is also carried out by simple thugs, of a lesser criminal profile and with less equipment and resources. Despite this, they are the ones that create the greatest alarm, given their proliferation among a population with hardly any sources of income and coordinates of action that are less specific than those of organized crime, which makes their attacks more unpredictable.
Chavista mismanagement in the fishing industry is another of the main factors that have generated this increase of criminals coming from the local population, mostly dedicated to fishing. With the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power in 1999, a great process of nationalization of this sector was carried out, with the expropriation of shipyards, boats, ports... Following this process of reforms and further strengthening its relationship with Cuba, in 2008 a binational public business called business Joint Socialist Joint Industrial Fisheries of the Bolivarian Alliance (PESCALBA) was created with the goal to make the product more accessible to the social strata with less purchasing power. All this contributed to the fact that between Chávez's ascension to the presidency and 2017, the catch decreased by 60%, with a flight of ships to other countries, such as Panama or Ecuador, the cessation of activity of processing plants, the mooring of ships due to lack of maintenance and the increase of unemployment. As a result, the state of Sucre has result with a broken society, with no means of subsistence, which finds in crime its only way to survive.