Wavering of ELN Peace Talks Could Cause Further Criminalization

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The increasing fragility of peace talks between the Colombian government and the country’s last remaining guerrilla group could see the rebels double down on their criminal prospects in the Andean nation.

Colombia’s President Iván Duque said September 12 that the release of six hostages kidnapped by the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) — Colombia’s last remaining guerrilla group after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) largely demobilized — is not enough to continue with peace talks.

“If we want to build peace with that organized crime group [the ELN], they themselves must begin with the clearest of wills, which is the suspension of all criminal activities,” Duque said.

SEE ALSO: ELN News and Profile

The ELN freed the six hostages — three police officers, one soldier and two civilians — on September 12, shortly after releasing three other hostages earlier this month. But the Colombian government said that peace talks cannot continue until the ELN frees the 19 other individuals that are being held hostage, a demand the rebels say is “unacceptable.”

Since taking office, the future of peace talks between the ELN and the Duque administration have been uncertain at best as Duque has demanded an end to all of the group’s criminal activities.

InSight Crime Analysis

Peace talks between the ELN and the Duque administration seem to be at a critical crossroads. Duque’s reluctance to commit to continuing peace talks with the ELN may be related to the problems that have arisen from the government’s peace agreement with the FARC, which ushered in a new era of criminal actors and related violence, among other issues.

A stagnation of the ELN negotiations, which is what appears to be occuring, or a possible end to them, could have severe consequences on the future of peace and criminal dynamics in Colombia.

The current paralysis will be another blow to the morale of the ELN elements that support a peaceful exit, and further undermines the rebels’ faith in this solution materializing any time soon.

From the start, the decision to negotiate with the administration of former President Manuel Santos was not supported by all factions of the ELN. These resistant factions include the one in western Chocó department along the country’s Pacific coast, which was responsible for the six recent kidnap victims.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of ELN Peace

Indeed, the same ELN factions that have most resisted its leadership and jeopardized the process for years — by continuing to kidnap, violating the bilateral ceasefire, and carrying out armed attacks — are also some of the blocs with the strongest criminal finances.

Any weakness in the talks with the government will likely strengthen the resolve of these more skeptical factions, and see them further focus on their domination of criminal economies.

One consequence of this is the continuation of territorial struggles some elements of the ELN have been protagonists in, battling actors such as the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Popular – EPL) and the Urabeños criminal organization over control of the drug trade. These scenarios are more likely to be affected by the weakening of their rivals than of the ELN’s willingness to fight.

*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory.

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