Colombia: Duque escalates war on ELN guerillas

Colombia's new right-wing President Iván Duque has not returned to the dialogue table with the ELN guerillas, insisting they first liberate all hostages. The guerillas have released several captives over the past weeks, but nine are still believed to be held—mostly noncombatants. One of these released was only 16 years old. Interpol has issued a "red notice" for members of the ELN Central Command, incluiding top commander Nicolás Rodríguez AKA "Gabino." (EFE, Nov. 6; El Espectador, Nov. 3; PanAm Post, Nov. 2; Semana, Sept. 20) Rumaldo Antonio Barrientos Taborda AKA "Gurre," a top ELN regional commander, was reported killed in an operation by the army's elite Héroes de Tarazá unit in the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia department Nov. 1. (El Espectador, Nov. 1)

After the attack, the ELN's chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán issued a communique charging Duque with pursuing an agenda imposed by Washington to return to the hardline policies from before Colombia's peace process. Beltrán stated: "Trump gave the order, the [ELN] force must be eradicated, there must be fumigation, and there must be use of repressive and war measures, and this is Plan Colombia." (Colombia Informa, Nov. 4)

On Oct. 15, the ELN had issued a communique calling for a bilateral ceasefire and accusing the government of "escalating the conflict." (El Pais, Cali, Oct. 17)

In late September, Duque officially stripped the members of the government's negotiating team of their responsibilities, seeming to signify a final end to the dialogue process. The civil society network Movimiento por la Paz has been holding protests and vigils in cities across the country demanding the government return to the table. (Semana, Sept. 19; Contagio Radio, Sept. 17)

The UN has meanwhile expressed concern over ongoing violence that has displaced some 12,000 over the past two months in the Catatumbo region along the Venezuelan border, where the ELN is battling for control with the rival EPL guerilla faction. (Nuevo Siglo, Bogotá, Nov. 7; El Colombiano, Medellin, Oct. 21)

Photo: Colombia Reports