Is Colombia’s Ceasefire With the ELN at Risk of Crumbling in Chocó?

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Warnings that Colombia’s bilateral ceasefire with the ELN guerrilla group could crumble because of violence in a criminal hotbed could be exaggerated, but the peace negotiations between Colombia’s government and the main active rebel group certainly remains fragile.

The National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) believes the bilateral ceasefire with the government in September is in “grave danger,” according to a November 7 press release from the rebel group.

Pablo Beltrán, the head of the ELN’s peace negotiation team, said that the ceasefire had been observed since it came into force at the beginning of October, given that no armed confrontations had occurred between guerrilla fighters and government security forces.

However, Beltrán said that the ceasefire’s first month saw government forces exploit the temporary truce to move into areas under ELN control. In addition, Beltrán argued that the conflict had not eased, in light of ongoing political pressures and killings of social activists.

While the ELN blames the government for not protecting social leaders, the guerrilla group is accused of the recent murder of the indigenous governor of Chocó, a department on Colombia’s Pacific Coast. The ELN says some of its elements overstepped orders to investigate the governor for possible collusion with military intelligence, according to a press release from October 27.

A monitoring report released on November 7 by the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (Centro de Recursos para el Análisis de Conflictos – CERAC), also noted several violent actions by the ELN that led to the displacement of hundreds of civilians in Chocó.

According to experts cited by El Colombiano, in addition to ongoing violence, signs have appeared of possible dissidence between the ELN’s Western War Front operating in Chocó and the guerrilla group’s centralized leadership structure negotiating peace with the government. This could increase the risk that the ceasefire might crumble in the department.

InSight Crime Analysis

Given how unstable the department has traditionally been, and the fragmented nature of the ELN, there is some risk that the bilateral ceasefire might be broken in Chocó. But InSight Crime field research suggests that underworld agreements might help keep the tenuous ceasefire in place.

Although it is not certain, the ELN and criminal groups such as the Urabeños may have agreed to divide control of Chocó, which is strategically located along Colombia’s Pacific Coast and the northern border with Panama. This hypothesis, which could explain the recent decrease in confrontations between these armed groups compared to earlier this year, diminish the likelihood that the ELN would break the ceasefire in the department. Such a move would draw attention and action from government forces, disturbing all the criminal groups’ lucrative illegal mining and coca growing operations in the area.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the ELN Peace

That is not to say that the ceasefire or the ELN peace process as a whole are safe. As InSight Crime previously explained, the ELN’s fragmented nature means that it is difficult for the group’s leadership to guarantee rank-and-file adherence to any measures agreed upon with the government. And the outcome of the peace accords with the Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) — currently in a crucial phase — will undoubtedly also shape the future of ELN’s peace talks.

*This article was written with assistance from Angela Liliana Olaya Castro.

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