The Ministry of Defense dug its heels today on Thursday’s alleged incursion into Colombia by a Venezuelan infantry unit comprised of sixty soldiers, casting doubt on a quick and amicable resolution to the event. The Venezuelan soldiers are accused of having erected a Venezuelan flag in the area of Arauqita in Colombia.
The incursion, which was first made public by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, involved an undisclosed number of Venezuelan soldiers who allegedly crossed into Colombia’s Arauca department from Apure state and “set up camp” on Colombian soil. A day later, Venezuela Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez spoke publicly on the event for the first time, and suggested that a shifting riverbed had disoriented the soldiers and that the incursion had been inadvertent.
Today, a defiant Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez said that he was “certain” that the soldiers never crossed into Colombia. Padrino Lopez also explained that he unit in question had not been ordered to withdraw from the area:
What we did was deploy further inside Venezuela territory in order to facilitate the political dialogue. That’s a peaceful, diplomatic, revolutionary [and] Bolivarian policy in order to facilitate the work of the technical diplomatic teams, and, well, so that we can establish what the correct and historic border is between Venezuela and Colombia.
Padrino Lopez’s comments run contrary to the facts of the story as they broke on Thursday according to President Santos, who said that he had spoken with Maduro over the telephone about the incursion and that Maduro had ordered the troops to withdraw from Colombia.
Incursion Lasted At Least Three Days; Soldiers Unrepentant
El Tiempo, a Colombian newspaper, published a video on its YouTube account that appears to show the remnants of the Venezuelan army camp in Arauca. While it is difficult to tell exactly what is happening in the video or who the people in the camp area, it would appear that the soldiers are explaining something to the civilians in the video.
The 60 Venezuelan soldiers who have been in a camp in Colombian territory since Monday morning and erected their country’s flag began to withdraw on Wednesday night.
The governor of the Arauca department, Ricardo Alvarado, told reporters in Colombia that he believes that the incursion “was not an improvised event”, although he did not offer clarification for his comment.
El Nacional reported today that when the soldiers told Colombian authorities who approached their camp that their coordinates were correct, and that they were still inside Venezuelan territory.
Nelson Perez, a Colombian government representative, told reporters of a conversation that he had with the soldiers while they were encamped:
They told me that they were in Venezuelan territory, [and that they knew] from coordinates and landmarks that they were in their country.
Perez also said that the soldiers set up their camp on a Colombian farmer’s land, and that the soldiers attempted to evict the farmer from his own land “because he wasn’t Venezuelan”.
Perez called the theory that the soldiers might simply have been disoriented “absurd”, since the Arauca river is the border between Colombia and Venezuela for hundreds of kilometers, meaning that the soldiers would have been immediately alerted that they were entering Colombia as soon as they crossed the river.
NA Estimates $87 Billion Have Been Embezzled from Gov’t
The National Assembly has released a report in which it estimates that at least $87 billion have been embezzled through various government ministries and other agencies, primarily those dealing with the food, health, and energy sectors. The report, which was compiled with the help of Transparency Venezuela, an NGO that works to track and uncover corruption.
According to the report, the embezzled money that they have identified was siphoned out of government coffers through the following nodes:
- Ministry of Nutrition (under Rodolfo Marco Torres): $27 billion
- Ministry of Electrical Energy (under Luis Motta Dominguez): $25.3 billion
- Ministry of Transportation and Public Works (under Ricardo Molina): $22.2 billion
- PDVSA (under Rafael Ramirez): $11.2 billion
- Ministry of Health (under Maria Eugenia Sader): $1.5 billion
The astronomical figures confirm that Venezuela’s ongoing food and medical shortage crisis – the worst in the country’s history – has been largely precipitated by corrupt government officials who have chosen to enrich themselves rather than spend money on alleviating the crisis. An official with Transparency Venezuela said:
The highest since figure that we’ve identified so far corresponds to the sale, import and distribution of food through the Ministry of Nutrition through Rodolfo Marco Torres.
The country’s electrical sector, which suffers from chronic disrepair resulting in frequent and prolonged blackouts, was also the site of severe corruption. Transparency Venezuela explained:
The irregularities [with the Ministry of Electrical Energy] refer to 26 projects [that were part of] the National Electrical System Development Plan, which took place between 2005 and 2016. The 26 projects received funding that was higher than the costs indicated in the initial plan.
Caracas De Facto Mayor Attacked by Pro-Regime Group
The de facto mayor of Caracas, Helen Fernandez, was attacked by a pro-regime group during a speaking event in the Catia neighbourhood today. Fernandez, who has exercised the position of mayor of the city since Antonio Ledezma’s arrest in 2015, told reporters that she believes that the group was sent to attack her by Maduro himself.
Fernandez said that just as she was driving away from the event, a group of approximately 20 armed individuals opened fire on her vehicle, stopped it and forced her out. The individuals took Fernandez and her entourage away to an undisclosed wooded area, where they proceeded to threaten them. Fernandez said that one of the people that was accompanying was beaten up by the attackers.
Fernandez posted pictures on her Twitter account showing bullet impacts that her vehicle sustained during the ordeal:
While we work for the well-being of our communities, these colectivos spend their time spreading fear and attacking the people.
In Venezuela, the term colectivo armado [literally “armed collective] refers to pro-government armed groups that attack and threaten opposition politicians and supporters with the consent of the authorities.
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