Venezuela is the leading country in the region offering refuge to displaced Colombians fleeing the conflict and poverty that plagues their country, Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) said on Monday.
The representatives of both Colombia and Venezuela spoke at a special session in the OAS held on Monday in Washington.
Venezuelan Ambassador Roy Chaderton said that President Nicolas Maduro's policies enable the more than five million Colombians living in the country access to the state’s social services.
The ambassador said that of the over 14,000 Colombian citizens which have been given refugee status, 5,700 are political refugees.
“(These Colombians are) victims of political and social violence, abandoned to their fate without the minimum compassion of the Colombian state, controlled (historically) by violent political minorities,” added the ambassador.
Venezuela and Colombia have been embroiled in a tense border conflict after Venezuela announced it was closing some of its borders with Colombia, following an attack by suspected paramilitaries that left three Venezuelan soldiers critically wounded. These death squads, which are accused of mass human rights violations in their native Colombia, are also allegedly responsible for numerous criminal activities in Venezuela, including drug trafficking, kidnappings and politically motivated assassinations.
The border crackdown has led to the arrest of suspected paramilitary leaders and the deportation of around 1,000 Colombians with suspected links to the violent groups.
Chaderton further said that videos widely shown in Colombian media over the past weeks were misleading. Videos showing houses on the Venezuelan border marked with a “D” for demolition were falsely presented as law-abiding civilian residents.
“There we found safe houses for paramilitaries, clandestine brothels...some of these places were shown as regular houses,” Chaderton said.
The statements by Chaderton come after Colombia's ambassador to the OAS, Andres Gonzalez Diaz, said he regretted the situation faced by Colombians residing on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, despite the fact that Venezuelan services are offered to these Colombians as well.
Gonzales Diaz had opened the discussion with a heated and passionate statement, showing a video with testimonies of several Colombian citizens who– forcefully or voluntarily – left Venezuela after the border closure.
“That woman holding a kid in her arms is no paramilitary,” said Gonzales Diaz after the end of the video clip, which was played to the representatives.
The Colombian official reiterated that his government demanded respect for the human rights of the Colombian citizens being deported and said he believed that the massive deportation (around 1,000 people) was contrary to international law.
Gonzales Diaz further blamed the Venezuelan government of creating a climate of fear for hundreds of Colombians living in the border.
“Smuggling will not be resolved by the deportation of humble people,” he added.
The ambassador referred to the problems at the border between both countries as normal issues that happen in every border. However, he avoided talking about paramilitaries, only highlighting the issues of corruption, smuggling and drug trafficking.
Venezuela’s ambassador, in response, warned that the recent tensions between the two countries could become a part of a political game, while adding that the Colombian local elections will take place in October and the neighboring country is in the middle of an electoral campaign.
The bilateral cooperation that was agreed last Wednesday, after ministers from both countries met in Cartagena, was abruptly halted that same night as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke from the border city of Cucuta in a very harsh tone, the Venezuelan ambassador added.
“I hope that the President of Colombia, for electoral reasons, is not attempting to outdo former president Alvaro Uribe's speech … Please (Mr. Santos) do not abandon the rationality, which you develop so well,” he said.
Chaderton was referring to former Colombian president turned Senator Alvaro Uribe’s recent visit to the border city of Cucuta, where he gave speech that many viewed as charged and inflammatory against Venezuela during a political rally for his party Democratic Center.
Chaderton said that the recent tensions at the border was a reflection of the historical factors which have caused so many Colombians to flee their country, highlighting the human rights abuses committed by the Colombian state, while adding that government officials were evading responsibility.
“Those who are now denouncing human rights violations and sexual abuse (allegedly by Venezuelan security forces in the border) are the same that have kept silence in the face of paramilitary barbarism,” he added.
Chaderton further criticized the Colombian media for creating a climate of division and hatred between the citizens of both countries by skewing the reality of the situation.
Venezuela is home to more than 5 million Colombians and is host to the highest number of Colombian refugees in the region, totaling 173,600 according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
On Aug. 21, Venezuela closed its borders with Colombia, after an attack by suspected paramilitaries left three Venezuelan soldiers critically wounded.
According to the Venezuelan authorities, at least 500 detention centers and clandestine prostitution rings have been dismantled after the border was closed.
Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza said Sunday there have been no new deportations of Colombian citizens in the past four days. Prior to that, 1,200 Colombians were deported, none of which, Venezuela’s Ombudsperson Tarek Saab confirmed, were refugees:
“The ombudsperson, together with UNHCR, has in the last 10 days has not documented a single case ... of a person with refugee status having been returned to Colombia,” said Saab, during a visit to the border state of Tachira together with representatives from the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.