The FARC has been involved in peace talks with the Colombian government for more than three years, and it seems the efforts are yielding results: A final peace deal between the warring partners could be excepted in just weeks or months.
However, there is an other rebel group hidden away in the mountains and jungles of Colombia; the ELN. These rebels are considered even more radical than the FARC.
Although its leaders have said to be interested in peace as well, the ELN and the Colombian government have failed to formalize ongoing talks. In fact, the ELN stepped up attacks against oil infrastructure in February and March, killing more than a dozen members of Colombia’s security forces.
According to both the ombudsman and indigenous organization ONIC, the ELN has reared its head in areas traditionally under control by the FARC.
The ELN’s stance may seem hardly pragmatic, but FARC members seem to be inflating the ranks of this guerrilla group.
According to Camilo Gonzalez, a conflict expert, many low-level commanders and guerrilla fighters of the FARC are unhappy with the peace talks in Havana, Cuba. Many of these fighters feel they have no future in a post-conflict Colombia, Gonzalez told Colombia Reports.
Furthermore, alias “Pablito,” the ELN’s military commander, is said the be deeply skeptical about potential peace talks with the government. The bearded commander with his typical black beret, is already recruiting FARC members to his ranks.
Pablito controls around more than half of the ELN’s armed fighters and the group’s High Command can take no decisions without his blessing.
Pablito’s control stretches from Arauca in northeast Colombia to the pacific coast, where ELN rebels under Pablito’s command recently blew up electricity towers, leaving some 200,000 people without electricity.
Gonzalez said that unless the ELN joins formal peace talks, the group’s numbers could swell and present a major threat to the ongoing peace efforts.
According to state sources, Pablito is looking to expand the ELN into “a national guerrilla”, thus replacing the FARC in that role.
In the southwestern Narino province, “Fernando” and “Harrison,” two of Pablito’s closest men, are reportedly already recruiting FARC members to the ELN ranks.
According the newspaper El Tiempo, FARC dissidents have helped the ELN take over large swaths of the western Choco province. Indigenous organizations have reported similar trends in Valle del Cauca and Cauca.
Additionally, reported El Tiempo, the ELN in southwest Colombia is becoming increasingly wealthy thanks to extortion and taxation on illegal coca plantations.
The changing power shifts between guerrilla groups and other drug trafficking organizations has already caused major upticks in violence, a phenomenon that could undo possible security advances made in the event the FARC leadership agrees to the group’s demobilization.