The government of Colombia is lodging a formal complaint against Venezuela for allegedly violating its airspace with two military aircraft over the weekend, the latest provocation in a series that includes the mass deportation of hundreds of Colombian nationals.
“The Ministry of Defense [of Colombia] can now confirm that in the early hours of Saturday, September 12, 2015, Colombia’s Armed Forces’ aerial defense system detected the entry of two Venezuelan military aircraft into Colombian territory in Alta Guajira Zone,” an official statement from the government read this weekend. The planes appeared to fly over Colombian land twice on Saturday, on one occasion flying over a military base.
The Colombian government has confirmed it will lodge a formal complaint on Monday against Venezuela, insisting it not violate the nation’s territorial sovereignty again. In response, the Venezuelan government has denied the incident completely and urged Colombia not to “invent” tense situations that could exacerbate disagreements already pending between the two states.
“There is no evidence of the alleged airspace violation of our neighboring country, beyond an invention to prevent a presidential meeting,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez on Twitter, adding, “We are concerned about the trend in the Colombian government of inventing incidents that do not exist in order to affect relations.”
Rodríguez met this weekend with her Colombian counterpart, María Ángela Holguín, on neutral ground in Ecuador to discuss a number of pressing issues between the two countries. Paramount among them is Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to begin a mass, indiscriminate deportation of Colombian nationals from Venezuelan border towns. Their meeting not only aimed at finding the beginning of a resolution to that dispute, but ensuring the possibility of a meeting between their respective heads of state. By the end of the weekend, Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reports that a meeting between Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is becoming increasingly possible. Santos has previously stated he is open to meeting with Maduro on certain conditions, all related to the wellbeing of Colombians being deported from Venezuela.
To date, the deportation spree that began in August against Colombians in Venezuela has displaced 20,000, mostly fleeing in terror back to Colombia as those deported report heinous human rights abuses. Colombian nationals have reported beatings and mass theft of their property; those married to Venezuelans have been torn from their spouses and children. Men, women, and children have all attested to being sexually assaulted by Venezuelan soldiers on their way back to Colombia. President Santos has described the methods of deportation as “Nazi ghetto tactics.”
While the deportations have become the paramount grievance of Colombia against Venezuela, the violation of the former’s airspace may develop into a larger conflict given Venezuela’s recent history of antagonizing its neighbors. The country is currently engaged in a territorial dispute with Guyana, following a declaration in which it claimed sovereignty over two-thirds of Guyana. The same set of actions claimed a significant portion of Colombian Maritime territory.