Colombia’s Attorney General Office is accusing the Venezuelan government of allowing its soldiers to sexually abuse underaged Colombian girls as Venezuela executes a mass deportation of Colombian citizens triggered by an attack on Venezuelan soldiers. President Nicolás Maduro insists Colombia is responsible.
“The Nation’s Attorney General Office has knowledge of sexual abuse of girls by members of [Venezuela’s] Bolivarian National Guard,” said Attorney General for Child and Adolescent Issues Ilva Myriam Hoyos Castañeda. In an official statement, Hoyos added that the Colombian government requests Venezuela “to urgently demand that the integrity of women transiting from Venezuela to Colombia be respected.” The Colombian government has also dispatched “a team of medical professionals, pediatricians, odontologists, and psychologists” to the Colombian-Venezuelan border to investigate claims of abuse.
“In the declarations we have received on behalf of people at shelters, we have been told that Venezuelan guards have abused women during their transit across the border,” Hoyos added in a separate interview, noting that “it has been more than one person” who attested to being abused. The women and girls testifying that they were abused are refusing to give their names for fear that they will one day be forced to return to Venezuela and face retribution for having accused soldiers of sexual abuse.
President Maduro ordered the deportation of all Colombian citizens living in the Western state of Táchira this week, as well as a full closure of the border, following an attack on what Maduro claimed to be an “anti-smuggling patrol.” Al Jazeera notes that Maduro “danced on stage to live music” while announcing the deportations, and blamed “right-wing” Colombian paramilitaries for the attack, claiming it was part of a greater “economic war” on Venezuela, and declared Colombian citizens a threat. While there is little to no evidence of right-wing paramilitaries operating in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist terrorist group operating out of the safe haven of Havana, has extensive ties to the Venezuelan government.
Due to the typically porous nature of the border, many mixed-nationality families live in Venezuela, and many have lost their spouses, parents, and children to the deportations. Several reports have surfaced of the Venezuelan nation in a mixed family staying behind, fearing the socialist government will expropriate their life savings if they leave for Columbia with their spouse and children.
Human rights organizations estimate that over 1,000 Colombian nationals have been forcibly expelled from Venezuela, and an additional 7,000 have fled to their native country fearing a forced removal. Amnesty International has called the deportations a “humanitarian crisis,” accusing Venezuela of “removing thousands of people violently” and beating Colombian nationals before expelling them from the country.
The Colombian government has responded to these deportations by offering Columbian citizenship to Venezuelan nationals whose close relative have been deported so they may live freely in Colombia with their families. “We’re going to give them Colombian citizenship, we want families to live together, not to break them apart,” Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said this weekend.
The Venezuelan government is denying that it has illegally deported any Colombian nationals. Venezuelan Ombudsperson Tareck William Saab issued a statement this week claiming that the Venezuelan government and the United Nations “in the last 10 days has not documented a single case … of a person with refugee status having been returned to Colombia.” Venezuela has not yet addressed reports of widespread sexual abuse of minors by soldiers.