COLOMBIA-VENEZUELA: CONTINUING FRICTION ALONG THE BORDER

Created: 10/1/1997

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Intelligence Report

Office of Asian Pacific and Latin7

Colombia-Venezuela: Continuing Friction Along the Border

A series of recent skirmishes between Venezuelan security forces and Colombian guerrillas operating on the Venezuelan side of theilometer common border has rekindled longstanding tensions In the region andignificant strain on bilateral relations. Assaults by insurgents on Venezuelan soldiers and civilians have led to new assertions by Caracas that Bogota is not doing enough to secure the frontier. Colombian officials contend that reckless Venezuelan attempts to strike back at the guerrillas, coupled with evidence mat corrupt Venezuelan mibtary members are supporting die rebels, prove that Caracas bears some responsibility for border violence.

Diplomatic clashes and nationalist indignation notwithstanding,!

reports indicate the two governments have worked diligently to downplay boidei incidents and prevent them from causing serious damage to bilateral cooperation.

Nevertheless, some Venezuelans doubt Bogota's sincerity and have considered new alternatives for dealing with the problem. Several political officials have suggested that the governmentirect dialogue with the guerrillas, others have proposed that Caracas mediate peace talks between Bogota and the insurgents, and military leaders have privately contemplated cross-border strikes against die rebels, according to clandestine and press reports. |

Meanwhile, the inability of either country to devote sufficient resources to effectively counter guerrilla activities along the border will undoubtedly undermine efforts to pacify the region, and disputes over incidents are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. |

The insurgents will probably not threaten Ihe few US facilities in the border area, but US personnel could become incidental victims of rebel violence. The recurring diplomatic squabbles between Colombia and Venezuela caused by guerrilla incursions may upset the cUmate of mutual cooperation that the United States is trying to foster in the region and hinder US-sponsored counterdrug and security programs.

MuiifliUSuat

lElEASE

DATE: APR III!

APPROVED FORXI

possiblyalmost certainly press Washington to become more involved in the border problem, especially with counternarcotics assistance that could also be used to combat the guerrillas. Venezuela is sure to raise the issue during President Clinton's visit in October.

Border Incidents Spark Nationalist Reaction

Members of Colombia's most powerful insurgent groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Armyave made' several incursions into Venezuela since the beginning of the year, prompting Caracas to issue formal protests and renew pressure on Bogota to augment its security presence in the border region. Increasingly frustrated with Colombia's lack of responsiveness to the guerrillas'cross-border drug trafficking, kidnappings, military-styie raids, and extortion of Venezuelan oil companiesu'heiv .'I'm:officials have gone so far as lo publicly accuse Bogota of allowing or even encouraging turbulence in therly this year, both Venezuelan Frontier Affairs Minister Marqucz and lhe head of the country's civilian Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services alleged that Colombia was deliberately trying to drive its domestic problems into Venezuela. The officials' staiemcnts reflect Venezuelan rhetoric more than fact because there is no reporting toolombian strategy to push the insurgents into its neighbor's territory. |

Venezuelan Military Losing Patience as Casualties Persist. Border incidents have especially angered the Venezuelan Armed Forces, which has the primary responsibility for frontier security and whose personnel are often the victims of guerrilla attacks. Accordingrcss reports, Colombian rebels have irrflicted several losses on the military since the beginning of the year:

Guerrillasenezuelan border patrolure State inounding three soldiers andubsequent shooting incident that left one civilian dead and severalinjured.

In April, insurgents killed two membersavy river patrol and firedenezuelan military helicopter.

reccndy. alleged ELN members seriously wounded anoihcr Venezuelan soldier in an ambush and suspected FARC rebelsenezuelan naval officer.'

Convinced lhat ihe Colombian military is not doing enough io counter or prevent guerrilla activities in iu own territory, the Venezuelan high command has repeatedly insisted that Bogota grant it permissioc to pursue the rebels across the border

Colombia Seeks To Shift Blame. Bogota has denied Caracas'! claims that it bears full responsibility for frontier violence and has noted several incidents lhat highlight Venezuela's contribution to the problem:

Colombian military report made public in7 staledenezuelan Army officer had been caught selling rifles to guerrillas5 and that US hand grenades shipped to Venezuela had been confiscated from the rebels that same year, along with dynamite originally purchased by the Venezuelan Army. The insurgents reportedly paid for (be war material with money from their accounts in Venezuelan banks.

| aboutercent of the ammunition seized from guerrillas in the border area comes from Vereruelan security forces.

We cannot corroborate these charges. |

Bogota cited ibe arrest in Februaryormer Venezuelan National Guard lieutenant colonel who was servingARC leader as further proof of its neighbor's involvement in the border violence. Officials have likewise pointed io accidental shootings of Colombian civilians by overzealous Venezuelan bordercccuned inunauthorized incursions into Colombian territory by Venezuelan troops to supnoruheirasseioon that Caracas shares some of the blame, according to press reports. I

intense jxwtura by Vvarr. jcImi mibttry ueUt mrcaiag far ins bdnBpnri forced the rebel* i= release the iovii officer onafm. according torrpnrtt H

A Long History of Border Troubles

Tensions between Colombia and Venezuela over their common border date backhe. Many of these disputes resulted from disagreements over die delineation of national boundaries, and most have been resolved by international arbitration and official demarcarions of the border area. Differences over territorial sovereignty in and around the Gulf of Venezuela still arise from time tocountries almost went to war because of an incident in the area inusually do not escalate beyond nationalist rhetoric.

In recentumber of other issues related to thereturn of stolen property, illegal migration, and environmentalplaced new strains on bilateral relations. For example, Venezuela's Environment Minister announced in late Augur, that Caracas plans to demand moreillion in compensation from Bogota for damage doneey Venezuelan river basin by oil spills resulting from insurgent atiacks on Colombian pipelines. Nevertheless, the guerrillas' cross-border activities have been the moat heated topic iniplomatic agenda with Bogota. gHH

Continuing Efforts To Reduce Tensions

Despite periodic diplomatic clashes, the governments of both countries have worked hard to prevent recent incidents from escalatingirect threat to bilateral relations, Colombian President Samper and President Caldera have met several times over the past year to discuss frontier issues, and, although these meetings have failed to produce concrete solutions, they have at least kept the channels of communication open and lempcis in check. I-

Bogota Hoping to Avert Crisis. After the accidental shooting of ColombianVenezuelan bun'cr guards inolombian Foreign Ministerin Bogota that, although her government had been

obligated to send an official protest to Caracas, it actually wanted to suppress the affair as soon as possible to restore normal relations. Caldera and Samper signed an agreement soon after the event toigh-level, binational commission to investigate future border incidents, according to the press. ^

In addition. Bogota has publicly and privately assured Caracas on vanous occasions that it would bolster its military presence along the border. Several such pledges eventually led lo the activation in6ew Colombian Army unit,i Brigade, in Arauca Department, immediately across from the Venezuelan state

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ofmost of ihe violent frootier incidents occur. Theformer Defense Minister Gonzalez promised that his border forcesthose of the Venezuelansew months,ldera ina similar pledge to heighten securityr^ I

More urgent defense priorities in other parts of theprotection of major cities, economic facilities, and communicationsundoubtedly prevented Colombia from living up to its security commitments. Nevertheless. Bogota'sunrealistic--promises demonstrate its desire to placate Caracas.!

Caracas Proposing New Initiatives. Faced with Bogota's persistent refusals lo approve Venezuelan requests to conduct cross-border "hoiaracas has offered what it viewsess threatening option, describing die proposed strategy as "lukewarm pursuit" Under this concept, security forces from either country would be allowed to cross the other's frontier to search for and attack guerrillas, but the forces would be under the command of an officer from the entered national territory Although Colombia supports coordinated military operations in the region, it remains adamantly opposed to any violations of its border and is unlikely to approve Venezuelan proposal.

Venezuela has also offered to mediate peace talks between the Colombian government and the guerrillas, according to the press. Bogota bad until recently declined rhese overtures outright, but. after his meenng with Caldera in August, Samper announced that Caracas'! involvement in negotiations with the rebels wasossibility. I

Venezuelan Military Remains Skeptical

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The Venezuelan tnlltiary's dissatisfaction with its neighbor's inability toui the region has driven it to take unilateral action. In April,econd joint border command. Theater ofnfrontier state of Tachira.Army

also recently began to provide sonic

collecting intemgence on guerrilla activities. .Senior officers have evenore provocative method of dealing with the guerrilla problem.1

Venezuelan Military Pressing for More Social. Defense Spending

The Venezuelan military firmly believes that resolution of the border problem will require significant investment by the national government, accordingpress repons.

Earlier this year, support tor increasing Uic defense budget to enhance frontier security. Other, more pressing fiscal priorities have made it difficult for the government to follow through, however, and political backlog appears to have diminished. H

The high command has echoed its resource needs to US militarypossible..senior officers have

emphasized the guerrillas' involvement in regional narcotics trafficking, probably hoping for countcrarug assistance that could also be used against the rebels.

Liinited Resources Will Make Progress Difficult

Venezuela's economic difficulties are undoubtedly hampering iis efforts to develop and defend the frontier. The government has launched some meager attempts to counter insurgent influence by initiating development projects in the area, but has made tittle headway. Programs designed to establish agricultural commoniucs in the region by providing land to peasants have been largely unsuccessful, with die recipients usually only holding on to the land long enough to sell it to Colombiansrofit. I

Meanwhile, continuing rebel violence in and around Colombia's major economiccenters is undermining Bogota's efforts to dedicate more resources tosettled border region. Accordingreports,

insurgents launched two nationwideus^ millions of dollars of commercial damage and irjjucting hiirnfliating defeats on government forces. There have been several clashes between the military and rebels this year, as well as guerrilla terrorism and sabotage in Colombia's larger cities and along its main oil pipelines. Faced with these threats, it has been extremely difficult for Bogota to permanently deploy additional security forces along the frontier.

With relatively few resources available to effectively disrupt insurgent activities along either side of the. kilometer border, neither country is likely to see an end to the region's problems for severalthe absenceegotiated end to Colombia's insurgency. As long as these constraints remain in effect, the leftist rebels will have relatively frccreign along the Colombian-Venezuelan border and remain an irritant to Caracas. Although neither country is apt to let the guerrillas

permanently damage bilateral relations, their continuing raids across the frontier will keep tensions simmering. |

Implications Tor L's Interests

Guerrilla crime and terrorism along the border pose several problems for the United States. Although, the insurgents arc unlikely to intentinoally target the few US facilities io the region, US personnel could become incidental casualties of guerrilla attacks or be abducted by the rebels forhe diplomatic spats between Colombia and Venezuela over border incidents may undermine Washington's efforts to promote regional cooperation and could hinder US-sponsored counterdrug programs and joint secunty initiatives in the area:

An ill-timed guerrilla incursion, if couplederritorial flare-up in the Gulf of Venezuela or some other bilateral incident, could leaderious breakdown in cooperation and communication between Bogota andoccurred inforce Ihe US toreater role in the border problem.

Meanwhile. Venezuela, and possibly Colombia, will press Washington to become more involved in the borderto interdict the narcoticsproviding military equipment and technical suppcrt that could be used against the insurgents. The issue is sure to be on Caracas's agenda during President Clinton's vim: inH

Colombia-Venezuela: Continuim; FriclionIhe Border External Distribution:

Tlie White House

irector. Situation Room, The While House

Office of the Vice President

r. Leonarry Branscum, Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs,. OFOB

National Security Council

1 Amb. James Dobbins, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Inter-

American Affairs..on. Richard A. Clarke. Special Assistant to the President for National Security

Affairs and Senior Director of Global Issues and Multilateral Affairs,.

OEOB

I Mr. R. Rand Beers. Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for

Intelligence Programs..r. Karl Hofmann, Director for mtcr-American Affairs., OEOB 1Mr. Ted Piccoce, Director. Inter-American Affairs.,r. Dallas Brown, Director lor Olobal Affairs.. OEOB

National Security Agency

t. Gen. Kenneth A. Minihan, Director. RoomABoor 22

r. AlanPSoom4

s. Catherine Krati, Colombia Analyst, RoomPS 1

Defense Intelligence Agency

l Gen.ughes. Director. Department of Defense. Room8

r. Ralph Santora, Branch Chief. Counterdrug Branch. PGX-3E. Crystal City Park 5.

Department ofolonel John Clark. Chief. Office for Counterdrug Analysis. TWD, Crystal Park 5.

r Ed Heaton. Defense Intclbgencc Officer for Latin America. Roomr. Marty Schcina. Chief, Latin Amenca Division.AL, Roomoiling AFB

r. Robert Carhart. Argentina/Paraguay Analyst.2

s. Linda Kerrick, Defense Biographic Analyst.C,I36

1Major Eric E. Heberiig,. Roomentagon

Department of State

r. Daniel C. Kurtzer, Acling Assistant Secretary of Slate for INR.mb. Jeffrey Davidow. Assistant Secretary of State for ARA,s. Stephanie Kinney. Office ol the Secretary of State, Policy Planning Staff,2

SartTT.

Colombia- Venezuela: Continuing Friction Along the Border

r. Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State. Department of State,mb. Peter Romero, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for ARA,s. Jane Becker, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for 1NL,s. Roberta Jacobson, Director. Office of Policy Planning CoOrr3iriaiion and Press, ARA,3

r. James Buchanan, Chief. South America Division, INR/1AA,7

s. Donna DiPaoIo. Deputy Director, Office of Andean Affairs.6

r. Mike Ryan. Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for INL.3

r. William J. McGlynn, Deputy Director. INL/LP,1

s. Dcnisc Malczewski. Desk Officer for Colombia, ARA,6

r. Michael C. Lemmon, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Politico-Military Affairs,

Regional Scx^iriry Affairs,s. Catharine Dalpino. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy. Bureau of

Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,r. Robert O. Homme, Director, Office of Analysis for Inter-American Affairs. INR,

2

mb. David Passage, Director. Office of Andean Affairs, ARA,6

r. John Hamilton, Director, Office of Central American and Panamanian Affairs,

ARA,r. Kenneth E. Roberts.irector rNR/RES.r. John Brewer. Andean Analyst, INR.7

r. Harry Ponting, Current IntcUigcncc Analyst for Latin America, INR/1AR,

r. David Wolfe, Bolivia/Ecuador/Pcru Analyst, INR,s. Cynthia Akuetteh. Venezuela Desk Officer, ARA,6

Organization of American Slates

onorable Hattie Babbitt, US Permanent Rcpresenuitive, Permanent Mission of the

US to the OAS,r. Thomas Tonkin, Senior Political Adviser. US Mission to the OAS,4

Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

eneral Dennis J. Reimer, USA, Chief of Staff, United States Army, Pentagon, Room8

aj. Gen.ing, Director, Joint Staff, Roomentagon

rig. Gen. Gary Parks. Deputy Director of Politico-Military Affairs. Joint Chiefs of

Staff foroomr. Paul Johnson, DCI Rep to Joint Chiefs of Staff, RoomI, Pentagon

Department of the Treasury

1Mr. John Payne, Senior National Intelligence Adviser, Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary,9

t

Department of Justice

s. Mary Lee Warren, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division,ain Justice

r. Drew Arena, Office of International Affairs, Criminal Division,r. Paul Cuncr, CIA Representative,5

Department of Defense

s. Maria Femandez-Grcczmiel, DAS, Inter-American Affairs, Room0

r. John J. Hamrc, Deputy Secretary, OSD,entagon

r. Phil Barringer, Director, Foreign Military Rights Affairs, Roomentagon

r.heridan, DAS. for Drug Enforcement Policy and Support, Room8

r. Jeremy C. Clark, OSD, Roomentagon

r. Jan Lodal, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Policy, Roomentagon, (via Bob Gcrber)

r. Bob Gerbcr, DCI Representative, OSD. Roomentagon.fLotus Notes)

Drag Enforcement Administration

r. Mark Eiler, NPSL, Colombia Analyst

Office of National Drug Control Policy

en. Barry R_ McCaffrey, Director,, OEOB,r. Richard Porter, Director, Office of die NSA,. OEOB,r. Hank Marsden, Director of Research, Directorate of Intelligence,, OEOB,

Agency for International Development

r. Mark Schneider, Assistant Adnunistrator for Latin American and Caribbean

Affairs,r. Daniel Stein, Regional Director for Latin America,, SA16

United States Trade Representative

r. Joseph Briltain, Intelligence Liaison Officer,

Pi semination

TRANSCOM (SCOTT AFB)

STRATCOM (OMAHA)

SPACECOM

SOUTHCOM

SOCOM (TAMPA)

BONN

LONDON

OTTAWA

BRAGG

MONS

USACOM (NORFOLK)

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