Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum received first-hand information from Cuba’s Ambassador in Bogotá José Luis Ponce of a possible terror attack by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla against a military or civilian target. In an official memorandum from the Embassy, the “alleged attack would be perpetrated by the ELN’s Eastern War Front,” and claims that the guerrilla’s senior commanders and former peace negotiators, who have been granted asylum in Cuba after peace talks collapsed in 2018, have “expressed total ignorance” on a possible attack, and “reiterated the guarantee that they have no involvement in the military or operational decisions of the organization.”
The warning from a guarantor nation of the Colombian Government – ELN peace process comes days after an internal document by the guerrilla’s Central Command (COSE) was leaked to El Tiempo revealing internal divisions between “two ELNs” – one “gentrified” in Venezuela, the other in Colombia.
Pablo Beltrán, the guerrilla’s chief negotiator denied the veracity of a document that claims to “put the organization’s security at risk” should its contents “circulate on networks.” The internal division that appears to be imploding Colombia’s 3,000-strong guerrilla recalls a power struggle that erupted within FARC’s Secretariat between the political faction represented in alias “Timochenko” (Rodrigo Londoño) and war faction represented in alias “Alfonso Cano” (Guillermo León Sáenz).
After the death of FARC’s founder and maximum commander Manuel Marulanda Vélez in 2008, “Cano” assumed control of the guerrilla and backed by FARC’s “Mono Jojoy,” commander of the insurgency’s largest front – Eastern Bloc. This move further estranged FARC’s political leaders, the majority of whom are now members of the Comunes party.
A reliable source close to The City Paper claims Cano’s combat death in 2011 was planned, the result of a tip-off to the Army from an “enemy within.”
ELN’s Eastern War Front – not unlike ex-FARC’s Eastern Bloc – controls vast areas in the departments of Casanare, Arauca, Guaviare and Meta for growing illicit crops.
The ELN missive in which COSE orders its rank-and-file “to cut ties with drug trafficking” or “face severe sanctions” appears to extend a direct message to the government of President Iván Duque that the guerrilla’s political faction wants to return to Colombia to resume peace talks under the same conditions as those forged with the government of Juan Manuel Santos. The Five-cycle negotiations that began in Quito in 2017 ended in Havana, Cuba, after ELN targeted police stations along the Colombian coast killing 13 officers.
ELN also claimed responsibility for the car bomb against a police academy in January 2019 that killed 22 cadets. The attack resulted in the Colombian Government requesting Interpol issue Red Notices for the arrest and extradition of the ELN peace delegation, including alias “Gabino” (Nicolás Rodríguez), the organization’s maximum leader. “Gabino” represents ELN’s war faction and oversees the Eastern War Front under command of alias “Pablito” (Gustavo Aníbal Giraldo).
The warning from the Cuban Government comes at a moment of heightened diplomatic tensions with Colombia and recent decision by the U.S administration to place the island nation on its state sponsors of terrorism list. The list was among President Donald Trump’s final executive decisions to back his closest regional ally – President Duque. The new administration of President Joe Biden could reverse the executive order to appease the Cuban regime – and in doing so – open up the possibility of a new peace process with ELN. Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos requested President Biden remove Cuba from the list.
An attack by ELN’s Eastern War Front “within days” against any target would obliterate any prospect of reviving talks while President Duque remains in office, and confirms to President Biden the need to continue the economic blockade against Cuba.
Both the U.S and European Union regard ELN as a “terrorist organization.”
The memorandum of the possible attack was also sent to the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, raising the question of Cuba’s intent on brokering a unilateral ELN ceasefire, hostage hand-overs and fast-track peace process.