Liborio Guarulla, the governor of Venezuela’s massive and remote Amazonas state, says his community is being overrun by an unwanted guest: Colombian guerrillas.
Guarulla estimates there are 4,000 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in his largely indigenous border state. The rebels, he said, are operating gold and coltan mines and are involved in contraband and drug-running.Back in July 2010, Colombia President Uribe released evidence of FARC activity in Venezuela. His ambassador to Venezuela said there were 87 FARC camps containing as many as 1,500 combatants.
At the time, I wrote two posts discussing the FARC-V (FARC in Venezuela) and describing their potential motives. One year later, in 2011, I noted that President Santos had improved relations with his neighbor and that had pushed President Chavez to place some additional pressure on the FARC-V. I'd recommend reading those posts as background.
Here we are in 2015 with a Venezuelan governor saying there are as many as 4,000 FARC combatants in his state. On one hand, that is an incredibly large number, about half of what Colombia estimates are the active number of FARC combatants. The size of the claim is why some Colombian analysts are skeptical.
On the other hand, it is a completely plausible evolution over five years if you believe there were 1,500 combatants in 2010 and that they have been allowed general freedom to operate by the Maduro government for the past two years.
So let's assume that the governor is telling the truth and there are 4,000 illegally armed combatants calling themselves the FARC within his state. Here are some questions that are worth answering:
How many of those combatants are Colombian and how many are Venezuelan? It is more likely that the original Colombian combatants that moved the FARC to Venezuela-based camps have recruited locally than have brought thousands of Colombians across the border.
Does this group fall under the command and control structure of the FARC in Colombia including its leadership in Cuba? Are they planning to return to Colombia and demobilize under the peace process?
Are the Venezuelan members of the FARC-V marginalized under the Colombians or are they becoming the leaders of the organization? In recent years, Colombian criminal groups (BACRIM) along the border have been eclipsed by Venezuelan-led criminal groups, many with the overt or tacit support of the Venezuelan military. It would be surprising if that same trend did not exist with the FARC-V.
Is the group ideologically similar to the FARC, are they criminals hiding under the FARC brand, or are they a mix of both? I'm going to guess it is a mix of both, leaning more towards the criminal side.
If there is an ideological portion of the FARC-V, are they supportive of the Maduro government in Venezuela or not? That is a harder question than it first appears. If they are supportive of Maduro, does it become a stability problem for any post-Maduro government in the country?
It's tough to answer these questions because the FARC-V is not an announced organization with its own public relations effort like the FARC in Colombia have. The FARC have rarely acknowledged any operations in Venezuela and certainly won't admit that they have thousands of combatants across the border. The FARC leaders are strongly linked to their Colombia identity, even if many of them have spent time in Venezuela. Further, the regions where they are allegedly active are remote and the combatants are not conducting significant operations against local security forces (if anything, they are colluding with the local security forces). All of this means that the facts about the FARC-V remain difficult to pin down.
However, the FARC-V probably exist and they are probably a decently large group. That remains a problem for both countries.