Colombian military fails to end drug violence alone

Colombia is conducting a military surge to fight gang violence, a conflict fueled by rising production of cocaine.

It's formed a unit 14,000 strong just for one province, Norte de Santander, along the border with Venezuela.

It's become Colombia's epicenter of conflict.

Violence there has surged and the enemies this unit aims to fight often hop the border.

General Fabio Caro is the unit’s commander.

"We are going to intensify special operations, offensive operations and also territorial control against the drug trafficking chain. We will use all the available capabilities that the Colombian state has given to the Public Force to fight everything that wants to harm the State and the Colombian people."

Colombia hopes the military strategy will be a roadmap for pacifying other parts of the country.

After a long civil war, battles are now fractured locally between criminals and transnational guerrillas, who fight for control of rising coca production.

General Luis Fernando Navarro is the head of Colombia's armed forces.

He says that when the gangs are threatened, they strike and flee across the border to Venezuela, where they’re protected from bombing raids.

“This obviously makes it difficult to fight them, it makes it complicated and in addition, Venezuela’s armed forces are not fighting them."

Caracas denies responsibility, saying Colombia's right-wing 'oligarchy' fails to curb armed groups as a deliberate way to destabilize Venezuela, ruled by leftists.

However, activists say a new military unit isn't the right approach when locals have little else to live off of but coca farming and that without anti-poverty measures, or a substitute for coca, boots on the ground mean little.

Director of NGO Fundacion Progresar, Wildredo Cañizares, says it’s indefensible that murders, mass killings, displacement and drug trafficking continue, despite a large, long-term military presence in the province.

"We are a department where, throughout our whole life, there has been a constant militarization of the territory and it has not yielded any results. Nowadays, we are worse than 5, 15 and 20 years ago. It is proven that insisting on militarization of the territory as the only solution has been a failure."

Authorities insist the security strategy will be backed up by social programs.

The provincial governor has promised $8 million to encourage production of cacao and not coca.

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