The Rastrojos, a remnant of what had been a larger post-AUC paramilitary group, massacres seven people in rural Tibú, Norte de Santander. The attack displaces 400 people. Meanwhile an armed group’s explosive on the roadside between Cúcuta and Tibú kills two soldiers and wounds eight more. The violence highlights a worsening conflict between the Rastrojos and the ELN for control of border crossings between Colombia (Tibú, Puerto Santander, and Cúcuta municipalities) and Venezuela.
Colombia’s government rejects an ELN call for a bilateral ceasefire, which did not specifically address kidnapping, extortion, or other illegal non-combat activity.
Community members in the village of Filoguamo, in Teorama municipality in Norte de Santander’s Catatumbo region, allege that Army soldiers killed social leader Salvador Jaimes Durán. The military’s Vulcano Task Force, which operates in Catatumbo, releases a photo of guerrillas insinuating that Durán was a member of the ELN. The ELN denies it and the guerrillas release a recording of the individual who appeared in the photo.
The ELN releases four civilian hostages to a commission from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría), and the Catholic Church in rural Norte de Santander. The release comes two days after the guerrillas turn over two oil workers in Arauca. Colombia’s government claims that the ELN continues to hold 10 other hostages. Among them is Nubia Alejandra López Correa, an Army corporal abducted in Arauca on June 7.
The Bogotá-based think tank CERAC, which maintains a database of conflict events, finds no significant increase in offensive armed actions committed by the ELN since the end of the group’s April unilateral ceasefire. “Since March there is no registry of the death of civilians or security force members in violent events attributed to the ELN,” CERAC reports. However, the guerrilla group commits several kidnappings during this period.
Colombia’s air force bombs an ELN encampment in southern Bolívar department. The think tank CERAC, which maintains a database of conflict events, finds this to be the security forces’ first offensive operation against the ELN in 63 days. (In May, though, CERAC records “11 non-violent security force operations in which at least 20 guerrillas were captured.”)
The ELN’s one-month unilateral ceasefire comes to an end. ELN negotiators who have been in Havana since talks broke down in January 2019 reiterate a demand that they be allowed to leave Cuba and re-enter Colombia. The Colombian think-tank CERAC, which maintains a database of conflict events, reports that it could not verifiably document a single offensive action by the ELN during this period, or indeed since March 12, 2020. It does note a few ELN aggressions during this period, but cannot state clearly whether the guerrilla group was the first to act in any of the cases.
The ELN announces that it will not renew the one-month unilateral ceasefire that it declared for April, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was unfortunate that the Duque government did not respond in a reciprocal manner,” reads the guerrilla communiqué. The ELN missive calls for its negotiators to be allowed to leave Cuba, where they have been since peace talks broke down in January 2019, and re-enter Colombia as agreed in the talks’ protocols.
“We think there’s an enormous lack of harmony between the ELN’s leaders. Two have made declarations, one in Cuba and one is in Venezuela,” says High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos. “It would seem that they don’t have good contact with their organization’s members and they seem disconnected with the reality that needs non-violent action.”
Earlier in the day, the UN Mission in Colombia had called on the ELN to prolong the ceasefire.
CERAC, a Bogotá think-tank that monitors security, measured no ELN offensive actions during April.
From Cuba, ELN leader Pablo Beltrán insists that the guerrillas remain willing to re-start negotiations, and have enough “internal cohesion” to sustain talks. Beltrán had led the ELN’s negotiating team until talks collapsed in January 2019.
Maximum ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez alias “Gabino” sends a message calling on the armed forces to join in a bilateral ceasefire. The group had declared a unilateral ceasefire for the month of April, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecutor-General Carlos Barbosa says that the COVID-19-related prison protests of March 21, which led to guards killing 23 prisoners that night, were instigated by the ELN and by FARC dissident leader Henry Castellanos alias “Romaña,” who is part of the “Nueva Marquetalia” group led by former chief negotiator Iván Márquez. “Romaña” was known during the conflict as a hardliner who pioneered the practice of ransom kidnappings along roads on Bogotá’s outskirts.
Former ELN leader Francisco Galán, named by the government as a “peace promoter” empowered to facilitate contacts with the guerrilla group, is freed from prison. A second former leader named a peace promoter, Felipe Torres, has an arrest order lifted. Both were wanted by a judge for their purported role in a 2000 ELN kidnapping (which occurred while both were already in prison).
The ELN rejects Galán’s and Torres’s mediation, saying the they are no longer members of the group and are instead “functionaries named by the government.” On April 8, Galán and Torres send a message to their former comrades calling on them to release kidnap victims. The ELN’s preferred interlocutor, active leader Juan Carlos Cuéllar, remains in prison.
- 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. He calls the ELN’s announcement “a good gesture, but late and insufficient,” calling on the group to make the unilateral ceasefire permanent.
- 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 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,” Semana reports, “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.
- Fighting between the ELN and EPL displaces at least 236 people in the rural zone of Ábrego municipality, in Norte de Santander’s conflictive Catatumbo region.
- 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.