LatinNews Daily - 25 May 2023

COLOMBIA: Terrorist attack underlines security threats in border regions

On 24 May three people were killed and at least 10 wounded in a terrorist attack in Tibú municipality, in Colombia’s north-eastern department of Norte de Santander.


The attack in Tibú demonstrates the difficulties that President Gustavo Petro will face in improving the security situation along the border with Venezuela. In addition to the area’s status as a national centre of coca production that has made it a focal point of Colombia’s internal conflict, it is made more vulnerable by the ability of armed groups to cross back and forth across the border, evading patrols by the Colombian military. Petro’s rapprochement with President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela has seen efforts to improve security cooperation between the two countries, which may bring some benefits. The reopening of the border to vehicle traffic in September last year after a seven-year closure should also bring about a gradual improvement in the region’s economy that may reduce communities’ dependence on criminal groups. However, serious doubts remain regarding Petro’s ability to negotiate the demobilisation of the main armed groups active in the border regions, as demonstrated by this week’s collapse of a ceasefire with the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), the largest alliance of dissident units of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) guerrilla group.

  • Two police officers and a civilian woman were killed when a police vehicle was targeted in an attack using explosives in the outskirts of the town of Tibú. At least ten other people were injured, with one police officer reportedly in intensive care.
  • Lying on the border with Venezuela and part of the volatile Catatumbo region which spans both sides of the border, Tibú is home to a number of drug trafficking and insurgent groups. The Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) guerrilla group, currently engaged in peace talks with the Petro administration, is known to have a presence there, as are dissident Farc units, the smaller guerrilla group Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), and local drug trafficking gangs.
  • No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Any evidence indicating the involvement of the ELN, which nearly derailed peace negotiations in March with a deadly attack on a military base in the nearby municipality of El Carmen, could prove catastrophic for the peace talks.
  • Alongside the ELN, the most powerful armed group in Tibú is arguably the dissident 33rd Front of the Farc – a member of the EMC alliance with which the government suspended a ceasefire on 22 May in response to the murder of four indigenous teenagers. The Petro administration is facing some international pressure to restore the ceasefire. Yesterday, a joint statement by international organisations including the European Union’s embassy in Colombia and the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia urged the government and the EMC to “take actions that enable the consolidation of the ceasefire”.

Looking Ahead: Petro has recently stepped up security cooperation with the Maduro government, which is widely seen as essential in calming the volatile situation along the porous 2,200km border. On 11 May, following a meeting in Caracas, Colombia’s Defence Minister Iván Velásquez and his Venezuelan counterpart Vladimir Padrino López announced that both governments will ramp up their security presence on the border and would intensify bilateral intelligence sharing.

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