Recruitment of Venezuelan Children by Colombian Guerrillas Is Rising
FundaRedes' annual report reveals how criminal organizations capture Venezuelan children to use them for unlawful activities.
Spanish – In its annual report, the NGO FundaRedes presented the modus operandi of the armed groups and guerrillas to swell their ranks by recruiting Venezuelan children from vulnerable situations at the country’s borders. These children’s sad fate is forced participation in the illicit activities of these criminal organizations.
The report reflects stark realities that many are unaware of. The main one is how the Venezuelan borders with Colombia and even Brazil have become breeding grounds for the indoctrination of children and young people living in those areas. In Venezuela, the culture of violence has taken over the borders under the complacent gaze of the regime led by Nicolás Maduro in favor of guerrilla groups motivated by Marxist ideology. The underworld contributes to the increase in violence.
Guerrilla y paramilitares no solo están en la frontera colombo-venezolana sino que se han desplazado al estado Bolívar, frontera con Brasil, en busca del control del Arco Minero #GruposArmadosEnVzlahttps://t.co/HBI0JGYQXo
— FundaREDES (@FundaREDES_) June 29, 2020
FundaRedes points out that “the increasingly notorious and intense presence of irregular armed groups on the Venezuelan border with Colombia, as well as the failure of the Venezuelan State to comply with its institutional commitments, has generated an aggravated impact on children and adolescents living in these territories.” It also clarifies that these groups can no longer be called solely Colombian (their origin lies in Colombia), since they also exist in Venezuela under the protection of the Chavista state. Several of the groups are even of purely Venezuelan origin, as the report points out.
These groups, of both Colombian and Venezuelan origin, carry out illicit activities that disrupt the harmonious life of Venezuelan society in the border areas in previous years, establishing patterns of behavior that disfigure the meaning of work and compliance with the law.
The NGO considers the border to be a space where the population is subjected to an oppressive environment. They have no institutional or social security and are at the mercy of criminal organizations.
Humanitarian crisis exacerbates the problem
This context ignites what is already a complex situation due to the humanitarian, political, economic, and social crises affecting Venezuela. The border is not exempt from this national problem. Children are in an extremely vulnerable situation that makes them easy prey for groups that exercise control over these zones by instilling fear among the citizens.
The report also states that “the recruitment of children and adolescents in educational institutions to be incorporated into the networks of armed groups surpass 30,000 students by 2019. But in 2019 alone, direct or indirect recruitment amounts to 15,000 children and young people.” In other words, recruitment in just one year was equal to the sum of Venezuelans recruited in previous years.
“Conservative estimates by FundaRedes indicate that by 2018, more than 15,000 Venezuelans, many of them of school age, were working directly or indirectly for armed groups in the border areas; By 2019, that figure had doubled. The states with the highest number of children and adolescents exposed to this violation are Zulia, Bolívar, and Táchira. In Táchira, it is common to see young people working as longshoremen (caleteros) or barrow boys (carretilleros), either through formal or illegal crossings (trochas),” the report says.
The key section of the document about child victims of illegal groups operating on the Colombian-Venezuelan border has three points:
- Colombian guerrillas recruit Venezuelan children to join their ranks.
- Irregular armed groups exploit Venezuelan children and adolescents on the border
- Venezuelan children exposed to the clashes of irregular armed groups while attending school in Colombia.
Educational facilities, the target of criminal organizations
The abandoned rural schools are particularly the places where these organizations operate. Where the Venezuelan state does not reach, the guerrillas arrive, covering the entire border area and using the educational institutions as centers of Marxist indoctrination. The conditions conducive to this are in place: the schools are dilapidated, the supply of materials is almost non-existent, the majority of young people are in a situation of poverty because their parents do not have sufficient resources, they have no food, supplies, toys, and school uniforms. Criminals, who have no qualms about using these institutions as control centers for their illegal activities, take advantage of the situation.
These groups entice young people by offering them “school supplies, gifts, and even money.” The intention is to get the children to join their ranks, all the while keeping in mind that the children’s parents do not have the means to offer them adequate food, school supplies, or toys.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) and the “dissidents” of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reportedly took a census of up to 20,624 students to provide them with school supplies and start the indoctrination process. By 2018, the Colombian guerrillas “had intervened in at least 214 schools in Táchira, Apure, and Amazonas; by 2019, the number is over 325.”
FundaRedes reported that it received more than thirty complaints from citizens from the states of Zulia, Bolivar, Amazonas, Tachira, and Apure about the census that the ELN conducted in their homes during the 2019 school break between July and August. The aim was to investigate the number of children per commune attending school, their average age, level of schooling, and their main needs to evaluate a massive distribution of supplies.
Other worrisome facts
The NGO not only collected information on the operations of the guerrilla groups and the recruitment of minors but also did exhaustive work on the risk involved in crossing borders, where there are over 250 informal crossings that represent a danger for Venezuelans seeking to flee the humanitarian crisis. In fact, there were 32 confirmed murders at these crossings, and 233 people are currently missing. Venezuelans are victims of both the irregular groups and the underworld.
The document also detailed the problem of firearms possession in undetermined hands. “The armed conflict that does not cease in the struggle for the control of territory and the cultivation of drugs in Venezuelan soil, as is evident in the municipalities of the state of Zulia, Táchira, Bolívar, and Amazonas; Further, the growing number of Venezuelans who end up being employed by these irregular armed groups with salaries in foreign currency to carry out all the illicit operations in our territory, become the consolidation of a polemic environment,” the report states.
“In this regard, FundaRedes registered 228,294 arms, each one identified by brand, model, serial number, and type of weapon. This registry indicates the systematization of the lack of arms and ammunition in the different barracks, magazines, and police forces of the country, which are classified as requested.”
It also reveals how schools in different parts of the country, especially those in rural areas along the border, were occupied by “dissidents” from the FARC or members of the ELN, and are used as facilities for tactical operations and illicit control:
Students who attend classes in these areas (rural borders with Colombia) must, in addition to suffering the progressive deterioration of conditions to continue their studies, overcome the risks involved in sharing educational facilities with irregular armed groups that take these spaces to develop their tactical operations and to establish command centers there to control illegal activities.
“One of the most documented cases by FundaRedes, with photos and videos, was that of the School of Tienditas, in the municipality of Pedro María Ureña, located a few meters from a Bolivarian National Guard checkpoint, where guerrillas settled and ordered the eviction of the military. An aggravating factor, in this case, is that the institution continues to carry out its educational activities, as usual, occasionally sharing space with armed groups.
Venezuelans are also victims of border crossings. The humanitarian crisis forces them to look for alternative ways to escape the country in search of opportunities. The problem is that these informal crossings are very risky because they are ruled by organized crime groups and the underworld. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, between 3,000 and 5,000 Venezuelans left the country every day. They do not escape the danger when they cross the border because there they are preyed upon by the famous “coyotes,” who profit from trafficking migrants.
The NGO provides the following data: more than 15,000 Venezuelans are involved in illegal activities such as smuggling, coca leaf collection, extortion, contract killing, and human trafficking. Criminal gangs in Cúcuta (a Colombian city bordering Venezuela) recruit minors between the ages of 12 and 14 in exchange for wages or, failing that, under threat. Women are kidnapped and trafficked into prostitution.
The regime is handling this situation with impunity and complacency
The Chavista tyranny is not at all unhappy that guerrillas and armed groups or allied Marxist organizations are instilling fear in the population and indoctrinating Venezuelan children. Organizations such as the FARC, the ELN, and others contribute to the repression of Venezuelans and help increase social control. Moreover, they serve to confront the local underworld. Amongst them, they dispute territorial power, and the families who live in the areas are the ones who are harmed.
The cultural model where violence governs with an iron fist has been beneficial to socialist tyranny. Social and family values are completely lost, children grow up in a violent environment, and over the years, they end up replicating this in society.
The systematic violation of the fundamental and individual rights of Venezuelans at the borders should shock the whole world. It is not a situation that only affects Venezuela and thousands of families, Colombia is also affected, and Brazil is not left out either. Human trafficking and drug trafficking are increasing, and ideological indoctrination ends up corrupting future generations by sowing the seeds of guerrilla warfare among Venezuelan children. Thus, this problem is one that will last and will be passed on from generation to generation. It will not be easily solved. Something must be done, and urgently so.