The killing of four people in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca, may have been the EPL’s way of announcing its entrance to one of Colombia’s strategic drug corridors: El Naya. The guerrilla group has increased its presence there recently, creating a possible ticking time bomb for western Colombia.
The four people killed — all family members — had their bodies thrown from a truck in Villacolombia, a town in the southern part of the Valle Del Cauca municipality, El Tiempo reported. Though the motives behind the killings remain unclear, authorities are investigating whether the murders were related to score-settling or extortion payments.
Though the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) has long had a presence in the northeastern department of Norte de Santander, along the Venezuela border, a small group of guerrilla fighters appears to have moved into the western part of the country. Since 2017, soldiers in the region have even battled this group of fighters under the EPL banner.
The group appears to have 100 men in the sector as they fight for control over the Naya corridor, a route between the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca. The latter is one of the major coca-producing regions and is linked by river to the southern Pacific port of Buenaventura, from which shipments of cocaine leave the country for Central America.
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Besides the small EPL force, other groups are also present in this region: the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) members of Mexico’s cartels. They are all fighting to control this key criminal enclave between Naya and Jamundí, where thousands of kilograms of cocaine leave each month. Such a fierce territorial dispute has left the civilian population caught in the crossfire.
According to reports from the Army, the EPL’s interest in controlling the drug market in this region is so strong that they are offering $750 (2.5 million pesos) to $950 (3 million pesos) to former FARC members willing to guard coca cultivations and fight the EPL’s principal rivals, the ELN and FARC dissidents. Those two groups, it is believed, have already reached an agreement to take on the EPL forces together.
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The EPL is strengthening its presence in the Naya corridor for two reasons. The first is that the EPL is fighting the ELN in Norte de Santander where, according to sources, they are likely to be decimated by the larger guerrilla group, because the ELN is stronger and also controls the Venezuelan border region. The EPL appears to be moving into Naya as a way to sustain itself economically.
The second is the cost of trafficking drugs along the Venezuelan border, where the EPL must protect the product and transport it by land. Whereas in Naya, the EPL would only need to bring the drug shipments to the ocean port. There, the buyer would be in charge of transport, lessening the costs to the group significantly.
The presence of the Mexican cartels could also play an important role, since Colombian groups are often subcontracted by the cartels to send drugs. The EPL would not only be advancing its own interests but also would become yet another player in the cartels’ war in Colombia.
In any case, the Naya corridor and western part of the country appear ready to explode in a battle for the control of the cocaine market.