Two terrorist attacks in Colombia show the ELN as a binational guerrilla which distances itself from the negotiations | International

Security officers inspect a national police truck destroyed by an explosive device in Cali, Colombia, January 8, 2022.PAOLA MAFLA (AFP)

The last active guerrilla war in Colombia made itself felt again. The wave of violence unleashed by the ELN in its confrontation with FARC dissidents rocked the start of the week – and the new year – with 27 killings in the department of Arauca, on the border with Venezuela. And the week ended on Friday with the umpteenth attack of the insurgency against the public force, an explosive attack on a police truck in the city of Cali that left 13 people injured.

“Their interest in influencing this year’s electoral process with the support of socialist and communist dictatorships is clear,” President Iván Duque said on Saturday after the ELN attack, rejected by all political forces. The country has legislative elections in March and presidential elections in May. “Colombia will not bow down and will never bow to terrorism,” added the president of a guerrilla group which, with its actions, made any type of negotiation difficult during his tenure.

The vacuum left by the FARC after the demobilization of 13,000 of its members was filled not only by dissidents and other paramilitary groups who control various populations in Colombia, but also led the so-called National Liberation Army to s ‘establish as the main illegal group in the country. But, in addition, as the think tank InSight Crime asserts, it is about a criminal organization which competes in Colombia and Venezuela “all the main criminal economies”, in particular the illegal extraction of gold. and drug trafficking.

The Colombian Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, third from the left, observes, with the military and police management, the data caused by the attack this Saturday in Cali. National Police of Colombia (EFE / National Police of Colombia)

Of Catholic origin and founded in 1964, inspired by the Cuban revolution, the ELN guerrillas now have an international dimension, warn several analysts. “The ELN has become a kind of binational army. Their objective is not so much the seizure of power in Colombia, but rather the defense of the Bolivarian revolution ”in Venezuela, explains Jorge Mantilla, director of Conflict Dynamics at the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP).

Although not all agree, they recognize his presence on the other side of the long and porous border with Venezuela. “This presence is similar to that they have in other regions, controlling businesses such as illegal mining in the Orinoco Belt, primarily to capture rents, and not of an ideological nature,” says Martha. Marquez, director of the Popular Research Center. and Education. (Cinep).

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No report dares give any certainty on the current number of ELN fighters or the percentage of them who are on the Venezuelan side. However, General Luis Fernando Navarro, commander of the Colombian armed forces, calculated that the guerrillas numbered 2,350 fighters in 2021, 1,200 of whom moved to the Venezuelan states of Táchira, Apure, Zulia and Amazonas. Navarro told Reuters that at the border there were also around 700 of the more than 2,000 fighters from former FARC splinter groups who had not joined the peace process.

The location of 27 bodies in different parts of Arauca has once again set its sights on this guerrilla. If at first we spoke of armed clashes between the ELN and the 10th dissident front, the Attorney General of Colombia, Francisco Barbosa, assured that all the victims had been shot at point blank range, “in the form of killers at pledges ”. I mean, it wasn’t about fighting. The victims, he added, were forced to leave their homes, some taken to Venezuela, murdered and then transferred to Colombian territory. The Defense Ministry said eight of the deceased had criminal records for different crimes, and two of them were dissident leaders.

The presence of the ELN in an area crossed by two large pipelines is historic. “ELN does not exist without Arauca. He was there even before oil was strategic. And in the 1990s, when the royalties were decentralized, they realized that it was one of the richest regions of the country and developed a strategy of co-opting local democracy, ”explains Juan. David Gutiérrez, Associate Professor at the University, at MRT. del Rosario and an expert on the relationship between armed conflict and oil.

ELN commander Uriel, pictured in 2017 during an interview in the Chocó department. He died in 2020 during a military operation.LUIS ROBAYO (AFP)

These alliances with mayors and local governors have also marked the balances and tensions with other armed groups. “In the clashes between the ELN and the FARC between 2004 and 2010, the ELN ended up winning because of its relationship with politics,” admits Mantilla. The current governor of Arauca was sent to prison for alleged links with this guerrilla.

For years, the ELN has been characterized by the destruction of oil pipelines and the kidnapping of oil company employees. One of its worst attacks was the explosion of an oil pipeline that left 70 dead in Antioquia, as well as massive and shocking kidnappings such as that of a plane with 46 passengers or the kidnapping of 170 people from the La María church, near Cali.

Gutiérrez does not believe the current clashes are linked to oil revenues, and other analysts have pointed to differences over drug trafficking routes and the management of social control during the pandemic. “There is also an international dimension to this conflict, with the interaction of geopolitical actors like Venezuela and, at another time, the United States”, he indicates. The analyst recalls that Arauca was heavily militarized during Plan Colombia and that several oil companies pressured the United States so that the military resources of this plan, initially against coca crops, are also used to protect the pipelines. .

Militarization, again

The response of Iván Duque’s government to the current crisis has also been to send two battalions with 625 men. During his tenure, military forces struck some of the leaders of the ELN Western War Front in Chocó. Among them alias Uriel, one of its most media figures.

But these blows have failed to provide protection to the communities that are being displaced. According to the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), over the past five months, armed clashes with the participation of this guerrilla have continued to increase. For this reason, through the church and other organizations, in regions like Chocó, Cauca or Nariño, they ask for approaches to peace.

The possibilities are far away. Since this group attacked a cadet school in Bogotá and killed 22 people in January 2019, President Duque has closed the doors of the negotiated route. The president also demanded that Cuba expel several of the representatives of the central command of the ELN (COCE) who remain in Havana, since the former president Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) started to approach them.

The federated character, the differentiated regional presence and the autonomy of its fronts make negotiation difficult, analysts confirm. ” In the document Why is it so difficult to negotiate with the ELN? We propose that this could even lead to the division of this guerrilla in the event that there is no consensus on all fronts, and we stressed that within the COCE there is a strong hawkish line led by the alias Pablito ”, explains Márquez, director of CINEP, on the document produced by the priest Fernán González. For her and other analysts, we must insist on peace agreements that include the logic of regionalization of the ELN.

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