On Wednesday, August 24, a security delegation of Colombian President Gustavo Petro was attacked with firearms in the Catatumbo region on the border with Venezuela, where the president plans to travel this Friday to attend a security council meeting. The advance security team had traveled to the Norte de Santander department to verify the route and area to avoid any obstacles during the presidential visit.
According to a statement issued by the Presidency of Colombia, the incident took place in the San Pablo sector in the municipality of El Tarra, in Norte de Santander, where some six members of a criminal armed group had set up an illegal checkpoint. When the caravan of security vehicles ignored the checkpoint and didn’t stop, three of the vehicles were hit by long-range weapons.
According to the statement, one of the vehicles did not make it past the checkpoint and another got a flat tire. The driver of one of the vehicles was detained but was later released. The other cars and their crew managed to cross the checkpoint, reported the President’s Office.
#Comunicado oficial sobre la situación registrada con la avanzada presidencial en la vía que conduce de Bucaramanga, Santander, al municipio de El Tarra, Norte de Santander. pic.twitter.com/dx3kiVmQWN
— Presidencia Colombia 🇨🇴 (@infopresidencia) August 25, 2022
The government later confirmed that the occupants of the vehicles are safe. It also reported that the presidential trip to Catatumbo remains unchanged and is still scheduled for Friday, August 26. The Defense Ministry and the presidential protection unit are coordinating measures in the region to guarantee security during the visit.
With regard to the incident, President Petro stated that the violence must end in the country and reiterated his government’s commitment to achieve total peace. “This is what must end in the country. No more violence. Although no one was injured, the work of the government will remain committed to the fact that it is time for Peace,” Petro tweeted.
Esto es lo que debe acabar en el país. No más violencia.
Aunque solo cosas fueron afectadas y se salvaron los seres humanos, el trabajo del gobierno seguirá empeñado en que es la hora de la Paz. https://t.co/LlPJ2rCquM
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) August 25, 2022
The Catatumbo region covers over 8,000 square kilometers, and is mostly forest area with the majority of hectares planted with coca, the raw ingredient in cocaine. There are several armed groups present in the area including various paramilitary and drug trafficking groups, as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN), the People’s Liberation Army (EPL), and the dissidents of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
As part of his agenda for a comprehensive peace, President Petro has ratified his government’s intention to negotiate peace agreements with all paramilitary groups that are willing to submit to justice.
Last week, on August 20, President Petro announced the suspension of arrest and extradition orders against the members of the ELN insurgency group in order to resume the peace talks, which were ended in 2018 by the former conservative president Iván Duque.