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ELN Rebels Claim Responsibility for Bombings in Colombia

An attack on Colombia's third-largest city, Cali, on Saturday wounded over a dozen police officers. The National Liberation Army (ELN), a leftist rebel group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack, which was targeted at members of ESMAD, Colombia's dreaded anti-riot force, took place late Friday while they were travelling in a vehicle by ELN operatives. 

We carried out an operation in the city of Cali against ESMAD, the ELN said in a statement released through an urban front website, adding that all our members retreated unharmed. The national police reported that 13 cops were injured in the targeted attack, few of them were critically injured. The death toll, however, was not reported.

As President Ivan Duque put it, the rebels were trying to sway the presidential election later this year. Government officials and police both condemned the attack. In his message on Twitter President Duque said that his government will never reward terrorists, and our administration will never give in to terrorism.

Gen. Jorge Vargas, Colombia's top police official, said the country is offering a reward of 1 billion pesos, or about $250,000, for information related to the El Rolo, the ELN's urban front leader. For information related to the attack, the government is also offering 350 million pesos about $85,000. 

Since the ELN was founded by extremist Roman Catholic priests in 1964, it has battled the government with more than 2,300 fighters. As a result of a rebel bombing that killed 22 police cadets in Colombia in 2019, peace talks between the ELN and the government were halted.

Venezuela has been blamed.

Following the current attack, the Colombian government are once again laying fingers at its neighbor.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro is accused of harboring ELN rebels by Colombian authorities. The Colombian government is also blaming that dissident members of the disbanded FARC militants who reject a 2016 peace deal are living in Venezuela. Caracas has denied the claim repeatedly.

Colombia repeatedly claimed that many of the group’s leaders not only lived in the Venezuala but also controlled a large area of land where gold was illegally mined and trafficked.

General Luis Fernando Navarro of Colombia's armed forces also said in an interview in 2019 that all of ELN's leaders on the northern, northeastern, and eastern fronts are in Venezuela. ELN rebel leaders, on the other hand, refuted this report, claiming that they never cross the border.

Colombia’s Civil War

Colombia's civil war isn't new; it's been going on for more than five decades. More than 260,000 people have died in the fighting, 25,000 have gone missing, and more than 5.5 million have been displaced. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as FARC and ELN were the main rebel factions fighting against authorities. 

However, in 2016, the government and leaders of Colombia's major insurgent movement FARC reached an agreement to end the conflict. The process confronts numerous obstacles, including significant public criticism that the peace agreement provides too much leeway to violent criminals. However, the authorities were unable to establish a peace accord with the ELN.

ELN Background: Colombia’s Left Wing Guerillas

The National Liberation Army abbreviated as ELN in Spanish emerged in the 1960s at the end of a period of political conflict known as La Violencia. (1948–58). In which the country's two main political parties agreed to share power but excluded everyone else. That saw the rise of groups like the ELN and FARC.

ELN is a leftist anti-government group that is made up of more than two thousand fighters militias based in the Colombian countryside. While the FARC was formed by the peasants, self-defense groups and communist extremists, the ELN was dominated by Catholic radicles, students, and left-wing intellectuals who hoped to emulate Fidel Castro’s communist revolution. 

The ELN was at the back of the pack during the FARC rebellion since all attention was focused on the FARC. Several of their military actions were attributed to the FARC as they were considered the public enemy number one. ELN is no last major armed group operating in the country following the end of a five-decade war between the government and FARC. Colombia and numerous other governments, notably the United States and the European Union, consider the group to be a terrorist organization and a holdout in the country's peace process.

The group pressed the ruling class on policies that harmed the rural poor, particularly land policies. They wish to maintain control over their land in the face of governmental and global corporations, and they enjoy collaborating with local people. The organization also opposes natural resource privatization and claims to defend Colombia's rural poor against the country's wealth.

Failed Peace Deal

After the FARC began peace talks with Colombia's government in November 2012, the ELN leader expressed an interest in negotiating a deal with the government as well.

Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas. The Group renounced its weapons and embraced democratic politics. Colombia's president has been praised for bringing an end to a 50-year military struggle. Following the signing of the FARC-government accord, the ELN increased its attacks on security forces by more than doubling.

Despite the fact that the agreement has many detractors, the FARC has agreed to participate. The ELN had been in talks with the government, but when the current president, Ivan Duque, entered office in August 2018, things started to fall apart. He had opposed the pact since its inception, and the talks were paused after the attack in Bogota. 

The ELN carried out a car bomb attack on the Police Academy in Bogotá, Colombia, on 17 January 2019. 21 people, including the culprit, were killed and 68 others were injured when the truck exploded. Colombia's capital was the scene of the deadliest attack since 2003. ELN said after accepting responsibility for the attack that it was a reaction to the bombings carried out by the Colombian government during the unilateral ceasefire.

As a result of the bombing, Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez declared the government's peace talks with the ELN had been terminated officially on January 18.

Gaining Ground 

The ELN reportedly increased its forces by nearly 8 per cent, according to a confidential military report cited by Reuters, in the first half of 2019. The same report also said that the ELN receives recruits from Venezuela and other assistance along the eastern border.

ELN’s Affiliation with Venezuela 

Many experts think the ENL's ties to Venezuela provide them staying influence, particularly because they share socialist principles with Nicolas Maduro's government.

Analysts believe that the ELN's position in Venezuela is more than just a strategic location where they can hide from the Colombian government and avoid military intervention.

However, it is not just about money; the ELN feels it is a key player who will protect Maduro's administration if the international community decides to intervene militarily. They perceive themselves as a vanguard guerrilla organisation that will protect Venezuelan socialism in the twenty-first century from a US invasion or any other country.

Financing Operations

A major source of leverage and income for the ELN has been kidnappings, drugs, and extortion. The ELN carried out hundreds of kidnappings and attacked oil pipelines in the late 1990s.

Formerly, the ELN avoided the illegal drug trade on ideological grounds, as it was seen as more politically motivated. Nevertheless drug trafficking has become a common link between ELN units and criminal gangs in recent years. Toward the end of 2015, a massive cocaine processing facility operated by the rebel group was uncovered in western Colombia. The rebel group has been reported to have turned to illegal resource extraction for additional income, including gold mining.

Group’s Internal Conflicts 

The ELN's main issue is unification; they have a history of internal strife. Since its inception, they have been fighting each other. It is for that reason that unity and cohesion are the most important things for the ELN leadership. Fighting has prevented them from negotiating with authorities and coming to a peace agreement. Regardless of these internal disputes, the ELN is gaining new ground in rural areas. 

Final Thoughts

Land reform was one of the primary motivations for the ELN to take up arms in the first place, but little has changed since then. According to an Oxfam international survey on land, only 1% of the population owns 80% of the land in Colombia. 

That is why the ELN has stated that they will continue to fight until a government in Colombia is formed that will modify the country's land policies. While Colombia's peace process is in limbo, the ELN and other revolutionaries are stepping in to fill the void left by the FARC's expansion of forces and territory. They're even taking responsibility for terror attacks in areas where the FARC used to be in authority.

Written By: Olivium's Staff.


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