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Venezuela - Colombia Relations

The Colombian government is not going to provide the United States will military bases so that the latter could launch a possible military invasion in Venezuela, the Colombian Defense Ministry stated. "No," the Defence Ministry's representative said, answering the question, whether Bogota was going to provide Washington with military bases needed for a possible operation against Caracas. The Colombian Defence Ministry also said that Colombia is not preparing a military intervention in neighboring Venezuela. "The troops will remain at bases, there has been and there is going to be no redeployment of troops," the ministry said 25 January 2019.

According to the press service, the vessels and aircraft were also not redeployed, while the high alert in the Armed Forces and police is linked to the recent deadly terror attack on a police academy in Bogota. "Colombia is not staging provocations and will not allow anyone to provoke it, as Defence Minister [Guillermo] Botero has said, and we are conducting such policy toward Venezuela," the ministry added.

On 09 January 2019 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro slammed on his Colombian counterpart Ivan Duque. "With his angel's face… he is a devil that rises up against the whole Venezuela, since Colombian oligarchy despises Venezuelan people," Maduro said at a press conference, broadcast online in Periscope. Maduro claimed that the attempt to assassinate him, which took place last August, had been staged by a group trained in Colombia.

On August 4, 2018, Maduro was attending a military parade in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, when his address was interrupted by what the authorities said was an assassination attempt, with two explosives-laden drones detonating close to the presidential box. The president was unharmed, but several soldiers were injured in the incident.

In late December 2018, Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes said that his country's government was investigating a possible plot by three Venezuelans to assassinate Duque.

Since August 2015, there have also been increased tensions on the Venezuela-Colombia border. The Venezuelan Government closed the land border with Colombia indefinitely due to security and smuggling concerns. Visitors were advised not to travel within 80 km of Venezuela's border with Colombia due to risks from terrorist groups and cross-border political tension. This affects travel to parts of Bolivar, Amazonas, Apure, Tachira, Zulia and Barinas that are within 80 km of the border.

The border crossings in the states of Tachira, Zulia, Apure and Amazonas could reopen and close again at short notice. Special measures have been implemented in border municipalities in these states which include restrictions on the right to free movement, assembly and protest. Australians should not attempt to cross the Venezuela-Colombia border by land. Gangs and terrorist groups are also present in the Venezuela-Colombia border region. Colombian terrorist groups, such as the FARC and ELN, and narcotic gangs are active along Venezuela's border with Colombia, Brazil and Guyana. Kidnapping for ransom in these areas has resulted in the death of hostages, including foreigners. The Venezuelan military conduct search and arrest operations to maintain law and order in border regions. Troop movements and border closures could occur at short notice.

In early 2000 Hugo Chavez created a stir in Bogota upon declaring that he wished to reach an agreement with the Colombian guerrillas in order to prevent their moving into Venezuelan territory.

In late March 2003, Venezuela's military bombed and strafed an outpost in the far western part of the country. Its target: a Colombian paramilitary group pursuing Colombian rebels across the border into Venezuela. It was yet another indication of Colombia's civil strife spreading to other countries.

Colombia reacted angrily at what it considered a foreign intervention in its own affairs. Venezuela responded it was protecting its territory, but in fact, is thought to be sympathetic to the leftist guerrillas who regard Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an ideological ally. most of the attention was on Venezuela because of the reported sympathies between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and some of the Colombian guerilla groups, the two largest groups the ELN and the FARC in particular.

Chavez frequently attacked the Colombian upper class and President Colombian Uribe with terms like "rancid oligarchs, pitiyanqui [lackeys] and lapdog of the empire." Chavez long had a tense relationship with President Uribe. Uribe deprived Chavez of his role as regional peacemaker when Chavez was dismissed as facilitator between Colombia and the FARC. The Colombian airstrike against the FARC camp in Ecuador killed Raul Reyes, "a good revolutionary" in Chavez's opinion, and revealed Venezuelan links to the FARC and provoked a mobilization on the border. The revelation that Swedish anti-tank rockets sold to Venezuela were in the hands of the FARC already led to relations being "put in the freezer."

Chavez reacted angrily to Colombian President Uribe's 21 November 2007 decision to cancel his mandate as mediator between the Government of Colombia and the FARC. During televised speeches in the Colombian border state of Zulia, Venezuelan President Chavez claimed that Uribe had been "unmasked as a bald faced liar and a cynic." Chavez said he felt sorry for the Colombian people because they had "a lying leader who would not show his face". The Venezuelan president observed that "Colombia deserved another President, one better, more dignified.

President Chavez ordered 02 March 2008 that ten battalions be dispatched to the Colombian border in the wake of the March 1 killing of FARC's second-in command Raul Reyes. Chavez' warning to Colombian President Uribe not to undertake a similar operation along the Venezuelan/Colombian border implicitly recognizes that some FARC terrorists cross into Venezuela. Despite all of Chavez' bluster, the Venezuelan people and more importantly, its military, appear puzzled and concerned over Chavez' hostility toward Colombia as well as by this latest escalation. It was doubtful that the Venezuelan Military has the logistical capacity to mobilize an estimated 5000-6000 troops and equipment quickly considering their lack of logistical equipment and the nation's highway system.

On 08 November 2009, President Chavez called on Venezuelans to "prepare for war" due to the threat posed by Colombia and the United States. Chavez again hammered the Colombian government for "shamelessly delivering its sovereignty to the U.S." through the recently signed U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA). Chavez's comments followed dual announcements on November 5 by Vice President Carrizalez and Foreign Minister Maduro that the Venezuelan government (GBRV) was deploying 15,000 National Guardsmen and ramping up its intelligence-gathering activities in states that border Colombia to "track down and neutralize irregular groups" in the aftermath of several violent incidents. These announcements were made against a backdrop of serious domestic problems for the GBRV. Venezuelans are unhappy about widespread water shortages, increasing power blackouts, and spiraling crime rates. Chavez has a well-established track record of using external threats to shift attention away from the GBRV's shortcomings. No meaningful movement of National Guard troops were noted since the Carrizalez announcement.

During his November 8 "Alo, Presidente" television broadcast, President Chavez charged his military leaders to prepare their forces and the Venezuelan public for the possibility of armed conflict with Colombia and/or the United States. Chavez asserted that through its signing of the DCA, "Colombia has delivered its sovereignty to the Empire... the Government of Colombia is no longer in Bogota, it's been transferred to the United States." Concluding that the presence of American soldiers in Colombia would inevitably lead to an attack against Venezuela, Chavez urged: "Let's not lose a single day in our principal mission -- preparing ourselves for war and helping the people prepare themselves for war, because it's the responsibility of all.... Revolutionary students, workers, women: everyone together..."

In a 24 November 2009 press release, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro announced that Venezuela would provide proof of Colombian "paramilitary incursions and intent to destabilize" Venezuela. The Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, charges that the installation of military bases under the unrestricted control of the United States in Colombia constitutes the origin of a situation of instability and regional concern.

While Chavez's rhetoric against Colombian President Uribe and the Colombian "oligarchy" was strident, both he and the official Venezuelan media had taken the opposite tack with regard to Colombians in Venezuela. Chavez referred to Colombians as "children of Bolivar" and "brothers." Forty years of civil war in Colombia created a unique situation where four generations of refugees, totaling an estimated 6 million people, call Venezuela home. Colombian expatriates are integrated at every level of Venezuelan society, from casual day laborers to prosperous business owners. In a total population of 26 million, the Colombians represent a significant bloc that, according to some, punished Chavez for his attitude toward Colombian President Uribe in the November 2008 state elections. The Colombian government maintained 15 consulates in Venezuela, with multiple offices in the border states of Zulia, Apure and Tachira to provide citizen services. An estimated 3 million legal Colombians reside in Venezuela and another two to three million who are in the country illegally.

These two neighbors shared many points in common. Both were large South American states with security concerns that encompassed the Caribbean area as well. Both have functioned under representative democratic systems for decades. Associated under the Spanish colonial Viceroyalty of New Granada, both nations could point to Bolívar as their liberator. The disparities between Venezuela and Colombia, however, have contributed to a fluctuating undercurrent of tension over the years.

Bilateral commissions have been established by Venezuela and Colombia to address a range of pending issues, including resolution of the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Venezuela. Disputes with Colombia include the maritime boundary and Venezuelan administered Los Monjes islands near the Gulf of Venezuela. The most visible irritant in the relationship between Venezuelaand Colombia is the boundary demarcation of the Venezuelan gulf, a conflict that stretches back to colonial times.

The most visible irritant in the relationship was the dispute over the boundary demarcation in the Golfo de Venezuela (Golfo de Guajira as the Colombian refer to it as). The roots of the boundary maritime issue stretch back to colonial times. The borders of the nations that emerged from the wars for independence were not clearly defined. As these nations grew, disputes became unavoidable. In 1881 Venezuela and Colombia appealed to King Alfonso XII of Spain to arbitrate their conflicting claims. Venezuela rejected the eventual 1891 arbitration decision because of a disagreement over the location of the source of the Río Oro. Fifty years later, the two nations signed a treaty that defined the border along the Península de la Guajira. This 1941 treaty, however, has been criticized by many Venezuelans for granting too much territory to Colombia. This attitude has hardened the stance of the armed forces with regard to the Golfo de Venezuela; it has also rendered more tentative the attempts of subsequent governments to negotiate the boundary in the gulf. Moreover, the development of oil resources in the area and the expectation of further expansion also raised the stakes involved in a potential resolution.

After an abortive effort in the early 1970s and an adamant refusal by Venezuela to submit the dispute to international arbitration, the two governments announced in 1981 a draft treaty designated the Hypothesis of Caraballeda. When President Luis Herrera Campins's foreign minister presented the draft to representatives of the officer corps, however, he received an extremely negative reaction. Opposition to the treaty quickly spread, forcing the government to withdraw from further negotiations with the Colombians. There have been no formal talks dedicated to the maritime boundary since that time.

This conflict reached its peak on August 9, 1987, when the Colombian warship "ARC CALDAS" (an Exocet-equipped corvette) entered Venezuelan waters in a clear violation of sovereignty. Venezuela avoided direct confrontation with its neighbor and the problem was solved diplomatically.

In the mid- to late 1980s, Caracas and Bogotá rose above their diplomatic failure on the boundary issue to effect greater cooperation on security issues. In January 1988, the interior ministers of both countries met in the Venezuelan border town of San Antonio de Táchira. The meeting produced an agreement to increase the military presence on both sides of the border and to expand cooperation in such areas as counternarcotics and counterinsurgency. The movement toward cooperation grew out of a shared realization that Colombia's internal security problems-- namely drug trafficking and insurgency--were spilling over the border. On several occasions in the late 1980s, Colombian guerrillas attacked posts manned by the Venezuelan Armed Forces of Cooperation (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperación--Fac)--also known as the National Guard. Drug trafficking activity, always attended by increased levels of violence, also picked up.

Venezuelans generally have tended to view Colombia as a violent and unstable country whose problems and people washed over the border into more peaceful and prosperous Venezuela. News of attacks on border posts, kidnappings of wealthy Venezuelan ranchers by Colombian guerrillas, and drug seizures during transshipment have reinforced this conception. Another issue, Colombian undocumentados (undoumented or illegal aliens), underscored for Venezuelans the disparities in both internal security and economic development between themselves and their neighbors. Estimates of the number of illegal Colombians in Venezuela varied, but most ran in the hundreds of thousands as of 1990. Although some Venezuelans saw Colombians as a threat to law and order, their major impact was economic. During the boom years of the Venezuelan oil economy, the Colombian immigration issue constituted a minor irritant. As the economy constricted during the 1980s, however, Venezuelans grew more resentful of the Colombian presence. Nevertheless, it was highly unlikely that this problem, even in combination with the Golfo de Venezuela dispute, would provoke active hostilities between the two countries.

The Venezuelan Government broke diplomatic relations with Colombia after a July 22, 2010 special session of the OAS Permanent Council in which Colombia charged that the Venezuelan Government was permitting members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) to use Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup, engage in narcotics trafficking, and extort protection money and kidnap Venezuelans to finance their operations. On August 10, 2010, newly-inaugurated Colombian President Juan Manual Santos and President Chavez met in Santa Marta, Colombia, and announced the restoration of diplomatic relations, including the establishment of a bilateral commission with five working groups, including one on security. Since then, there have been ministerial-level meetings to discuss bilateral commercial and security issues.

On November 19, 2010, Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice Tarek El Aissami and Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera publicly announced their intention to begin bilateral cooperation to combat narco-trafficking and said a bilateral agreement reflecting this commitment would be signed at a summit meeting in February 2011. Following a December 2010 ministerial-level meeting, the Venezuelan Government announced that it would share real-time information on drug trafficking routes with the Colombian Government. Since the reestablishment of bilateral relations, the two governments have exchanged several high-profile narcotraffickers and FARC leaders. On April 25, Venezuela deported FARC leader Joaquin Perez Becerra to Colombia, and on May 31, announced the capture of another FARC leader, Guillermo Torres Cueter (aka Juan Conrado). On May 9, 2011, Colombia extradited alleged drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia to Venezuela to stand trial.

The border between Venezuela and Colombia was closed on Aug. 19, 2015 after an attack on Venezuelan military forces by paramilitary groups. After several attempts to normalize the flow of people through the border, the South American presidents signed a binding agreement. The presidents of Venezuela and Colombia agreed 11 August 2016 to temporarily reopen the border the two countries share for citizens, signaling a warming of relations between Caracas and Bogota after President Nicolas Maduro was forced to formally close the border a year ago due to smugglers and paramilitary groups operating in the area. In a press conference following the meeting, Santos confirmed the reopening would start on Aug. 13, and would enable communities living close to the border to travel in and out of the neighboring countries. "We will issue a border document for residents, but also to control who enters and who exits the country,” said Santos.





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