The governor of Norte de Santander, one of the most war-torn departments in Colombia, on Monday said parts of his department have been “forgotten by the government.”
“The government has to look with new eyes at the Catatumbo, a place rich with forests, mining, fauna…but unfortunately with connotations of abandonment from the state…it [has been] forgotten on behalf of the state,” said governor Edgar Diaz Contreras.
The Catatumbo region of the Norte de Santander department is considered largely beyond the reach of the Colombian state. During the 1990’s up until 2006, fighting between AUC paramilitaries and left-wing rebels displaced more than 33,000 people from the region. Today, the area is one of the heartlands of the FARC, EPL and ELN guerrillas, who move with ease between the Colombian and Venezuelan side of the border. The top FARC commander, known as “Timoleon Jimenez,” is believed to be based somewhere in the Catatumbo region.
The FARC, which is currently involved in peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba, ended its two-month ceasefire on Sunday, leading to concern of new attacks in areas with rebel presence.
“We are prepared, we are on maximum alert. Some special measures have been taken. All the activities of intelligence have been strengthened. In the same fashion, all the activities of the Judicial Police,” said Colombia’s police chief, Jose Roberto Leon.
Hours after the end of the truce, FARC guerrillas attacked a military outpost in Norte de Santander, wounding four soldiers.
During 2012, Norte de Santander was one of the hardest hit departments by FARC violence.
Apart from left-wing rebels, the department is a main hub for gasoline smuggling from the Venezuelan side of the border, while drug traffickers use the porous borders between the two countries to transport cocaine over to Venezuela, where it is then transported to Europe.
The conflict-monitoring NGO, Nuevo Arco Iris, wrote in a 2012 report entitled “La Frontera Caliente” (The Hot Border), that some parts of Norte de Santander and other border areas with Venezuela had transformed into a “virtual mafia state.”