The relationship between the Venezuelan and Colombia continues to deteriorate, as troops mass at the border between the two nations, and a war of words escalates into a war of images.
Adding to Colombia’s list of complaints is photo evidence presented at the United Nations that Colombia’s President Ivan Duque says is proof that Venezuela is giving safe haven to the ELN, a Colombian guerrilla organization.
The only problem? Two news outlets, Agence France-Presse and EL Colombiano, have proved that photos were taken in Colombia, not Venezuela.
Colombia’s national intelligence chief, General Oswaldo Peña, who provided President Duque with the photos, has since resigned.
Venezuela, meanwhile, has massed 150,000 troops at the border, along with missile systems, claiming that opponents of President Nicolás Maduro have been receiving aid and support from Colombian drug traffickers.
Maduro’s administration is the successor to the socialist regime of Hugo Chavez, and is reviled by the United States.
But harsh sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration have failed to unseat Maudro, and appears to have worsened a collapsing economy that has already driven millions of refugees out of the country.
Despite the misrepresented photos, the Duque administration and opponents of Maduro say there is clear evidence of Venezuela’s support for the ELN, and the Washington Post reported that Venezuela has “long provided support and refuge” for the group.
Backgrounder: Left/right strife and proxy
Both Colombia and Venezuela have long histories of internal strife driven by conflicting leftist and right-wing ideologies, which have been further complicated by both militarized narcotics trafficking and proxy struggles between foreign powers.
Colombia’s own fragile internal peace appears to be unraveling, with a faction of the FARC guerrilla organization withdrawing from a 2016 agreement that had ended decades of civil war.
The United States has long provided Colombia with military aid in its struggle against the ELN and FARC organizations, and in its drug wars.
The U.S. has also worked actively, but so far unsuccessfully, to undermine the Maduro government in Venezuela. Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton resigned after his campaign of sanctions and supporting the opposition failed to unseat Maduro.
More recently, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has spoken in support of the Trump Administration’s interest in escalated measures, such as further economic sanctions, and the interdiction of Venezuelan oil tankers at sea.
Venezuala has its own international benefactors — the nation receives military aid from Russia, including training and armaments, such as postable surface-to-air missile systems.
There are also thousands of Cubans in Venezuela; the United States says these are intelligence personnel. The government in Havana insists that they are medical and educational staff.
Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, Colombia Reports, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Poynter.org