ELN rebels

One of the chief negotiators of Colombia's largest remaining guerrilla group, the ELN, has spoken out on the rebels' peace process and their place in the rapidly evolving Colombian underworld. However, the picture he paints bears little resemblance to the realities of a group that is now playing a pivotal role in shaping Colombian organized crime dynamics.

In an interview with Verdad Abierta, Carlos Reyes described the latest developments in peace talks in Quito, Ecuador between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN).

According to Reyes, negotiators have now established two sub-working groups that are discussing the participation of civil society in the peace process and humanitarian actions.

Reyes insisted there was a unified backing of the peace process among the guerrillas and denied claims that the ELN's Central Command is struggling to maintain control over the guerrilla fronts scattered around the country. However, he ruled out the possibility of the ELN declaring a unilateral ceasefire to de-escalate the conflict.

"The ceasefire must be bilateral, agreed on, verified and respected by both parties," he said.

Reyes denied the ELN are co-opting spaces left by the demobilizing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). But at the same time, he repeated the statement made by ELN leader Pablo Beltrán that the guerrillas "will go where we are called."

In relation to the conflict hotspot of the western department of Chocó, where the ELN are involved in a long-running conflict with the neo-paramilitary group the Urabeños, Reyes claimed the ELN's interest in the region was not related to control of drugs, illegal mining and smuggling corridors but with organizing communities to address issues such as corruption, poverty and state neglect.

Reyes also accused the state of colluding with the Urabeños in Chocó, pointing to the unimpeded movement of large groups of Urabeños fighters in the region as evidence.

"This paramilitary group has support, intelligence and coordination with the military," he said.

InSight Crime Analysis

Reyes comments present the face of the ELN that the guerrillas would like to show to the world: that of a revolutionary force working for the benefit and with the support of neglected and poverty ridden regions, confronting state corruption, paramilitarism and exploitative businesses that is now preparing for peace. However, while there may be some truth to many of his comments, the reality on the ground is very different.

SEE ALSO: ELN Profile

With the departure of the FARC, who are currently assembled in demobilization camps around the country, the ELN have found themselves presented with a golden opportunity to increase their influence and wealth even as they talk peace in Quito. And contrary to Reyes' comments, there is strong evidence that they are taking advantage by seeking to fill the vacuum left by the FARC in regions with lucrative criminal economies or geographical strategic importance.

The example discussed by Reyes -- Chocó -- stands as a stark warning to how this situation could fuel new cycles of underworld conflicts as the Colombian underworld adapts to the departure of the FARC. If peace talks with the ELN do not progress rapidly, then further such conflicts could erupt as the ELN looks to boost its finances and territorial influence, either to strengthen their negotiating hand or to wage further war.

Investigations

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

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...

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...

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...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

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...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

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...