Erlinto joined the ELN around 1975 and rose through the ranks quickly. By 1980, he was part of the guerrilla group's Central Command (COCE). After longtime ELN leader Manuel Perez, alias "El Cura," died, Erlinto became the military commander of the ELN. He is considered one of the group's hardliners and is responsible for trying to upgrade the ELN's military capabilities.
Antonio Garcia Factbox
DOB: January 10, 1956
Criminal Activities: Illegal arms procurement, kidnapping, homicide, extortion
Area of Operation: Colombia
Despite his reputation, Erlinto has been tapped to be the ELN's official spokesman during several different peace negotiations between the group and the government. In February 1999, Erlinto and Victor G. Ricardo, then Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, met in Caracas to discuss the final arrangements for the National Convention that was to be held that year in Colombia. The ELN requested the demilitarization of three municipalities for a “Meeting Zone” for a constitutional convention, but negotiations failed. In 2000, Erlinto met in Geneva with the government’s new peace commissioner, Camilo Gomez, but once again peace talks were suspended when Erlinto accused the government of supporting paramilitary groups.
In early 2015, Erlinto announced alongside ELN supreme commander Nicolas Rodríguez Bautista, alias “Gabino,” that the guerrilla group would be willing to consider giving up the arm struggle in order to facilitate a peace process with the government. The ELN and the government have been in preliminary peace talks since June 2014.
Erlinto is the ELN's number two commander and a member of the guerrilla group's Central Command (COCE). Erlinto is in charge of the group’s military strategy and arms procurement. He also manages the international relations team and the group's funds abroad.
Colombian authorities have accused Erlinto of ideological participation in the mass kidnapping of a church community in the city of Cali in 1999, as well as homicide.
The ELN is primarily involved in kidnapping and extortion. The group has also become active in the Colombia's illicit drug trade, although to a much lesser extent than their guerrilla cousin, the FARC.
Erlinto was born in the city of Mocoa, in Colombia's northwest department of Putumayo. The ELN's strongholds are considered to be in oil-rich ares of Colombia, such as the Eastern Plains and parts of the Andean mountain range. The ELN is also active on the other side of Colombia's border in Venezuela and Ecuador as well.
Allies and Enemies
The ELN made a pact with criminal organization the Rastrojos in 2006 to in order to assist them in their fight against the FARC. However, in 2009 the ELN and the FARC signed a ceasefire, and have recently gone so far as to form an alliance, working together on military operations and targeting large oil and mining companies. The Rastrojos and the ELN maintain connections in order to facilitate drug trafficking operations.
Garcia's proclamations in early 2015 that the ELN is willing to consider a peace deal suggests the rebel army does not want to get left behind if the FARC come to a negotiated agreement with the government, who have been holding talks since 2012. As the ELN's spokesman for peace talks in the past, Garcia would likely play a prominent role should the guerrilla group begin formal negotiations with the government.