ELN Guerrilla Boss ‘Hiding Out in Venezuela’: Colombian Intelligence

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Colombian intelligence indicates that a top leader of the ELN guerrilla group is operating out of a Venezuelan border state, directing extortion rackets, drug trafficking and attacks on the security forces with impunity, according to reports.

El Tiempo reports that Colombian authorities believe Gustavo Anibal Giraldo Quinchia, alias “Pablito,” of the National Liberation Army (ELN) has taken refuge in Venezuela. He reportedly lives on a farm in the western state of Apure, and regularly coordinates guerrilla operations across the border in the Colombian department of Arauca. Pablito is thought to have fled to Venezuela in 2009, after an ELN commando unit broke him out of a jail in Arauca, Colombia, in a dramatic escape.

Pablito is the commander of the ELN’s Eastern Front, as well as a member of the group’s central command, the National Directorate.

According to Colombian law enforcement, Pablito and the ELN guerrillas under his command have become a major security threat in Arauca department, which has seen a spike in rebel activity of late. Over the August 4-5 weekend, for instance, the province saw several incidents possibly linked to guerrillas, including the murder of a businessman, an attack on a police station, an attempted bombing, and the burning of a commercial truck. While the bomb attempt was attributed to Colombia’s biggest rebel organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), it is unclear which group was behind the other incidents.

InSight Crime Analysis

Pablito’s presence in Venezuela is not a new discovery. Although Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced last year that Venezuela was free of FARC encampments, he did not mention ELN units. Indeed, the fact that the ELN operates in Venezuela has been something of an open secret for years.

The question, however, is the degree to which Venezuelan authorities tolerate their presence. President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly denied allegations that his government supports Colombian rebels. However, on a 2011 visit to Arauca, both civilian and law enforcement sources told InSight Crime that the farm Pablito was living on had actually been expropriated from its previous owners by the government, suggesting that the guerrilla boss’ presence is sanctioned by officials.

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