In an interview with radio station RCN, ELN negotiator “Eduardo Martinez” said his group planned to expand territory abandoned by the FARC “for strategic purposes.”
The government, locals and independent observers had already accused the group of seeking territorial advantage after the FARC and the government agreed to reduce hostilities in late 2015.
“It is a state of war, anything is possible, and in a national territory one of the forms of defense and resistance is to take over more territory,” Martinez said from Quito, Ecuador where peace talks with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos began Tuesday.
Due to the FARC’s ongoing demobilization and disarmament process, many territories — particularly ones where the rebels controlled profitable drug trafficking and gold mining activities — have become targets for dissident FARC guerrillas and other illegal armed groups financing themselves through crime like the ELN and their neo-paramilitary rivals AGC.
Because the ELN does not have the man power and military resources as the much larger FARC and AGC, Martinez said that his group will use political manifestations, rather than military force to control territories.
Martinez’s real name is Wigberto Chamorro; he is the brother of Herlington Chamorro a.k.a “Antonio Garcia,” the ELN’s second in command and the group’s spokesman for the peace talks.
Caracol Radio reported Friday that Pablo Beltran, the ELN’s chief negotiator, said that the ELN would only move into territories if specifically asked to by communities.
Because of the demobilization of the FARC and the military’s apparent inability to quickly impose institutional control in much of Colombia’s rural territories, power vacuums have arisen that has already led to violent confrontations between the ELN and the AGC.
Taking a different approach to Martinez, Beltran justified the move as helping the Colombian people against aggression from the advancing paramilitary groups of who the government refuses to acknowledge their mere existence.