Colombia’s government has admitted that a key ELN faction is opposed to the peace process. But while this singles out the most overtly rebellious front, there are many other red flags that may put the insurgency’s new peace talks in jeopardy.
Colombia’s armed forces have recognized that the Western War Front of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) is essentially opposed to the peace negotiations currently taking place between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group.
General Mauricio Moreno, head of the task force fighting the bloc, described it as “completely detached from the [peace] negotiations … because they’re narcoterrorists, who assassinate and kidnap under the orders” of leader who uses the alias “Fabián,” El Colombiano reported.
The Western War Front is based in Chocó, an embattled Pacific department where the ELN continue to be responsible for displacement, extortion and other illicit activities.
Perhaps the most widely publicized have been the front’s ongoing kidnaps. The refusal of the ELN in Chocó to free former congressman Odín Sánchez long delayed the formal start of the peace talks. More recently, the front released a soldier and his partner who had been held captive for over a month.
Moreover, the guerrillas are currently battling Colombia’s most powerful crime group, the Urabeños, over the region’s lucrative criminal real estate, incentivized by the ongoing demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) present in Chocó.
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The unruliness of the ELN’s Chocó faction over these few months of formal dialogues has been clear. The faction has not only continued to kidnap, despite the risk of jeopardizing the ongoing peace talks, but they also continue to traffic large amounts of cocaine through this strategic department.
However, the ELN to the west are not the only bloc showing clear signs of defiance. As InSight Crime has noted in the past, powerful Eastern War Front Commander Gustavo Aníbal Giraldo, alias “Pablito,” is something of a loose cannon within the insurgency. Although he was recently brought into the ELN’s Central Command (Comando Central – COCE) to strengthen internal cohesion for the peace process, there are persistent rumors that he is opposed to the talks.
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During a recent field trip to Nariño, InSight Crime was told that the local ELN faction, belonging to the Southwestern War Front, is also resistant to the national leadership’s intentions to talk peace.
Furthermore, continual ELN attacks can be interpreted as a form of putting pressure on the peace talks to advance, though in reality they may achieve the opposite. Only yesterday, the ELN blew up a key oil pipeline, leaving hundreds without clean water.
Government peace negotiators reacted with disbelief. “These kinds of terrorist actions — which affect civilians, not ELN combatants — make negotiations in Quito more difficult,” chief negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo tweeted.
Con atentados terroristas como éste que afectan poblaciones civiles no combatientes el ELN lo que hace es dificultar negociaciones Quito.
— Juan Camilo Restrepo (@RestrepoJCamilo) April 27, 2017
While the ELN’s actions erode the peace talks, its own members are also becoming increasingly disenfranchised. Many have been demobilizing independently from the rebel army, likely weary of offensives from both the security forces and other criminal actors. Indeed, the group’s lack of unity and centralized leadership may be the biggest factors inhibiting the success of this latest peace effort.