The ELN is conducting peace talks with the Colombian government

When Latin America's oldest insurgency, the FARC, officially becomes a political party, their cousins in the ELN will assume the status of Colombia's most powerful guerrilla army. But while the ELN are also talking of a peaceful exit, signs on the ground point to a rebel army -- and criminal organization -- in expansion.

July 25 was a snapshot of what has been a rocky road for the Colombian government's ongoing peace talks with the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación - ELN) guerrillas.

ELN peace negotiatior Bernardo Téllez suggested to media outlets that the rebels had reached a ceasefire deal with the Colombian government.

"The idea is that this temporary ceasefire begin with a duration of around three months ... This is an initial ceasefire, which is not the end of the conflict," he said in comments reported by El Espectador.

However, the government was quick to deny that a deal had been reached:

"We have not yet started discussing the technical aspects of an eventual ceasefire with the ELN, and much less its timeline," chief government negotiatior Juan Camilo Restrepo tweeted later that day.

"And another reminder: If the ELN don't stop their hostilities against civilians in a clear and verifiable way, there will be no ceasefire," he added.

Negotiations with the ELN are now in their sixth month, and the main goal is to secure a bilateral ceasefire before Pope Francis visits the South American country this September. But while the ELN have been relentless in demanding that the state agree to end hostilities, the guerrilla's attacks on the civilian population and security forces have not stopped. Several soldiers have been ambushed and killed in recent weeks.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of ELN Peace

The ELN's refusal to stop kidnapping has also threatened to stop the talks on more than one occasion. At the same time, the government has continued security operations against the group as the negotiations have limped forward.

InSight Crime Analysis

If the talks are successful, the ELN would follow in the footsteps of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) -- the rebels' larger leftist counterparts who recently laid down their weapons after half a century of fighting. But the FARC process has been riddled with pitfalls, and the Colombian government likely does not want to add a botched peace attempt with the ELN to its shaky record. Still, the ELN negotiations have so far borne little fruit, with both sides working to keep the façade of progress from crumbling.

Colombias-ELN-rebels-in-expansion-mode-FINAL

Several realities speak to the schizophrenia of the ELN talks.

Money is perhaps the most important factor. The ELN has long shed its initial opposition to involvement in drug trafficking to become one of the main players in Colombia's narcotics trade, and the group also controls lucrative illegal mining operations. Rather than renounce these revenue streams as negotiations advance, ELN fronts have been consolidating and even expanding their power in key areas.

The ELN today must be considered in the context of the FARC's own peace deal; as the FARC have receded to demobilization zones, the ELN has been quick to move into the territorial voids, even striking deals with dissident FARC rebels who stayed behind.

But the ELN is not alone in doing so, and this has led to violent clashes and civilian casualties in rural communities. Mass displacements continue to be the norm, while there are indications the ELN may be targeting social leaders standing in the way of their operations.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Infographics

Despite the turmoil, the ELN has been displaying more sophisticated criminal tactics, and their capacity to traffic drugs internationally may also have grown. The largest ever seizure of ELN-owned cocaine was made only days before the peace negotiations were scheduled to start, in early 2017. And this week, Colombia's first-ever electric narco-submarine was discovered by authorities with a capacity to traffic four metric tons of cocaine. It allegedly belonged to one of the ELN's most powerful and least loyal blocs, based on the Pacific coast.

17-07-28-Colombia-electric-submarine

The first electric submarine to be found in Colombia. C/o Colombian armed forces

Given this scenario, a truly successful ELN demobilization seems virtually out of the question. The volatility of today's situation speaks to the ELN's inability to rally its troops at this critical time, and to the disinterest of the rank-and-file in achieving peace. Indeed, InSight Crime field research has identified several potential "loose cannon" factions within the ELN. These threaten to disobey orders from above and potentially to dissent if a peace deal is ever reached.

InSight Crime's Roadmap to Lasting Peace team contributed to this report and provided the research for the graphic.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...