FARC Find Big Business in Smuggling Cattle from Venezuela

Image Source: stanze - on the move, Flickr, Creative Commons Cows and calf

Image Source: stanze – on the move, Flickr, Creative Commons
Cows and calf

Caracas, Venezuela (PanAm) – With each passing day, Venezuelan authorities have more and more proof that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are operating within their borders. The most recent evidence was obtained when they arrested a Colombian citizen involved in a kidnapping. The authorities found that the detainee is linked to the illegal trafficking of livestock from the southwestern Venezuelan state of Apure into Colombia.

PanAm Post received unofficial access to the police report, which was made available by the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Group (GAES) of the National Bolivarian Guard (GNB). The documents shows that, on October 14, San Fernando de Apure state police captured two Colombians in a room at the Hotel Reina. Inside were two Venezuelan citizens whom the Colombians had kidnapped and held for ransom for Bs$3.5 million (US$4,000).

Authorities identified the detainees as Orlando Taborda Gamboa and Héctor Mario Naranjo Sánchez, who were booked and tried by the Venezuelan military.

During the operation, officials seized three of Taborda’s mobile telephones and four SIM cards, which pertained to Venezuelan and Colombian telephone numbers. GAES authorities later extracted data from the equipment and determined that Taborda was negotiating the price on heads of Venezuelan cattle in order to smuggle them into Colombia.

Based on their findings, authorities presume that Taborda was negotiating with FARC members since he states his intention to place cattle near or at a FARC-controlled zone.

The Venezuelan victims told officials that, before they were brought to the hotel, the kidnappers had taken one of them to the San Fernando de Apure prison. There, a prison “kingpin” severely beat him in the head and demanded that he make a Bs$1.6 million (US$1,800) bank transfer to three separate accounts.

Taborda also received several messages from unregistered numbers relaying bank account information from Banesco Venezuela, through which he received payments.

The state of Apure is one of four Venezuelan territories under the “estado de excepción” which is a Venezuelan government decree that closes its borders with Colombia. On September 15, 2015, the government announced that it would close the Apure border as well as those of Páez, Rómulo Gallegos and Pedro Camejo, the municipalities which are the closest to the Colombian border. On November 13, the measure was extended for another 60 days.

The government first issued the decree in the border region of Táchira, where three military officers and one Venezuelan citizen were attacked. Two men on a motorcycle reportedly shot at the Venezuelans, but the case remains unresolved.

President Nicolás Maduro blamed the Colombian paramilitaries for the ambush and, in response, closed the most active border in Venezuela and in South America. More than 1,500 Colombians have since been deported.

The government later expanded the border closing to the municipalities of Zulia, Apure and Amazonas. President Maduro claimed that paramilitary activity had expanded throughout the country and was responsible for Venezuela’s lack of security and scarcity of basic goods.

Despite the closing, Taborda’s text messages suggest that contraband of livestock still persists at the Apure border. This comes at a time when Venezuela is importing beef to meet the national demand.

In February 2015, PanAm Post reported that the General Management of Military Intelligence Against Venezuela (Dgcim) determined that five FARC commanders were operating from Apure and extending their reach into other southwestern areas of Venezuela. The report said that the guerrilla was using hidden landing strips that have been built throughout these regions.

Five months later, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported on a police operation conducted by the District Police and Customs Controls of Colombia that captured 115 cattle in Arauca, a Colombian state next to Apure. The report highlighted that 27 of the animals showed signs of mistreatment where the original owners had initially branded them.

The Colombian authorities concluded that they were not dealing with a single case of livestock contraband. They detected that the trafficking might implicate Jaime Alberto Parra Rodríguez (alias “The Doctor”), commander of the FARC’s Eastern Block and one of five FARC leaders operating from Venezuela according to the Dgcim report.

According to Colombian intelligence, 2,000 heads of cattle are transported each month through the Arauca River. They are sold on Venezuelan land for up to COL$250,000 (US$80) and sold across the border for around COL $1.3 million (US$419) per head.

PanAm Post attempted to reach Omar Alexis Montes Meza, Major General of the Venezuelan military in command of the 31st Operating Zone of Integral Defense, which is based in Apure.PanAm Post tried two phone numbers listed on the internet but we were told both times that the general was unavailable.

Translated by Scott Myers.

Written by Thabata Molina for PanAm Post.