HomeNewsAnalysisThe ELN Gets Richer, Stronger in Southern Bolívar

The ELN has gained strength in a crucial drug trafficking region in the southern part of Colombia's Bolívar department -- confirming that they have benefited from the demobilization of rival guerrilla force, the FARC.

Located in the center of Colombia, the southern part of Bolívar offers easy access to multiple regions of the country, as well as two key borders for drug trafficking routes: Panamá and Venezuela.

Moreover, the region has vast coca crops and convenient transportation for drugs along the Magdalena River. It is also home to the San Lucas mountain range, a hotspot for illegal mining.

      SEE ALSO: ELN Profile and News

The combination of vast criminal wealth and the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) has brought the southern Bolivar region battles among criminal groups, which include the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), the Urabeños, and dissident members of the FARC.

InSight Crime Analysis

Historically, the presence of the ELN in the municipalities of southern Bolívar is hardly a novelty. The group has been in the area since the late 1960s when it expanded there after being founded in San Vicente de Chucurí in northern Santander.

Originally, ELN territory extended as far as the San Lucas mountains, a natural border between Bolívar and Cesar departments and a protected enclave.

Twice, the ELN has seen major challenges to its dominance over the area: the FARC guerrillas starting in the 1980s, and the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) in the early 2000s.

Recently, the ELN guerrillas have assumed complete control over the municipalities Simití, San Pablo, Santa Rosa del Sur and Cantagallo. These areas collectively account for around 5,000 of the 6,100 hectares of coca cultivation reported in Bolívar in 2017.

The ELN has also set up cocaine processing labs, using the convenient Magdalena River to ferry troops and drugs from these towns to the northern Caribbean coast.

      SEE ALSO: The ELN as a Colombo-Venezuelan Rebel Army

In addition to the above, the ELN has set up illegal gold mining operations in San Lucas. Five mining sites seized in 2016 were estimated to bring in a combined two billion Colombian pesos ($620,000) a year.

Information obtained by InSight Crime during fieldwork in southern Bolívar showed that the situation there could deteriorate in a similar way to parts of Antioquía and Córdoba, where groups such as the Urabeños, Los Caparrapos, the ELN and ex-FARC mafia all vie for control.

But the criminal bonanza may have fostered temporary truces between the ELN and the Urabeños, allowing them to split profits from the cocaine and mining businesses and reduce armed conflict in southern Bolívar.

An example of these truces took place in Simití, where InSight Crime confirmed that the ELN controls coca crops while the Urabeños are in charge of cocaine production and transport.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 15 DEC 2022

The murders of social leaders in Colombia suggest that some armed groups are not yet entirely committed to the government's…

COCAINE / 14 OCT 2022

Ecuador continues to regularly find caches of weaponry belonging to Colombian guerrilla groups, including land mines and hand grenades.

COLOMBIA / 19 APR 2021

Colombia has downgraded the threat level of one of the country's oldest criminal groups, which means fewer resources and troops…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…