A recent massacre that left eight people dead near the Colombia-Venezuela border shows how much the conflict has intensified between two armed groups battling for control of the drug trade in the Catatumbo region, and how authorities seem unable to halt the territory’s growing violence.
On July 30, a group of 10 armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a billiards hall in the town of El Tarra, located in the department of Norte de Santander on the Colombia-Venezuela border, according to a report by local media outlet La Opinión.
Among the victims were at least two demobilized members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and a local community leader.
The National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL), which have been embroiled in a violent conflict over the control of cocaine production in the border region with Venezuela, have both denied responsibility for the incident, each allegedly with their own press release.
However, La Opinión revealed that there are rumors the massacre may have resulted from shifts in the relationship between the ELN guerrilla group and alleged FARC dissidents who could be joining the ranks of the EPL, according to reports gathered from fieldwork in the area.
The ELN’s violent actions in the territory have worsened over the past week, including in Venezuela. On July 26, Venezuelan journalist Sebastiana Barráez reported on the killing of six workers and the seizure of a farm in the Venezuelan border state of Zulia, presumably by ELN members.
Both farmers and journalists in the area have reported that another victim of the attack on the farm was a Venezuelan soldier. Although the government of President Nicolás Maduro has not confirmed that claim, InSight Crime had access to a police report identifying the slain military official as Roberto Ultin González, an active duty army lieutenant in the special forces. It stated that he had been injured during “an exchange of gunfire between the Venezuelan army and Colombian irregular groups.”