On Mar. 21, 2021, Venezuela’s Nicholas Maduro appeared on Venezuelan state television to announce the Venezuelan military clashed with rebel groups from neighboring Colombia.
He didn’t give any more details about the fighting, but an exiled Venezeulan general told news agency Agence France Presse that the rebel groups came from elements of the former Colombian rebel group FARC.
FARC was first formed in 1964 as a Marxist-Leninist separatist group looking to overthrow the elected government of Colombia. The group waged guerrilla warfare against the government from Colombia’s mountains and jungles for more than 50 years. At its height, FARC fielded as many as 10,000 fighters.
In 2016, a ceasefire was finally called for good and a peace agreement was reached between the two sides and the rebel guerrillas began to disarm. But not every FARC member agreed with the peace deal. Dissidents broke away from the main force and began to operate along the Venezuela-Colombia border.
In February 2021, Colombia accused Venezuela of harboring those dissidents and Maduro threatened to respond by force if Colombia violated Venezuelan sovereignty in hunting down the remnants of FARC.
On Sunday, March 21, Maduro’s chickens came home to roost as FARC rebels attacked the Venezuelan town of Arauquita. Venezuela responded with an aerial bombing campaign according to some reports.
Venezuelan armed forces then moved into the area, claiming to have captured 32 people, destroyed six camps and confiscated weapons, ammunition, explosives, vehicles and drugs.
The ongoing fighting has now displaced some 4,000 Venezuelans, who have crossed the border into Colombia to escape the violence. Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police have moved into the area, conducting raids and arbitrarily detaining and killing civilians.
Elements of FARC are continuing to fight the Colombian government and no one is exactly sure how strong the group actually is in Colombia. In recent days, the revolutionaries managed to bomb a police station in the capital city of Bogota.
The rebels could be an extreme pain for Venezuela’s military. Though large, the military is mostly staffed by conscripts, and experiencing a wave of desertions in the face of Maduro’s mishandling of the Venezuelan government.
Cliver Alcalá, who retired from Venezuela’s military in 2013 as Maduro came to power, says the experienced rank and file has been gutted by the desertions. For the common Venezuelan soldier, the choice is to either desert and try to survive, or stay for next to no pay and maybe starve to death.
It has left the country’s armed forces inexperienced and full of general officers. He says the glut of high rank has made the army “top heavy” and eroded the chain of command.
“There is no way to know who is in charge of operations, who is in charge of administration and who is in charge of policy,” he told Reuters in 2019.
To top it all off, their commander in chief is Nicholas Maduro. If Maduro’s military acumen is anything like his skill at administration or handling of the government’s oil sales, the Venezuelan military is in for a long fight.
Venezuela might be looking to use its newly-trained force of civilians to fight the FARC rebels, which, if the 4,000 refugees fleeing to Colombia is any indication, will not be successful.