‘Pablito’ (ELN)

"Pablito" (Screenshot: Youtube)

Pablito” is one of the ELN‘s most radical and elusive leaders with a bloody criminal record.

Pablito, whose real name is believed to be Carlos Emilio Marin, is regarded as a hard-liner by many.

His influence within the ELN has been a major liability for any possible peace negotiation between Colombia’s government and the guerrillas.

Early years

There are more questions than facts about Pablito’s past, because he has proven to be a master in identity fraud.

For years, authorities believed Pablito’s real name was Gustavo Anibal Giraldo, until they found out in July 2019 that this identity was false.

According to the prosecution, Pablito was baptized in Peñol, a town close to Medellin, Antioquia. Until the discovery of his identity fraud, he was believed to be born on February 17, 1968 in the central province of Cundinamarca.

Pablito allegedly joined the “Domingo Lain Front” that is active in the northeastern Arauca province in 1982 when he was only 14 years old.

Seven years later, the guerrilla allegedly ordered the assassination of Jesus Emilio Jaramillo, the Bishop of Arauca, who had become a fierce opponent of the ELN’s increased use of violence.

Growing influence

In 2000, Pablito became commander of the ELN’s Eastern War Front, as well as a member of the group’s central command, the National Directorate. He served as a liaison between the COCE and ELN’s subversive fronts.

Pablito became a pivotal figure in the ELN through his military division, leading a territorial war against rival rebel group the FARC, which resulted in more than 150 deaths for the now-demobilized guerrillas.

As his influence grew across the provinces of Arauca, Boyaca and Casanare (a region known as ABC), the commander assumed control of several drug trafficking routes, according to authorities.

In the meantime, he strengthened connections in neighboring Venezuela and is reported to have a camp, farms and a base from where to manages operations.

Capture and escape

Pablito was arrested near Bogota in January 2008 when he was picked up by Colombian authorities while using a fake identity.

The capture resulted from four arrest warrants against him for crimes relating to rebellion and terrorism, alleged involvement in orchestrating the attack on a Venezuelan military base in 1995 in which eight infants were killed as well as conducting the murder of a former Bishop of Arauca in 1992.

His arrest was described as one of the biggest blows to the ELN, as Pablito was one of the most active members and maintained the ELN’s presence in Arauca, one of the emblematic areas of the rebel group on the Venezuelan border.

“This was the most belligerent leader within the ELN, he was like ‘Negro Acacio’ and ‘Mono Jojoy’ [of the FARC] together,” the then minister, and former president, Juan Manuel Santos said at the time.

Alas, Pablito only remained behind bars for a feeble nine months before breaking free with the help of his comrades. In 2009, Pablito escaped from prison in Arauca in a spectacular rescue mission carried out by fellow ELN guerrillas.

After his prison-break, he resumed his power in the Eastern war front, had more armed men and maintained a presence in the ABC region.

Since then, authorities in Colombia have put a $600,000 price on the head of the commander.

Central Command and peace negotiations

In 2015, Pablito was elected to the top political body of the ELN, the Central Command (COCE) as the organization sought to involve one of its most influential commanders into the circle of peace negotiations with the government.

Former Prosecutor General Jaime Bernal, who mediated initial peace discussions with the ELN, said the presence of Pablito in COCE would be key in any negotiation process, as the guerrilla has a long and varied history among the ranks and members of the guerrillas.

Pablito however has remained one of the most critical opponents of the peace talks with the government, maintaining a hard-line status while continuing to orchestrate guerrilla attacks.

An attack on a police academy in Bogota that cost more than 20 lives in February 2019 was attributed to “Pablito” and triggered President Ivan Duque to rule out any further talks with the group.

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