The ELN announces a unilateral ceasefire during the month of April in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The guerrillas’ statement asks the government to send negotiators to Havana to discuss making the ceasefire bilateral.
The Defendamos la Paz movement issues a statement on March 30 hailing the ELN’s decision.
The government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, turns down the ELN’s demand that local military units pull back to their barracks during the ceasefire.
The government names former ELN leaders Francisco Galán and Felipe Torres “peace promoters”—advisors and possible interlocutors with the guerrilla group. This releases Galán from preventive prison for his alleged role in a 2000 kidnapping, and suspends an arrest order against Torres.
The ELN hands over three civilian kidnap victims, whom it had held for a month, to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Cauca. On March 18 the ELN handed over a minor to the ICRC in rural Arauca.
The bodies of 13 people are found in Palmarito, outside the city of Cúcuta, and across the border in Venezuela. The massacre is believed to be the result of fighting between the ELN and the Rastrojos—the remnant of a once much stronger post-paramilitary group—for control of cross-border smuggling routes. “The most conservative estimates,” Semanareports, “say that this war has left 37 dead in recent months.”
The government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, says that some factions of the ELN have been sending messages to the government indicating a willingness to negotiate. He mentions a leader, alias “Lenin,” who apparently supports reducing attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline.
Police capture Gerardo Antonio Bermúdez, also known as “Francisco Galán,” a former ELN guerrilla who served as a key link to the group during past efforts to negotiate peace. A judge in Cali seeks to try Galán for his possible role in a September 2000 mass kidnapping on the highway between Cali and Buenaventura.
Galán is known as a peace promoter who has served a complete term in prison and has long since abandoned violence. His arrest inspires an outcry across the political spectrum, including a tweet from former President Álvaro Uribe.
Chocó-based ELN commander “Uriel” announces on social media that the guerrilla group has declared a new nationwide “armed strike,” prohibiting vehicle travel between February 14 and 17.
Most of the country is unaffected by the armed strike, but travel grinds to a halt in areas where the guerrillas have strong influence, like Arauca and Catatumbo. According to InsightCrime, “Colombia saw at least 27 operations by the ELN around the country, including attacks on electrical infrastructure, clashes with the Colombian Army, closures of national highways due to bomb threats, explosive devices left in cities, one sniper attack, as well as numerous graffitis and flags hailing the group.”
While visiting Montelíbano, Córdoba on February 13, President Duque responds, “Colombia is united to confront this criminal group, this terrorist group, these recruiters of minors, these eco-killers.”
The Defendamos la Paz civil-society coalition issues a statement rejecting the ELN’s announcement, contending that “the time for war has passed.”
In Medellín, where the ELN was believed responsible for the recent downing of an electrical pylon on the city’s outskirts, authorities reactivated an 80-man Army Special Urban Forces Battalion.
Afterward, the ELN issues a communiqué justifying its actions but apologizing for “discomforts caused.”
“What we saw last weekend wasn’t a strike, but a threat to the tranquility of some regions of the country,” High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos says on February 18.
Alias “Pablito,” the commander of the ELN’s powerful Eastern War Front, issues a communiqué offering to cease the group’s attacks on Colombia’s energy infrastructure if the country meets seven conditions. The conditions are unlikely to receive the Duque government’s serious consideration: they include a 50 percent cut in fuel prices, the elimination of tolls, a sharp increase in social investment using oil revenues, and a suspension of fracking.
Colombia’s Foreign Ministry sends a formal extradition request to Cuba for ELN negotiators who remain on the island. Those wanted include the group’s maximum leader, Nicolás Rodríguez alias “Gabino,” and former chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán. The ELN members were in Cuba in January 2019, when President Duque shut down peace talks following the ELN’s bloody attack on the Colombian National Police Cadet School in Bogotá. Negotiation protocols signed by the Santos government had arranged for the negotiators’ return to Colombia if talks broke down. The Duque government rejected those protocols and demand that Cuba turn the negotiators over.
The ELN attacks an Air Force base in Yopal, Casanare, launching homemade explosives from a truck. One explosive lands near women’s barracks, wounding an enlisted woman. It is one of the first times the group has attacked an Air Force target, and Yopal is considered to be outside the ELN’s zone of influence.