Nuevo Arco Iris (2): The FARC Friday links
Dec 032008

In a series of three articles posted to its website and to that of Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, the Colombian think-tank Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris (which unfortunately translates as “New Rainbow Corporation”) provides a brief but excellent overview of the state of Colombia’s conflict at the end of 2008.

The picture is complex, but very troubling on balance. They reveal U.S. officials’ portrayal of Colombia as an “international model” of successful state building to be premature at best – if not completely misguided.

Here is an English translation (thanks to CIP Intern Anthony Dest) of the third of these articles, which focuses on the state of the ELN. The smaller of Colombia’s two guerrilla groups remains weak, as it has for most of the past ten years. But according to analysts at Nuevo Arco Iris – a group founded in the mid-1990s by a group of demobilized ELN dissidents – the guerrilla organization continues to survive and to pose a threat.

A Weakened ELN Tries To Rebuild

This guerrilla group eludes government forces. It appears to be a strategy aimed at preserving what little it has left: to sustain itself and to hide.

Militarily, in 2008 the ELN carried out what could be called a passive resistance. It lost personnel in a few regions such as Antioquia, Boyacá and Santander, but in others such as Nariño, it increased in power for two reasons: alliances with emerging criminal groups, and because the Armed Forces have concentrated more on pursuing the FARC (a strategy that has given the ELN some breathing room).

The study by Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris claims that, despite its position of retreat, the ELN continues to kidnap. Kidnapping continues to be one of the ELN’s primary sources of financing, in addition to narcotics trafficking in some regions.

Here are the principal findings:

  • Historically, the ELN has had an enormously decentralized and autonomous structure in which the organization followed dissimilar regional dynamics. It is divided territorialy into independent “war fronts,” in turn subdivided into fronts. The COCE [the ELN's 'Central Command'] continues to maintain control over the organization and keep it cohesive despite great difficulties.
  • The “Arauca, Boyacá and Casanare Corridor” group failed to consolidate itself. The project aimed to unite the Domingo Laín Front of the Northeastern War Front with the other groups from the region, along with two groups from the Central War Front that were very weak. However, the Laín is in a state of stark decline and currently has very little ability to attack the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline. There is a similar situation in Casanare, where the ELN suffers from a very weak structure.
  • The group from Magdalena Medio, which operates in Santander and part of Boyacá, didn’t increase in power either. The ELN was dismantled and lost its traditional bases of power in San Vicente del Chucurí and Barrancabermeja. The Manuel Gustavo Chacón Front in Norte de Santander and part of the Yariguíes Front [around Barrancabermeja], which is made up of no more than 20 combatants according to official information, continue to survive.
  • The group on the Venezuelan border, in the south of Cesar and in Norte de Santander, has been subject to paramilitary attacks and pressure by the Armed Forces. However, in the last two years the ELN has recovered a presence and increased its attacks and recruitment activities, as a result of increased narcotics trafficking in Catatumbo and La Gabarra, where coca crops flourish.
  • The Northwestern Group, originally intended to operate in Antioquia and parts of Chocó and Córdoba, was the ELN’s most ambitious project. After notable growth, the original front, the José Antonio Galán, consolidated its bases. However, the paramilitary groups took control over the region, and at the end of 2008, the 10 ELN fronts in the region fused into three. Among the combined groups is the emblematic compañía Héroes de Anorí with the Carlos Alirio Buitrago Front.
  • The ELN’s Industrial Group of Eastern Antioquia, a region characterized by the cement and hydroelectric industries and a complicated infrastructure of energy towers, was hit very hard. Only the three original companies survived; among them was the Carlos Alirio Buitrago Front, which currently doesn’t have more than 50 combatants.
  • Since 2000, the ELN has carried out fewer attacks and its military capabilities have been in constant decline. The stage of passive resistance began in 2005 as a result of the intensification of the government’s offensive.
  • As of the end of 2008, the ELN maintains its defensive tactics.

3 Responses to “Nuevo Arco Iris (3): The ELN”

  1. Chris Says:


    I would like to invite you to an event my office is hosting: Confronting Human Trafficking: Perspectives on the Global Fight against Modern Day Slavery. The event will feature a keynote address presented by Benjamin Skinner, author of A Crime So Monstrous. Details are as follows:

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    10:00 a.m. – 12:00 Noon

    Doors open at 9:30 a.m.

    at the Meridian D&E Conference Rooms

    Ronald Reagan Building/International Trade Center

    1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

    Washington, DC

    Please RSVP by December 8th to:

    Sponsored by USAID Office of Women in Development

  2. Chris Says:

    Ambassador Mark Lagon, Director of the DoS Office of Combatting Trafficking in Persons will give remarks. The Deputy Administrator of USAID will welcome everyone, and following Skinners keynote 3 x others will provide 10 min briefs to include the Director of Partnerships at the NGO Free the Slaves, USAIDs trafficking in persons representative to the interagency, and I hopefully (still trying to secure his attendance) the DC Director of the International Laboure Organization. Q&A will end the event.

    Hope any of you can make it…

  3. Chris Says:

    UPDATE: DC Director of ILO Armand Pereirra will attend as one of our panelists.

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