GUARERO, Venezuela — They bring drinking water to residents in the arid scrublands, teach farming workshops and offer medical checkups. They mediate land disputes, fine cattle rustlers, settle divorces, investigate crimes and punish thieves.
They’re not police officers, civil servants or members of the Venezuela government, which has all but disappeared from this impoverished part of the country.
Quite the opposite: They belong to one of Latin America’s most notorious rebel groups, considered terrorists by the United States and the European Union for carrying out bombings and kidnappings over decades of violence.
Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that insurgents have embedded themselves across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states of their own.
brutal armed groups known as syndicates that dominate illegal mining manage the supply of electricity and fuel, while also providing medical equipment to clinics in the towns they control.
Along Venezuela’s 1,400-mile border with Colombia, the ELN and other insurgents hold sway. Just a decade ago, the town of Paraguaipoa in the Guajira peninsula had several banks, a post office and a court. All have since closed. The hospital is out of basic medicines. The power goes out for days on end. Water pipes have been dry for years.
proven oil reserves in the world.