Colombia’s ELN Guerrillas Bought Kidnap Victims

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Authorities in Colombia busted a kidnapping network that reportedly sold victims to rebel army the ELN, a possible indication the guerrilla group is distancing itself from this criminal activity in anticipation that formal peace talks may soon begin.

On February 22, Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office announced that 12 members of a suspected kidnapping ring were captured, accused of selling their victims to Marxist rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN), reported AFP. Demobilized guerrilla fighers and a local government official in Choco department were among those captured, reported El Colombiano

The Attorney General’s Office said this kidnapping ring sold at least five victims to the ELN. According to authorities, the kidnapping ring was likely behind the 2013 abduction of the former governor of Choco, who was later handed over to an ELN front active in this department. 

The ELN paid $122,000 per kidnapping victim, according to El Colombiano. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The dismantling of this kidnapping ring suggests the ELN may be looking for a few degrees of separation when it comes to kidnapping, typically one of its principal sources or revenue. The ELN has extensive experience carrying out kidnapping operations, and it is worth questioning why they felt the need to contract out the activity to other criminal groups.

A more likely scenario is that the ELN is looking for a way to hold on to some of the profits from kidnapping, without directly carrying out the crime themselves. The ELN began preliminary peace talks with the government in June 2014, and the group’s leadership has recently indicated it is open to the possibility of taking steps to begin formal negotiations. However, giving up kidnapping would likely be a government precondition to sitting down with the ELN, meaning the guerrilla group could already be looking to delegate some of these operations to third parties. The ELN is also probably planning for future peace talks by focusing on other criminal revenue streams such as extortion and drug trafficking. 

SEE ALSO: ELN News and Profile

There is evidence a similar dynamic is playing out with the ELN’s guerrilla counterpart, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC earn huge profits off the illicit drug trade, but in January 2014 the rebel army reportedly promised to cut ties to drug trafficking in order to facilitate a peace agreement. To maintain revenue from drug trafficking in a more inconspicuous manner, the FARC is reportedly allying themselves with local criminal groups in areas where the guerrilla group is heavily involved in the drug trade, such as Putumayo.

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