The National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) is one of Colombia’s two primary guerrilla forces operating with left-wing political ideology.
Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) is one of the country’s oldest and most powerful criminal organizations. ELN rebels have been second only to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in terms of carrying out attacks on civilian and military targets and occupying territory for decades.
Following the demobilization of the FARC after the 2016 peace agreement, the ELN became the country’s only guerrilla movement.
What started as a Marxist-Leninist nationalist movement has now shifted its focus to kidnapping, extortion, and attacks on economic infrastructure. And, after decades of avoiding drug trafficking, it has recently been tied to the drugs trade and has sought relationships with significant drug trafficking groups.
It is currently Colombia’s and Venezuela’s most powerful criminal organization, controlling enormous swaths of coca plantations, cocaine manufacture and transportation networks, as well as a significant stake in illegal gold mining.
Businesses and middle-class people in the ELN’s operating areas are its main sources of revenue. They frequently kidnap citizens to use as leverage in order to enforce these “taxes.” While the Ejército de Liberación Nacional refers to these activities as “war taxes” and “retentions,” critics say they are “extortion” and “kidnapping.”
The ELN has grown into a truly transnational criminal gang, operating freely in both countries and controlling most of the criminal economies along the border. It is thought to be heavily backed by the Venezuelan regime in exchange for a portion of illegal revenues.
Colombia has long accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of harboring ELN insurgents, notably a high-ranking commander known as Pablito.
With 2,450 members, the group is recognized for being less centrally managed than past Colombian guerrilla factions.
Although its actual efforts differ from its public posture in both nations, the ELN’s activities in Colombia and Venezuela are complementary. The group wants to overthrow the government in Colombia through revolutionary action, albeit its armed actions are modest in comparison to its unlawful funding.
In Venezuela, the group does not openly seek the overthrow of the government and instead works with the country’s political leadership and local military commanders.
The ELN uses Venezuela as a strategic safe haven and focuses on illicit revenue generation. Nonetheless, in order to raise money and extend its operations, the ELN engages in violence against rivals and controls territory in Venezuela that is probably larger than in Colombia.
Apart from drugs and minerals, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional has also been accused of stealing and extorting cattle from ranchers on the Colombian side of the border and smuggling them into Venezuela, particularly in the Department of Arauca.
The ELN has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department, reportedly because of its notoriety for kidnappings for ransom and armed attacks on Colombia’s infrastructure. For those activities and violations of humanitarian law, the European Union put the ELN to its list of terrorist groups in April 2004.
A series of events in Colombia and Venezuela over the last five years have bolstered the National Liberation Army (ELN), making it a significantly more deadly and intractable menace to both countries and the region.
The ELN has grown larger, better funded, and more difficult to demobilize as a result of the partial demobilization of the rival Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
A dramatic expansion in coca production in Columbia, a permissive environment for the ELN in neighboring Venezuela, and opportunities arising from that country’s criminal economy and refugee crisis has further boosted it’s might.
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