HomeColombiaNicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias 'Gabino'
COLOMBIA

Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias 'Gabino'

COLOMBIA PERSONALITIES / LATEST UPDATE MAY 19, 2020 EN

Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias "Gabino," was a peasant recruit who rose to become the commander in chief and political leader of Colombia guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN). He is one of the group’s elders and maintains strong ties to Cuba, which has supported the guerrilla group since the 1960s.

He is currently residing in Cuba since the ELN's peace talks with the Colombian government collapsed in January 2019, and the two countries are fighting over his extradition.

In June 2021, he stepped down from his position as leader of the ELN, citing health reasons, and appointed Eliecer Erlinto Chamorro, alias "Antonio García," as his successor.

History

Gabino was born January 25, 1950 in San Vicente de Chucuri, a city in Colombia's mountainous department of Santander. He joined the ELN in 1964, at age 14, when the insurgency was but an idea. In 1965, Gabino participated in the ELN’s first military assaults in the municipality of Simacota, Santander. In 1973, he became part of the national leadership council after two founding members died in battle.

In the late 1970s, he assumed joint leadership with Manuel Perez, alias "El Cura," the Spanish priest who had joined the group in the 1960s. After El Cura's death in 1998, Gabino became commander in chief of the ELN. He is considered the ELN’s main strategist and its elder statesman, having seen the group’s beginnings and its near endings.

Gabino also opened the way for peace talks on several occasions, including trying to join government negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) in 2012. The ELN and the Colombian government announced "exploratory" peace talks in June 2014, and in March 2016 announced a formal negotiating agenda.

The talks collapsed in January 2019, following the bombing of a police training academy in Bogotá by the ELN. Gabino and the rest of the ELN's negotiating team have remained stranded in Cuba since.

Criminal Activities

The ELN is involved in practically every major lucrative criminal economy in Colombia and Venezuela, from illegal mining to drug trafficking and from extortion and kidnapping to arms trafficking.

However, Gabino has always remained fiercely opposed to the ELN's participation in drug trafficking, repeatedly distancing the group from involvement in this criminal economy.

In terms of Gabino personally, he has been tried in absentia for his involvement in multiple crimes, including a 1998 massacre in which 84 people died after the ELN bombed an oil pipeline in Antioquia, and the mass kidnapping of over 100 people from a church in Cali in 1999.

Geography

Gabino's ELN group operates throughout Colombia and Venezuela and has spread rapidly in recent years to become arguably the principal criminal threat in both countries.

He is currently residing in Cuba since the ELN's peace talks with the Colombian government collapsed in January 2019, and the two countries are fighting over his extradition.

Allies and Enemies

Gabino is wanted by the Colombian and US governments due to his longstanding membership of the ELN, which is listed as a terrorist organization.

Prospects

Despite aggressive bombing and sabotage campaign directed mainly against international energy firms and Colombia state oil company Ecopetrol, the ELN has declined from a mid-1990's peak of close to 5,000 fighters to around 2,000 fighters today. As the ELN's then-commander in chief, he travelled to Cuba and remained in exile there after negotiations with the Colombian government failed in 2019.

In June 2021, he stepped down from his position as leader of the ELN, citing health reasons, and appointed Eliecer Erlinto Chamorro, alias "Antonio García," as his successor.

Barring a change in policy from Colombia concerning the arrests of the ELN leadership, he is unlikely to return from Cuba in the near future. It remains to be seen how much influence he will continue to wield over the group after stepping down.

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