Officials from Colombia and Venezuela forged ahead with new bilateral mechanisms targeting transnational organized crime and prepared to reopen their border after months of closure that has benefited criminal groups.
Officials from both sides of the frontier met this week at Venezuela's border post in San Antonio, Táchira, to discuss bilateral cooperation on border security issues, reported Semana. The bilateral cooperation represents an improvement of uneasy relations between the two countries that saw Venezuela close its border with Colombia in August 2015.
Representatives from both nations' Security, Defense, and Foreign Affairs ministries attended the meeting alongside diplomats and politicians. Participants highlighted operation of a new bilateral cooperation center that will coordinate action to improve citizen security and fight transnational organized crime that operates in the border region.
José Gregoria Vielma Mora, governor of the Venezuelan state of Táchira, said that border smuggling was fed by drug traffic and that intelligence sharing will be used to target, find and destroy criminal elements. William Villiamizar, governor of Colombia's neighboring Norte de Santander department, said he hoped the border would soon be reopened "with conditions of security, control of contraband and harmony in migration and the possibility of stable trade relations," reported El Nacional.
The border was closed almost a year ago on the order of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who cited threats from Colombian paramilitaries and drug traffickers.
Venezuela representatives proposed the creation of a special "customs regime" allowing free, two-way commerce in basic goods, most of which are currently in critically short supply in Venezuela. The proposed changes would start in the Venezuelan border state of Táchira, and then be expanded to the states of Zulia, Amazonas, and Apure. Additionally, the foreign ministers of both nations have agreed to create a special "frontier" identification card for Colombian and Venezuelans who live in the border region, reported Semana.
Insight Crime Analysis
The past months of border closure have been highly profitable for criminal groups, who have presided over unprecedented control of the contraband market in the border region.
Criminal groups known in Colombia as Bandas Criminales, or BACRIM, including the Urabeños and Rastrojos, have benefited greatly from the control of informal crossings that have gained importance as a result of the border closure. But many illegal actors are active in the region. Corrupt border officials have also reaped financial benefits.
SEE MORE: Coverage of Contraband
These bilateral talks also come amidst reports of an increased presence of Colombian rebels of the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación - ELN) across the border in Venezuela, particularly in the states of Táchira and Apure, as reported by El Colombiano.
Just as closure of the border altered the criminal landscape on the frontier, the expected opening will bring new modes of operation for a variety of criminal groups. Any binational cooperation in countering transnational organized crime should help manage the risks of violence associated with those changes in this remote and troubled region.