Colombia Orders Capture of Two ELN Leaders

Wanted for an attack against a police academy, the ELN leaders are believed to be hiding in Venezuela.
Myriam Ortega/Diálogo | 24 May 2019

Transnational Threats

Officers of the Colombian Armed Forces stand guard outside the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá, where the ELN detonated a car bomb in January 2019. On April 15, the Colombian justice system issued an arrest warrant for two ELN leaders believed to have carried out the attack and to be hiding in Venezuela. (Photo: Juan Barreto, AFP)

The Colombian justice system issued an arrest warrant against two National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) leaders suspected of perpetrating the terrorist attack against the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá, the Office of the Attorney General announced April 15. The car bombing of January 17, killed 21 and injured 68.

Guerrilla members Luz Amanda Pallares, alias Silvana Guerrero, and Juan de Dios Lizarazo Astroza, alias Alirio Sepúlveda or David Piñata, are wanted for terrorism, murder and attempted murder, and destruction of an educational facility. According to the Attorney General, the members of ELN’s National Directorate are likely in Venezuela.

“If the Colombian government can prove that they are on Venezuelan soil, they will notify the authorities from that country, who are obligated to capture them and turn them in,” César Augusto López, a Colombian international law of armed conflict and terrorism expert, told Diálogo. “Otherwise, they would be subject to international political scrutiny for allegedly aiding terrorism, and that’s clearly stipulated in international agreements that prohibit the protection of terrorists. That would leave the government housing the terrorists even more isolated in the international context.”

In a press release, ELN, which had claimed responsibility for the attack, denied the participation of the two individuals and accused the Attorney General of spreading “fake news.” According to ELN, both would be in Havana, Cuba, where they had been taking part in peace talks between the guerrilla and the Colombian government to put an end to the armed conflict. Following the attack, Colombia called off the peace negotiations.

Safe haven for ELN

According to Colombian authorities, Venezuela is likely a safe haven for several ELN members and leaders in addition to being an operational center to develop their criminal activities. Guerrillas are believed to get support from members of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Armed Force.  

Colombia is part of the Lima Group, consisting of countries of the Americas that seek to put an end to the Venezuelan crisis and Nicolás Maduro’s illegitimate regime. The Colombian government of President Iván Duque also offered support to Juan Guaidó, the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. For his part, Maduro broke diplomatic ties with Colombia on February 23.

Floral offerings to honor the victims of the ELN’s terrorist attack of January 17, 2019, lay outside the General Santander National Police Academy. Two ELN leaders, allegedly responsible for the attack, may be hiding in Venezuela, the Colombian justice system announced in April. (Photo: Daniel Muñoz, AFP)

On April 23, the Venezuelan government requested from the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) the capture of three Colombians believed to be in the United States, Spain, and Colombia, respectively. The three are accused of being involved in the power outage of March 7 that left the country in the dark. The opposition said that the power outage was due to insufficient maintenance and a shortage of workers who were fired for protesting against Maduro.

“I think that if INTERPOL, at the request of Venezuela, is going to act in Colombia, that same INTERPOL, at the request of Colombia, should also take actions in Venezuela,” Colombian Army Colonel (ret.) John Marulanda, security and defense consultant, told Diálogo. “But this most likely won’t happen, and narcoterrorist leaders in Havana protected by the Cuban government, as well as those in Venezuela, will remain there until something different happens, such as the establishment of a new government in Venezuela.”

“This is a very sensitive issue for Venezuela, because they [ELN members] are the ones training militias that [illegitimate] President Maduro intends to have as supporters in case of an invasion,” López added. “Colombia went through this experience for many years with the paramilitary. The civil society picked up arms in defense of those who they thought were their enemies, and later these groups ended up attacking the civilian population, especially those who trained them and helped them financially. This is a risk Nicolás Maduro’s government hasn’t considered, hasn’t taken into account.”

Firm stance

Alias Silvana Guerrero represents ELN’s Northeastern War Front. For his part, alias Alirio Sepúlveda leads the Eastern War Front.

“They have a record that gives information about their achievements in their lives as civilians, as professionals, and as academics, but they are murky people who’ve acted in the shadows all of their lives,” said Col. Marulanda. “Castroism, from which the ELN and the liberation theology ushers, and which they use as an argument, has completely indoctrinated them.”

According to López, the arrest warrant against the two leaders weakens the ELN, which has fewer spokespeople for a possible negotiation. “They might have political difficulties at the time of negotiating; they would be at a disadvantage with some of their leaders captured,” said López.

“By issuing an arrest warrant, we understand that this [Colombian] government has a clear stance regarding the ELN,” Col. Marulanda concluded. “If there is going to be a dialogue and negotiation, what they [ELN members] should do first is stop their terrorist acts.” 

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