A violent criminal gang known as "La Línea" has triggered several deadly shootouts in battles with other armed groups seeking to control remote trails near the main border crossing between Colombia and Venezuela.
Authorities have recorded one shooting per week this month in the area surrounding the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, which connects Villa del Rosario in Colombia with San Antonio de Táchira in Venezuela.
The latest confrontation happened at the Los Mangos trail, leaving one person dead and another injured. Prior to that shooting, a Venezuelan man was killed in a gunfight in a trail close to the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge near the Colombian border city of Cucutá. This was close to the settlement of the indigenous Yukpa community, a spokesman for Cucutá's mayor said, adding that the mayor had called on national security officials to have the military patrol the remote trails.
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Colombian authorities said that the deadly firefights occurred between the La Línea gang and a paramilitary force made up of former Venezuelan soldiers, which are both vying for control of trafficking routes and the extortion of migrants moving along the trails.
InSight Crime Analysis
La Línea has managed to gain control of most of the trails near the closed Simón Bolívar International Bridge, giving the criminal gang access to a wealth of illicit economies.
The gang, with origins in Venezuela, gained its foothold in the border region by taxing contraband and extorting migrants moving along the pathways. However, it soon moved into the border city of Cucutá with local drug sales and prostitution rings in central points such as Las Mercedes park and the transportation terminal.
La Línea's center of operations seems to be the squatter settlement of La Isla on Cucuta's outskirts, according to an InSight Crime investigation. This neighborhood gives them direct access to several informal trails and crossing points on the Táchira River, as well as a path to Venezuela.
The group has shown itself quick to respond to territorial challenges with violence.
Since the mass influx of desperate Venezuelan migrants began in this region, gangs have operated under the premise that whoever controls the international crossings controls everything. And the border’s official closure by Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro in February turned into the perfect opportunity for groups like La Línea to gain strength.
At the beginning of 2019, La Línea had a dispute with Los Rastrojos, which led to several homicides in Cucutá and Puerto Santander. La Línea appears to have come out on top.
The group also forged an alliance with La Frontera gang to seize control of crossings from the Bota de Caucho group, a paramilitary force of former Venezuelan soldiers that is based on the Venezuelan side of the border in a river shantytown known as “Pequeñas Barinas."
With the closure of the official bridge crossing, the migrating population will continue to be at the mercy of groups like La Línea, which will possibly keep growing in size and resources.