Map of El Nula, a small village in the Venzuelan state of Apure along the Colombian border.
One of the world’s lesser–known conflicts has endured for over a decade along the Colombia-Venezuela border. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ latest report:
Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries, together with the Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación (FBL), a Venezuelan irregular armed group, exercised de facto control over the border states of Táchira, Apure, and Zulia, where most Colombian asylum seekers arrived. Kidnappings, contract killings, forced recruitment, and arms smuggling were common in the border areas. During the year, about 250 asylum seekers in Zulia and four asylum-seeking families in Apure fled to Caracas due to death threats by armed groups in the border area; one asylum seeker was reportedly shot upon arrival in Caracas.
The community of El Nula has been particularly hard hit. According to Child Soldiers Global Report:
During 2006 at least 40 people, including some under 18, died in El Nula and surrounding areas, reportedly during combat or as a result of their links with one of these armed groups. Many children stopped attending school for fear of being recruited.
In October 2006 a member of the community of Santa Inés in El Nula, Apure state, was killed by unidentified men believed to be members of armed groups operating in the area. Thirty-two families left their homes seeking safety. In February 2007 a four-year-old girl was killed during an armed confrontation between Colombian armed groups in El Amparo, Apure State, allegedly over control of territory in Venezuela.
But it’s not all bad news. My dear friend Luis Carlos Díaz has been working with the Jesuit Refugee Service to call more attention to the region and the crisis that has engulfed it for so long. He has also been training employees of JRS how to use blogs and digital video to share stories about their lives and community. For the Spanish speakers among you, here Luis Carlos interviewing Merlys Mosquera, director of JRS in Venezuela. I love that she emphasizes all the good of the region along with the bad.
And, via Luis Carlos, I discovered this 30-minute documentary by Rodolfo Rico, Rafael Uzcátegui and Robert Calzadilla about the 1988 massacre in El Amparo where soldiers and police officers opened fire on sixteen unarmed fishermen, killing 14 of them. (Here is an interview – with horrendous audio – of one of the two survivors.)
Even more inspiring is a project by the group Ancla 2 which I recently discovered thanks to the prolific Laura Vidal.
Laura has written about the work of Ancla 2 previously on Global Voices (in Spanish here), where she featured blogs written by young people in two of Caracas’ most violent slums including the infamous barrio, El Guarataro. (For more on the dynamic between rich and poor in Caracas I highly recommend Secuestro Express.)
But Ancla 2 organizes and facilitates new media workshops all around Venezuela including the village of El Nula along the Venezuela-Colombia border where they have trained 23 refugee children how to publish their drawings, photography, and stories to a blog titled “El Nula for Peace“. It offers a wonderful window to El Nula through the eyes of the refugee children living there. There is a picture of one 14-year-old blogger’s mother who looks far too young to have a teenage son and another of Laura’s studious 12-year-old neighbor who looks like she has already seen more than most adults. There are pictures of the town’s plaza, acrobatic brothers, hard-working fathers, and hungry baby calf.
And here is “Crazy Yulieth”, who, writes Yuleima, “is 13-years-old, lives with her family, and is one of the craziest friends that I have. She’s a jokester, tells stories, is really great, and super crazy like you wouldn’t know.”
What I love about this project is that it doesn’t just represent El Nula as a war zone like every other reference to the community that you’ll find online. No, it shows El Nula through the eyes of those who live there. When tragedy hits next then the young people of El Nula will know how to use online tools to spread awareness and seek help. But until then, they also know how to spread awareness about all the good in their lives as well.