EL TIEMPO, February 7, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
“This message carries all of the top secret encryption codes. It should not be circulated on the internet (…) once you have decoded it and studied it, you need to burn it right away (…) The security of our organization rests entirely on the discipline of each one of you.”
That’s how a document that members of the top leadership of the ELN guerrillas sent from Cuba last November to all of the commanders that they refer to as the General Staff, the so-called managers of the battle front (DFG), the special commissions, the managers of the national urban warfare front (DFGUN), the national directors, and other agencies with power in the illegal armed organization.
El Tiempo corroborated the existence of the message with government sources that agree that it’s a devastating document in which the ELN admits that it is splitting up internally, and that the topic of drug trafficking has damaged some of their named commanders. In addition, they consider it urgent that the top leaders—who have active warrants for their arrest in Colombia—return to the country.
The distribution of the memorandum in Colombia and also in Venezuela—the majority of them arrived in printed form—was delayed a few weeks, and coincided with the United States decision to once again place Cuba on the list of “states that sponsor terrorism”. The Barack Obama administration (2009-2017) had removed it in 2015 during the so-called “thaw” in the bilateral relationship.
In the decision, announced nine days before Joe Biden took power, there was express mention of the refusal of Havana to extradite the ten leaders of the ELN, which had been demanded by Colombian prosecutors after the terrorist attack on the General Santander School for Police Cadets In January 2019. The attack killed 22 people and injured 90.
A month before the encrypted document was sent, El Tiempo disclosed exclusive names and photos of 11 ELN leaders wanted by the United States in extradition for drug trafficking. For one of them, “alias El Puerco” (The Pig) they were offering five million dollars.
The better part of the memorandum is focused on the serious internal division among the guerrillas. At first, it looks as if they are going to deny the whole thing.
“The enemy has divided us internally, has fractured the unity of the Central Command and the National Directors, and not only because we are physically separated as an organism, but also because of the repercussions that the demobilization of the now-defunct FARC has had on revolutionary consciousness and on our impact on national politics,” states the text.
To that division, they add that in the mentality of the militants that are in charge, an idea is catching on that there are two ELN: one in Venezuela, and the other one in Colombia.
“That those that are fighting from the brother territory have become gentrified and apart from the problems that the ELN has in Colombia. This is a lie that the enemy is spreading to place us one against the others and thus distance ourselves from the people.”
In that context they gave the order to consolidate their presence in large cities and do the urban work that, they say, has not changed from being “transitory operational military systems”.
The FARC and the coca effect
They also take on directly the issue of drug trafficking, and of other effects of the demobilization of the FARC, now the Commons Party.
They say that the demobilization has had “repercussions on the revolutionary conscience” and on the impact of the ELN in national politics. And they refer to the “painful situation” that “the Party of the Rose” is experiencing and the effects of the emergence of their dissidents.
Without digging deeper into that subject, the text stresses that the policy of the ELN has been “to mark out the boundaries completely between our activities and drug trafficking.” And it warns that “any violation of that orientation will be punished severely.”
But they admit that the questioning about their connections with drug trafficking has a serious effect, and it is sharpened after it has been demonstrated that there are commanders and organizations that are connected to that “unethical and anti-revolutionary” activity.
And after warning that they must oppose any return to the use of glyphosate, they say that government, military, and the media that serve the ruling class accuse them of being vulgar narcos, just to divide and delegitimize them internationally.
Peace, Venezuela, and the Neighborhood
With regard to Venezuela, besides admitting that they have some commanders there, they say that they need to reactivate what they call the geopolitical projection of “Our America”, which includes solidarity with that country “in the light of internationalism and the Bolivarian revolution in neighboring countries.”
And last year, El Tiempo revealed an articulation or jointing in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile, to infiltrate popular mobilizations.
And they are anticipating that, regardless of who wins the presidency in the United States, the members of the ELN will continue to be considered drug traffickers, terrorists, and traitors to their country.
Finally, the letter—which is already being analyzed by intelligence experts—warns that the ELN must take immediate corrective actions, actions that even include maneuvering for a potential approach to peace between the ELN and the Iván Duque government.
And here they send out what might slam the door on any possible approach to the current administration. “For our part, we have to completely re-think the political dynamic through dialogs or peace processes. We are physically trapped in the middle of the dynamic of a process of dialog that we had been developing. We have to take a tactical step that would let us get out of that situation; it’s just a simulation of a peace process.
And they concluded by saying that right now any possibility of dialog with the Duque government is conditioned on the return to Colombia of the delegation now in Cuba, and the agenda already agreed with the prior administration (the Juan Manuel Santos administration).
On that issue, “Pablo Beltran”, chief of the ELN in Cuba, said at the end of 2020 that there is a kind of an approach to returning to a negotiating table. But Miguel Ceballos, High Commissioner of Peace, has come out to warn that the Duque government has not authorized anyone to extend any kind of bridge to the ELN high command.
And Ceballos also reacted to the document that El Tiempo revealed. “There are not and there will not be direct negotiations with the ELN by our government until they stop kidnapping and committing criminal acts, and their leaders resolve their divisions and decide once and for all, whether they want peace or not.
“The Maduro dictatorship has done tremendous damage to peace in Colombia by permitting the ELN to go around committing atrocious crimes here and taking refuge there.”
The Peace Commission reacts to the document.
El Tiempo discussed the content of the document with Miguel Ceballos, the High Commissioner for Peace. He said that it “confirms the public statements made by ELN spokesmen, that reflect a difference of opinion among the leadership.”
According to Ceballos, “some of them are talking from Havana about peace, and others are ordering crimes against humanity from Venezuela, like ‘alias Pablito’ who admitted conducting the murder of 22 police cadets in the Santander General Cadet School, or ‘alias Antonio Garcia’ who also constantly, from Venezuela, justifies criminal activities like attacks on the pipelines or the kidnappings.”
For Ceballos, if they don’t unify their position, there will continue to be two ELN. “The ones in Cuba that say they want peace and the ones that want to dynamite things, are dynamiting any possibility of making progress toward real peace.” And he explained that the five members of the Central Command—two in Cuba and three in Venezuela—have been out of the country for almost three years and their distance from reality is notorious.
“The Maduro dictatorship has done tremendous damage to peace in Colombia by permitting the ELN to go around committing crimes wherever they want in their country, and looking the other way when they commit atrocious crimes in our country and then take refuge in Venezuela,” stated Ceballos.
And he warned: “There are not and there will not be direct negotiations with the ELN until they stop kidnapping and committing criminal acts, their own leaders resolve their divisions, and decide, once and for all, whether they want peace or not.”