Colombia’s second largest rebels group, the ELN, has announced a 72-hour national economic shutdown in an apparent attempt to pressure the government to formalize peace talks.
The “armed strike” as the guerrillas call it will be in force from Sunday to Tuesday and prohibits all commercial activity.
While the ELN’s territorial control is limited, regional armed strikes imposed by the rebel group have commonly been largely complied with by civilians out of fear of retaliation.
During recent, smaller shut-downs, guerrillas burnt down trucks and buses, but no personal injuries were reported.
Areas where the ELN has considerable influence
Following a lengthy tribute to ELN icon Camilo Torres, a scholar and priest who was killed by the military in combat on February 15, 1966, the ELN urged the government to allow profound changes to Colombia’s economic model on the agenda of formal peace talks.
In honor of the comrade who was killed in his first combat and to urge the government to allow the “violent neo-liberal model,” that according to the ELN is one of the causes of Colombia’s 51-year-long armed conflict,
The group has been in preliminary negotiations with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos since 2014, but has yet to formalize these talks in spite of both national and international pressure.
However, the ELN’s far-stretching demands have stalled progress, according to experts close to the process.
The rebel group’s latest move appears to be an attempt to demonstrate the government that it is able to disrupt the economy.
President Juan Manuel Santos rejected the guerrilla shutdown on said at a press conference on Friday that if the rebels think tactics like armed strikes are helping they’re negotiation position, “they are dead wrong.”
According to Santos, the called armed strike is “targeting the civilian population, which more than anything breaks with the rules of international humanitarian law.”
The president downplayed the potential threat of the ELN shutdown, claiming that “the armed forces are entirely prepared for this so-called armed strike. They know exactly what to do,” Santos said.
However, previous attempts by the authorities to claim control over guerrilla territory were widely ignored as many rebel-controlled territory has little state presence. Consequently, transport and bus companies canceled services during rebel-imposed shutdowns.
Because the ELN’s imposed shutdown is national and the group only has control over specific areas, it is unclear to what extent the civilian population will obey the feared rebels.