Venezuela’s security challenges along its border with Colombia go “beyond the military,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters Tuesday.
To strengthen the border, Venezuela must “insert government presence” in the no-mans-land along 1300-mile border, where drug traffickers, smugglers, paramilitaries and guerrillas converge, he said.
The Colombian and Venezuelan governments agreed to fortify their borders May 24, after 12 Colombian soldiers were killed by FARC fighters who had supposedly crossed into the country from a Venezuelan hideout. Chavez said he’d sent forces to areas specified by the Colombian government as possible guerilla encampments.
“There’s a little bit of everything there, and if you think of the cement smugglers, the gasoline smugglers, the food smugglers, they’ve organized networks and they’re connected to the guerrillas and the narcotraffickers. These networks eventually converge,” he said.
Chavez also addressed statements by Colombian ex-president Andres Pastrana, who claimed there was an important paramilitary presence in the border between the two countries.
The Venezuelan defense minister said his country’s troops had scoured “every centimeter” of territory and taken the step necessary to insure that no foreign forces–whether guerrilla or government–could stay on national soil.
Chavez spoke for nearly four hours to state-run TV and radio stations for a program called “Hello President.” It was his second such appearance since the Venezuelan president underwent surgery in February.