90 Miles From Tyranny : Venezuela Is Funding, Training And Arming Communist ELN Guerillas To Overthrow Colombia...

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Venezuela Is Funding, Training And Arming Communist ELN Guerillas To Overthrow Colombia...

BOGOTA, Colombia — Thinking up ways our all-encompassing crisis could get even worse has become a grimly popular parlor game for Venezuelans. For years, the go-to worst-case scenario was civil war between the political factions in our country. These days, an even scarier prospect has begun to displace that in the pantheon of Venezuelan nightmares: armed conflict with Colombia.

The reason? Venezuela’s increasingly tight alliance with the drug-running guerrilla armies waging war on the Colombian state, which has rattled Bogota so hard it’s now seeking a hemispheric response.

On Wednesday, Colombia, the United States and nine other countries invoked the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, which commits the countries of the Western Hemisphere to respond to military aggression against any one of them. The move came after Nicolás Maduro said he would deploy150,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Invoking TIAR is an extreme measure in the region and an unmistakable sign that armed conflict is now a real possibility.

For some time, security analysts in Bogota have been alarmed by Caracas’s embrace of ELN — the Cuban-backed National Liberation Army that for decades played second fiddle to the Soviet-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But the recent announcement by top FARC leaders that they are returning to war made a tense situation much worse, creating the prospect of multiple forces within Colombia acting as Venezuelan proxies.

For more than a decade, Venezuela has served as a friendly safe space for Colombia’s various leftist rebel guerrillas. Colombian rebels used Venezuela as a rear-guard, a place where their soldiers could go for R & R, for medical treatment or for training. Gradually, they expanded their operations in the country, using it as a conduit for drugs for export and running extortion rackets in Venezuelan territory.

But the depth of cooperation between Venezuela and Colombian rebels seems to have ballooned this year, as the Venezuelan state shifts from tolerating them to treating them as allies in a common fight.

Venezuelan intelligence documents leaked to Colombian newsweekly Semana recently paint the most troubling picture yet, portraying Venezuela’s relationship to Colombian “red groups” as something close to Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah. Colombia’s rebels aren’t just tolerated in Venezuela; they’re actively trained and armed there, including in the use of enormously dangerous weapons such as...

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