Left wing extremism: ELN Armed Strike Rattles Colombian Communities

On Feb. 10, 2020, Colombia’s biggest left-wing guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN for its name in Spanish), announced an armed strike on Colombian territory that lasted 72 hours. The strike, conducted between Feb. 14 and 17, showed the continuing ability of the ELN to paralyze certain areas of the country and the inability of Colombian authorities to stop them.  
InSight Crime reported “at least 27 operations around the country” while General Luis Fernando Navarro, commander of the armed forces, in comments made to W Radio, estimated at least 117 terrorist actions around the country of which 94 were avoided by law enforcement authorities. There were reports of two fatalities: a member of the armed forces was gunned down in the state of Norte de Santander while a member of the Nasa indigenous community was murdered by four men in the state of Cauca.
The announcement of the armed strike by the ELN spurred a massive deployment of military forces to vulnerable areas across the country. According to Noticias Uno, deployments of military personnel were made to multiple states including Choco, Bolivar, Cesar, and Antioquia. This shows the strength the ELN continues to have in several parts of the Colombian territory as big military deployments are necessary to counteract significant ELN operations.
Around the country, many communities felt the brunt of the armed strike, especially in areas where government presence is practically nonexistent and the communities depend on the goodwill of the ELN to go about their lives. Multiple explosive devices, including car bombs, were found by authorities in several communities around the country. In the state of Arauca, a region that has suffered the brunt of ELN operations throughout the years, people were afraid to leave their homes and many businesses refused to open due to safety concerns.
The signing of the 2016 peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces guerrilla group brought new life to the ELN. The group experienced a massive surge in membership, especially from disaffected ex-FARC members, and power as they moved into areas previously-controlled by the FARC, especially since no government presence was established there. Last year, InSight Crime named the ELN the most powerful criminal group in Latin America, replacing the now-disbanded FARC. Backed by powerful friends in Venezuela, the ELN has grown in structure, power, and economic strength, especially after taking over the drug routes previously run by the FARC.
People in mourning following a car bomb at a police academy which left 21 people dead in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: John Wilson Vozcaino /  Associated Press
People in mourning following a car bomb at a police academy which left 21 people dead in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: John Wilson Vozcaino / Associated Press
In 2016, after the signing of the FARC peace deal, then-President Juan Manuel Santos opened peace talks with the ELN looking to end almost 50 years of conflict. The talks began in Ecuador before being moved to Cuba, the host country of the previously-successful talks with the FARC. In Jan. 2018, President Santos suspended peace talks after an ELN attack left seven police officers dead. The peace talks were formally ended a year later by President Ivan Duque, who was originally a skeptic of the peace talks, after a car bomb exploded at a police academy in Bogota, leaving 21 people dead.
The current government, led by the right-wing Democratic Center, has shown no desire to restart peace talks with the ELN until certain criteria are met by the group, including “releasing all hostages and ending violent acts.” The armed strike made it clear that the ELN has no intention of honoring these demands and with the group gaining in strength, many fear the return of the conflict that many believed was close to ending just four years ago.

Source: https://www.irinsider.org/latin-america-1/2020/3/10/eln-armed-strike-rattles-colombian-communities

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