The United States government is "committed" to "dismantle" Colombia's remaining significant guerrilla group, the Popular Liberation Army (ELN), federal prosecutor Zachary Terwilliger said Aug. 8. The US attorney for the Eastern District of Virgina made the comment after he and six other federal prosecutors met with President Ivan Duque on a visit to Bogotá to discuss cooperation "to fight narco-terrorism," as Terwilliger put it in a tweet. Terwilliger said the Colombian government "counts on the full support of the United States Department of Justice in the common cause to destabilize, decimate and ultimately dismantle the ELN." The guerilla group has been active since 1964 and is currently believed to have 4,000 fighters. The ELN was engaged in peace talks with Duque's predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, but the talks were suspended by Duque when he took office a year ago.
Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)
Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the UN Mission in Colombia, warned President Iván Duque about the human rights situation in the country when they met at the Casa de Nariño presidential palace in Bogotá last week. Ruiz said he especially expressed convern about "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 15) Duque had days earlier announced a new plan of action to address the ongoing targeted assassinations, pledging: "We are going to strengthen all the instruments that the Public Force has at its disposition so that the leaders of armed groups, which are behind a large part of these homicides, are brought to justice." He spoke at Riohacha, La Guajira department, one of the areas hard hit by the ongoing killings. (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 10)
Colombia's President Iván Duque declared the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) indefinitely suspended following a bomb blast at a National Police academy in Bogotá Jan. 17 that left more than 20 dead and some 70 wounded. An explosives-laden vehicle invaded the grounds of the academy before it detonated. The driver, who was killed, was identified by authorities as an ELN explosives expert. Calling the ELN a "criminal machine of kidnapping and assassination," Duque said that arrest orders against the group's top leaders, which had been suspended for the peace talks, would now be carried out. He also called on Cuba, where members of the ELN command are now based, to have them arrested and extradited. The ELN one day later took responsibility for the attack in a communique, calling it an act of "legitimate defense" that was "legal under the laws of war." The statement asserted: "The National Police School of Cadets is a military installation; there officials receive instruction and training later put to use in combat, conducting military operations, actively participating in the counter-insurgency war and bringing methods of war for use against social protest."
The dark days of state collaboration with Colombia's murderous paramilitary groups were recalled with the arrest in New York last month of Javier Valle Anaya, former sub-director of Bogotá's Administrative Security Department (DAS), a now-disbanded intelligence agency that was found to be feeding information to the paras. Valle Anaya was detained on an immigration violation, and may face extradition back to Colombia, where he is wanted in connection with the 2004 assassination of human rights activist Alfredo Correa De Andreis in Barranquilla. (El Tiempo, Oct. 12) Ironically, the arrest comes just as a new scandal has emerged concerning an illegal network of chuzadas—Colombian slang for eavesdroppers. Retired National Police general Humberto Guatibonza was arrested in Bogotá Oct. 24, charged with running a chuzada ring that spied on labor activists—particularly members of the airline workers union, ACDAC. He has been placed under house arrest while the case is being investigated. (Caracol Radio, Oct. 31; W Radio, RCN Radio, Oct. 24)
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)
Following up on his pledge to address the matter within 30 days of taking office, Colombia's new right-wing President Iván Duque spoke this week about his conditions for resuming his predecessor's peace dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's last significant guerilla group that remains in arms. Duque listed three conditions: the concentration of guerilla fighters in pre-determined areas (akin to the "concentration zones" used in the FARC demobilization), the liberation of all captives held by the guerillas, and a firm time-table for the dialogue process. The president spoke just days after the ELN freed three soldiers who had been taken captive the same week Duque was inaugurated last month in Arauca department. But some 20 other captives remain in the guerillas' hands, including six soldiers who were also seized a month ago in Chocó department.
Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office on Aug. 7, pledging to unite the country. As he was sworn in, thousands marched in Bogotá to demand that Duque respect the peace pact with the FARC, and address the ongoing assassination of social leaders—now thought to number some 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. (BBC News, TeleSur, Aug. 8) Exemplifying the depth of the crisis facing Duque, on July 30, a group of 10 armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, in Norte de Santander department near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Among the eight slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (InSIght Crime, Aug. 2) Demobilized guerillas have been repeatedly targeted for attack since the FARC laid down arms. Before leaving office, outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos promised to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. (El Espectador, Aug. 1)