Criminal groups from Colombia have become the major source of employment in Venezuelan villages across the border as they recruit victims of the Venezuelan crisis in order to expand and build up their criminal power, according to a report by a human rights organization.
Guerrilla groups like the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Popular- EPL), the Bolivarian Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación - FBL) and dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) have jointly recruited more than 15,000 Venezuelans to help further criminal economies at the Colombia-Venezuela border, the new report by Fundación Redes (FundaRedes) states.
The report explores how these recruits are funnelled into numerous lines of illegal work, including drug trafficking, microtrafficking, fuel smuggling, illegal mining of gold, coltan and copper, or being employed as "gariteros," or guards for illegal businesses.
They are paid an average of $50,000 Colombian pesos (around $18) per month, according to FundaRedes Director Javier Tarazona.
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FundaRedes also warned about the recruitment of children and teenagers after being forced to drop out of school and find work. The organization reported an 80 percent school dropout rate along the border.
Furthermore, it found that the ELN has been taking steps to improve its relations with the community. It has been distributing educational material on guerrilla activities throughout schools in five Venezuelan states (Zulia, Táchira, Barinas, Apure, Bolívar and Amazonas), has financed the reparation of school facilities previously neglected by the Venezuelan government, and has even distributed food rations through the government-owned Local Storage and Production Committees (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción - CLAP).
The ELN has also been consolidating its presence through radio stations. According to the document, the guerrilla group has five radio stations which can be accessed in six Venezuelan states.
InSight Crime Analysis
The ready availability of cheap Venezuelan labor, including children, teenagers and migrants, has made for a very convenient pipeline allowing guerrilla groups along the border to further multiple criminal economies.
But inversely, the ELN and FARC dissidents, among other groups, have become a major source of income for the most vulnerable Venezuelans. In order to capitalize on this, these groups have embraced this role, providing other types of social support.
This causes 75 percent of school dropouts, forced out by a dire educational system or by economic need, to end up directly or indirectly working for these groups, according to FundaRedes.
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This situation is exacerbated by the accelerated growth and presence of irregular groups in Venezuela. The expansion of the ELN to more than half of Venezuelan territory, where the group is involved in criminal activities ranging from contraband to illegal mining, is only one example.
This presence has allowed them to make larger contributions to education or food distribution, allowing the group to reshape itself as a provider of hope and social change. This is a powerful message in a struggling Venezuela, and is only likely to continue as these groups carry on expanding and gaining power.