The ELN, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla organization, continues to be a security threat despite their diminished numbers, according to an intelligence report obtained by newspaper El Espectador.
Although the ELN was decimated by security forces and paramilitary groups during the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe, the guerrilla group has managed to stay relevant by supporting itself through drug trafficking and extortion as well as by maintaining its urban presence.
The ELN has grown increasingly reliant on small, urban cells operating around the country. According the report, 1,230 active members are in urban areas, exerting their influence by infiltrating social organizations and recruiting university students. Of these members, the report found that 346 are part of the ELN’s last remaining armed urban front, which operates in the northern city of Cucuta, Norte de Santander.
Together with their control in the Norte de Santander department, the ELN remains strong in much of the crescent shaped region that borders Venezuela. According to the report, its goal is to create an “environment of insecurity and anxiety” in the rural northeastern Arauca, Boyaca, and Casanare departments.
The ELN finances itself largely through extortion of oil multinationals and gold mines. Petroleum companies operating in the municipalities of Fortul and Tame in the northwestern Arauca department have been particularly ravaged. The guerrilla group is also active in extorting gold mines the south of the Bolivar department.
According to the report, the organization that once argued that drug trafficking would destroy Colombia now looks at the drug trade as one of their main sources of income. The ELN has increasingly allied with the drug trafficking organization “Los Rastrojos,” and their guerrilla rivals the FARC, to maintain their drug trafficking influence in the Pacific coastal region.
The ELN mainly focuses its drug operations on Colombia’s Pacific Coast in the departments of Nariño, Cauca and Choco.
The report pointed to the lack of power of the Central Command, known as Coce, as the ELN’s main weakness. Infighting, the report found, has led to the independence and strengthening of regional blocks and could eventually result in the disintegration of the organization.
The intelligence report concluded by explaining that it is unlikely that the ELN will be any more willing to engage in peace talks or demobilization.
The ELN is one of the guerrilla organizations founded in 1964 and was initially inspired by the Cuban revolution. At the height of its power, in the late 1990s, the group had an estimated 8,000 armed members.