Terrorist Attack Hits Colombia

ELN’s terrorist attack involves countries that acted as guarantors during the peace process with the insurgent group.
Yolima Dussán/Diálogo | 5 February 2019

Transnational Threats

The Colombian Armed Forces patrol the area where a car bomb exploded at the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá, January 18, 2019. (Photo: Juan Barreto, AFP)

Terrorism escalated in Colombia, after a car bomb exploded at the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá, January 18, 2019. The attack left a death toll of 21, with 68 injured, as well as infrastructure damage in the area. The National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) guerilla group claimed the attack. The group’s peace talk with the Colombian government, hosted by Cuba—base of the insurgent group’s leadership—was on hold.

“I urge all governments to understand that last week’s attack has nothing to do with political position discrepancies,” said Colombian President Iván Duque in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2019. “Rather, it’s an international crime that killed many unarmed, helpless young people who were preparing to serve as Colombian police officers.”

According to Colombian intelligence, Cuba and Venezuela shelter ELN’s members. ELN leaders Rafael Sierra, alias Ramiro Vargas; Eliécer Herlinto Chamorro, alias Antonio García; and Gustavo Aníbal Giraldo, alias Pablito, are believed to be in hiding in Venezuela.

Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos Holmes Trujillo urged Nicolás Maduro’s government to confirm the presence of these and other ELN members and act accordingly. “If their presence is confirmed, the Colombian government hopes that arrest warrants will be issued and that criminals will be turned over to Colombian authorities, as it should be,” said Trujillo in a press release. The Venezuelan government has yet to provide an answer. 

Need for international support

Duque made the same request to Cuba. “I respectfully call on the Cuban government to issue extradition orders against the leaders of this organization, so that they can be turned over to Colombian authorities and pay for this attack against the General Santander National Police Academy. We urge the Cuban government to help Colombia deliver justice.”

Interpol also issued a red notice against two members of the ELN’s peace delegation in Cuba: Israel Ramírez Pineda, alias Pablo Beltrán, current head of the guerrilla delegation and member of the Central Command; and Víctor Orlando Cubides, alias Aureliano Carbonell or Pablo Tejadawho took part in a 1998 massacre, in which ELN detonated pipelines crossing Machuca, a village in Segovia municipality, Antioquía. The attack killed 70 people, including adults and children, as they slept.

Support from international organizations

Agents of Bogotá’s Metropolitan Police stand guard at the General Santander National Police Academy, after a car bomb exploded within the premises. The main suspect is José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, an ELN member for 25 years. (Photo: Daniel Muñoz, AFP)

The United Nations (UN) expressed its condemnation. “The Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] strongly condemns the car bombing at a police academy in Bogotá. The perpetrators must be brought to justice,” said spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.

“Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security,” said José Singer Weisinger, president of the UN Security Council. “Any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever, and by whomsoever committed.”

Continuation of armed conflict

“In Colombia, we were able to put an end to an armed conflict that left thousands dead and millions of victims and displaced people,” said former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the UN General Assembly on September 19, 2017. Terrorist attacks, however, still occur in Colombia.

The peace accords of 2017 were an agreement between the government and the leadership of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), which left its troops behind in the jungle, and lost influence over them. The remnant terrorists who didn’t subscribe to the peace accords regrouped or created new armed groups fueled by money from narcotrafficking.

“Colombia had two radical choices to make: We would either adopt a Castro-Chavista approach, hence becoming another Venezuela, or we would become another Switzerland by signing the agreement with FARC,” Néstor Rosania, head of the Center for Security and Peace Studies, an nongovernmental organization based in Bogotá, told Diálogo. “We are neither of these. We are in the transition of violence in Colombia. Now, we’re at a breaking point in which political violence has been left behind, so we can focus fully on countering violence derived from narcotrafficking and illegal mining, which generate considerable money for these groups.” 

The Colombian conflict near the borders is rampant. There are multiple criminal groups stationed on the borders with Venezuela, Ecuador, and Brazil, whose actions even involve Central America, due to their control over narcotrafficking routes.

“The truth is that ELN took over FARC spaces in Colombia, and the spiral of violence won’t stop, because as long as drugs continue to be worth so much money, the conflict will continue and we will only change the names of gangs,” said Rosania. “If the peace talks with ELN continue, dissidents will trigger the conflict, because they don’t intend to let go of narcotrafficking and illegal mining. That’s the real problem with the current violence in Colombia,” he concluded.

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