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An ELN flag in the Colombian jungle. Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela says it's sending more troops to its border with Colombia after an attack over the weekend left 3 Venezuelan soldiers dead and 10 wounded.

The big picture: The recent incident highlights the instability in the frontier between the two countries, where Colombian guerrilla groups like the ELN — which Colombia says was responsible for the attack — have long operated. Sebastiana Barraez, a Venezuelan journalist who has reported on the situation for nearly two decades, says Venezuela's socialist government has had a mutually beneficial relationship with the rebel groups dating back to Hugo Chavez's time in office — but things are now getting tense.

  • According to Barraez, economic alliances have allowed for the enrichment of Venezuelan military and government officials, and the rebel groups. She says the groups have long done the "dirty work" for the regime, which would get a cut of the revenues from extortion and drug trafficking.
  • But the dynamic seems to be changing. The ELN has pushed into Venezuelan territory, including in gold mining areas. That led to a clash over the summer in which a Venezuelan Army lieutenant was killed.
  • Gold is of particular importance to Venezuela now as its oil revenues dry up. Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. Treasury’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, said at a Brookings Institution event last week that the regime is trading gold illegally to gain much-needed cash.

What to watch: Venezuela has not accused the ELN of killing its soldiers, or taken a public position about the group's presence in Venezuelan territory. But the Venezuelan military could still decide to increase the pressure, Barraez says.

Go deeper: Map of where Colombian rebel groups are operating.

Go deeper

5 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.

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