Trump's deployment of US soldiers to Colombia 'could trigger war with Venezuela'
In this photo dated May 3, 2020, security forces are guarding the coastal area and a boat claiming that a group of armed men has landed - AP Photo / Matias Delacroix, File
Members of the Colombian opposition warn that the use of US troops in the country is illegal and could hamper the country's fragile peace process and trigger an international conflict.
"This could become a war that has nothing to do with us," Senator Armando Benedetti told reporters.
The country's defense minister insists that the American soldiers are only in a support role and says that the deployment does not require Congress approval.
"Regardless of whether it is illegal or not, it is a blow to the peace process," said Senator Iván Cepeda. "It will fuel violence in areas that are already volatile."
The U.S. Armed Forces will assist the Colombian military in counter-drug operations in rural areas where the Colombian government is having difficulty building a state presence, including along the Venezuelan border, a stronghold of Marxist guerrillas, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
ELN commanders told The Telegraph that Donald Trump, the US president, is playing a dangerous game. Israel Ramírez Pineda, a senior ELN commander, also known as Pablo Beltran, claimed that Trump's actions could lead to war or an unplanned confrontation could get out of hand.
"It could be a prelude to World War III," he said. "The United States is determined to overthrow the Venezuelan regime and now it will with the help of the Colombian government."
The stronghold of the ELN is located on the Colombian-Venezuelan border - RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP / Getty Images
Peace fighter Léon Valencia also believes that deploying US troops is a smoke screen for intervention. "Look at where some of the troops will be based," he said.
“In strategic positions along the border. It is not a coincidence. "
In April, the United States deployed naval warships to the Caribbean, particularly against drug traffickers who work from Venezuela.
Last month, Venezuela arrested two former members of American special forces after trying to seize Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power.
Diplomatic tensions have continued to increase recently as five Iranian oil tankers arrive in Venezuela, carrying more than a million barrels of fuel in violation of US sanctions.
"It's a direct challenge for the US in its own back yard," said Beltran. "Venezuela has become a theater of war in which the world's greatest enemies compete against each other."
The ELN are deployed in large parts of Colombia and in parts of Venezuela, an important ally. They have always denied their involvement in organized crime.
Maduro supporters take part in a rally against Donald Trump (file photo) - REUTERS / Carlos Jasso
"This will not be the first time that we see Americans on the battlefield," said Beltran. "We will not try to escalate conflicts, but of course if they look for us armed, we will respond."
Both the American and Colombian governments deny that the deployment of troops is about regime change and say the focus is on the war on drugs.
Mr Trump was not shy about expressing his dissatisfaction with Colombia's anti-drug trafficking strategies, and told journalists in March last year that his Colombian counterpart Iván Duque had "done nothing for us".
The United States and Colombia have largely measured the success of their efforts to combat drug trafficking in the eradication of coca, the raw material for cocaine, and claim to be fighting.
Cocaine production is at a record high. Last year, Colombia's coca leaf cultivation increased from 208,000 hectares in 2018 to 212,000 hectares (523,863 acres).
At the same time, cocaine production capacity increased in 2019 from 879 tons in the previous year to 951 tons, according to the Office for National Drug Control Policy of the White House.
These increases have occurred despite a crop substitution program for coca farmers that was introduced under the 2016 peace agreement to reduce coca cultivation.
Peace lawyers are concerned that the involvement of the US armed forces will lead to tougher approaches.
Mr. Trump has consistently urged Colombia to reintroduce aerial herbicide spraying, which has been discontinued since 2015 due to concerns about the effects of glyphosate on health and the environment.
"Such a move would not only violate the peace process but also destroy it," said Senator Cepeda.
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