BOGOTÁ — As the world recently watched humanitarian supply trucks burn on a bridge between the Colombian town of Cúcuta and the Venezuelan border, locals anxiously wondered if aid would ever arrive in a region plagued with years of economic crisis.
Colombian Attorney General Fernando Carrillo echoed these sentiments after visiting Cúcuta and meeting with organizations working in the Catatumbo area of the Colombian border region of Norte de Santander. He told the local daily La Opinión that Norte de Santander needs "an emergency plan to face this avalanche, which will have humanitarian consequences... the national government must become more involved in resolving the social and economic problems that are just starting to be visible in this zone."
And yet, the situation is not new. Norte de Santander, like all border areas, has suffered since relations with Venezuela began to fracture and the country's economy entered into crisis. The government of Colombia's former president Álvaro Uribe issued social emergency decrees last decade as a bid to remedy the situation, yet they were palliative at best and did not address the background causes.
The situation is deteriorating by the day.
Norte de Santander has serious problems with black market employment (70.6% of people in Cúcuta work informally — the highest rate among mid-sized and larger cities), organized crime, drug trafficking, guerrillas (the Marxist ELN and EPL), corruption and high rates of petty crime.
When discussing efforts to help rebuild Venezuela, the Colombian government and parliament would do well to first start rebuilding our country's border regions. Local economies based on decades of co-dependence between Venezuela and Colombia cannot be rebooted with sporadic investments. Carrillo is right to call for an in-depth analysis of "the region's future in the face of so many social and economic threats affecting its stability." This cannot just be done by local politicians repeatedly stating their concerns about systematic neglect from the central government.
Norte de Santander is a crucial area in the post-conflict period of our country, but so far the state has failed to curtail violence in Catatumbo. It is also a key zone for integrating Venezuelan migrants, many of whom have settled in districts and villages where the employment levels are already precarious. The situation is deteriorating by the day with no solutions in sight. The crisis across the border is shining a light on a part of Colombia that can no longer be left to slip out of control.
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