The Truth Commission explains how the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia expanded into northeastern Colombia to subdue the population and political leaders< /h2>
For the Truth Commission investigators, it is not clear the moment the paramilitary groups arrived at the northeastern border; however, it is believed that they could have arrived around the 1990s. Infobae (Jesús Avilés)
The presence of the guerrillas in the territory
The guerrilla groups initially exercised insurgent orders that combined coercive social regulation and authoritarian control that was coordinated with the regulations of peasant communities. “There was room for debate, [but] equally if their law was not followed, there would be death,” an Arauca resident told investigators from the Truth Commission about the ELN. p>
Likewise, an ex-combatant of the Farche told them: “People were looking for the guerrillas a lot; that is, the problems that they were not capable of solving, because they looked for the guerrillas to solve them.”
In any case, the testimonies collected by the investigators also show that there was a fear of authoritarian repression of the inhabitants and their abusive treatment. For example, the FARC forcefully recruited hundreds of young people by threatening to kill their families if they decided to desert, and they also decreed expulsions and exiles as punishment.
The beginning of paramilitarism
Regarding the paramilitaries, for the Commission investigators it is not clear when they began to make a presence; however, it is believed that even since the early 1990s, merchants in the area organized to counteract the insurgent authority.
For Miguel Grijalba, the start of paramilitarism in the region was “planned”: “we believe that they planned it and they planned it very well. It wasn't that incursion of saying “I'm going to go to Norte de Santander to see what I can find”, but rather it was all a modeling where there was participation from various sectors for that entry and it is not something that the Commission necessarily says, but in the judgments of Justice and Peace is”.
He also detailed how the paramilitaries entered: “It connects with the State through the public force.” Added to this, the military also told the Truth Commission about the way in which the paramilitaries meddled in the area: “preliminary meetings were held that allowed an analysis of where the armed groups were located, what their sources were of financing, it was even possible to establish where the military units were and an entire entry strategy was created”.
For the Commission, paramilitarism in the region was a network of interests and alliances between economic, social, and political sectors that saw the guerrillas and left-wing organizations as a threat to their interests. Sectors of the public force, economic and political powers, and drug traffickers allied against the insurgency. The civilian population was the target of their armed struggle as well.
The struggle for local dominance between different armed groups
The presence of the armed groups in this area of the country turned the conflict into a struggle for local power and control over the communities. The ELN, the EPL, the Farc-EP and the paramilitaries of the Catatumbo Bloc and the Vencedores de Arauca Bloc appropriated public resources and influenced regional elections through alliances and networks.
The high levels of corruption in the public sector in the region, added to the military power of these groups, obtained through extortion of the oil industry and control of illegal businesses across the border with Venezuelan, allowed the total domination of the armed groups.
This situation led some political sectors to openly support the paramilitaries. For their part, the complex relationship of the communities with the guerrilla groups made them the object of stigmatization and criminalization, which made them victims of the dirty war and of military actions by the State.
Over the years, the relationship between the armed groups has evolved, going from disputes to agreements, alliances and territorial divisions.
The northeastern border today
With the signing of the Final Peace Agreement of 2016 and its subsequent implementation, the region began to enjoy a new period of peace. But this did not last long, and the violence quickly reactivated due to new territorial disputes and the control of illegal economies, such as drug trafficking and the exploitation of hydrocarbons.
The The ELN, the Clan del Golfo and the dissidences of the —now extinct— Farc, dispute these territories once again and the civilian population is the one that suffers the most by being in the middle of the confrontation. Additionally, the implementation of the Agreements has not been satisfactory in terms of substitution of illicit crops and agrarian reforms. Social leaders have been assassinated in the midst of all this conflict after the signing of the agreement in Havana.