The EPL guerrillas have called to be allowed to join Colombia’s larger rebel groups in peace talks, but the government is unlikely to be interested in negotiations with these small and heavily criminalized remnants of a once powerful insurgency.
In an open letter sent to civil society organizations on July 25, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) called on Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to initiate peace negotiations with the group, reported El Pais.
The EPL stated that they would insist on a bilateral ceasefire and the formation of a National Constituent Assembly — a representative decision making body — in any eventual peace process. They also applauded the preliminary peace talks the Colombian government is carrying out with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.
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The EPL began as a Maoist guerrilla group in the late 1960s and mostly demobilized in 1991 following peace negotiations with the administration of former president Cesar Gaviria. The dissident faction that failed to lay down its arms has since become heavily involved in the drug trade in Colombia’s northeastern Norte de Santander department and is now considered to be more of a criminal group than a guerrilla organization.
EPL leader Victor Ramon Navarro Serrano, alias “Megateo,” stated in an interview last year that the EPL only taxes cocaine produced in its area of operation, but Colombian authorities believe he owns large plots of land containing cocaine laboratories capable of processing up to two tons of cocaine per month, and runs a network that traffics cocaine into Venezuela.
Both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the ELN have business ties with the EPL — laboratories dismantled in Catatumbo last year were allegedly run by these two groups, who processed cocaine to sell to Megateo. The guerrillas are also believed to have supplied drugs to the Rastrojos criminal group, whose former leader Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” was previously an EPL fighter.
SEE ALSO: Megateo Profile
The EPL likely has less than 100 fighters and is viewed primarily as a drug trafficking organization and a criminal rather than insurgent security threat, so the Santos administration will likely be wary of negotiating with the group. If the government refuses to initiate peace talks, however, the president runs the risk that factions of the ELN and FARC who refuse to accept the terms of any eventual peace agreements could end up joining Megateo’s group.