Understanding the Current Violence of the ELN in Colombia

Colombia Political Map
Colombia Political Map

Colombia begins to go through circumstances that move away from the old dynamics of irregular conflict. The overflow of violence is not directly proportional to a situation of insecurity. In effect, the situation of the country reaches to be linked with a new term that begins to make a career in the Colombian strategic vocabulary, transitional security. A critical element that compromises the conflicting nature with new and mutated armed actors in the country.

After the signing of the Agreement for the Termination of the Armed Conflict with the Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) in 2016, the violence in Colombia has experienced important changes that reach beyond the capacities of the Colombian State. With the end of the FARC as an armed group, the empty spaces they had occupied have begun to be the cause of a dispute between new, old and mutated armed groups that take advantage of institutional fractures. In other words, the exercise of violence is the common denominator of the groups that supplant the functions of the State.

In this context, and based on the fact that the FARC-EP was not the only armed group with the capacity to generate violence and destabilize the State, the ELN (National Liberation Army) also has a history that is simultaneous but different from that of the FARC in the Colombian armed conflict, has become a high priority issue for Colombia’s national security. The ELN with around 1,500 combatants has a structure that is far removed from that of the FARC guerrillas. On this occasion, the ELN is a group where hierarchies are in a horizontal scenario, there is a diffuse capacity for unified command and internal fractures, as well as short circuits among their top brass, have led to the conclusion that the ELN has an organizational crisis and cohesion in general.

An example of the above was what happened with the terrorist attack on January 17, 2019 at the facilities of the Police School of Bogotá, which after the unfortunate event, and while a series of plans were advanced to continue the peace talks between the government of Colombia and that guerrilla, the contradictions about the motivations of the ELN leaders, the confusions in the declarations and the confirmation of the authorship of the event, allowed the government to break the possibilities of peace dialogues until they obtained real manifestations and will of negotiation.

The ELN is an urban guerrilla, with the ability to get involved in the most difficult areas of access for military and police forces because it has reached non-traditional circles in the history of the Colombian conflict. In this order of ideas, despite having relatively few combatants, the security problem faced by the Colombian State corresponds to an asymmetrical logic and entropic violence. This type of violence means that, in irregular and asymmetrical conditions, despite the fact that the State has high military capabilities and possesses a military advantage of great proportions, violence tends to overwhelm the State’s capacities, generating chaos and more violence. The ELN knows where to strike the nation, which is why the last terrorist acts of that guerrilla have been directed to the Caño Limón Coveñas pipeline generating a serious environmental impact due to the oil spill in the rivers of Colombia. It means the ELN understands that, eco-terrorism can cause more damage than killing police. It is a rational calculation within the irrationality of terrorism. 

Contemporary violence involves anthropic factors that lead to rethinking national security models. The situations reflect that after signing the peace accords with the FARC, the first five years of the post-agreement are the most risky to fall back into conflict. Today, the ELN puts the architecture of Colombian security in trouble again. The Colombian government and the decision makers in matters of national security must bear in mind the logic of asymmetric combat posed by the ELN. In this sense, we must take advantage of the fact that it is an organization that is going through a crisis of identity, organization, and structure of command, which can facilitate the strategic blockade, but it can be a disadvantage because the demise of the ELN can create a number of smaller groups.

Image:TUBS [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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