HomeNewsBriefColombia's Last Guerrillas Escalate Battle to Control Cocaine Hub
BRIEF

Colombia's Last Guerrillas Escalate Battle to Control Cocaine Hub

COCAINE / 22 MAR 2018 BY ANGELIKA ALBALADEJO EN

An ongoing conflict between Colombia’s two last remaining guerrilla groups continues to escalate along the Colombia-Venezuela border, highlighting the region’s role as an increasingly important and disputed organized crime hub in Latin America.

Following a recent series of violent clashes in northeast Colombia’s embattled Norte de Santander department, former insurgents of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Popular – EPL) have “publicly declared war” against the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), according to a statement published recently on Twitter by the ELN.

In the statement from the ELN’s Northeastern War Front, the guerrilla group interprets the EPL’s latest monthly announcement as a declaration of war due to the inclusion of a threat to “confront [the ELN] without consideration until [the EPL] recovers its territory and people.” The ELN also took issue with the EPL’s claim that “all organizations present in the Norte de Santander territory will align themselves with [the EPL’s] rules.”

The ELN stated that militants and family members of the EPL not actively engaged in the clashes will be “respected” and that “once the current confrontation is cleared up and resolved” the two guerilla groups should work to reach a “final solution” with the local communities of the fought-over region of Catatumbo, considered to be the cocaine hub of the department of Norte de Santander.

Norte de Santander Governor William Villamizar told El Colombiano on March 21 that the intensity of confrontations was beginning to dwindle compared to the deadly clashes of the week prior, and called on the groups to “resolve their differences through actions other than confrontations and leave the civilian population out of it.”

Edgar Andrés Pallares Díaz, the head of Norte de Santander’s institution in charge of public security and human rights, has called on the Colombian government to raise the issue of civilians getting caught in the crossfire at the recently reconvened peace talks with the ELN.

InSight Crime Analysis

The escalating tensions between the ELN and the EPL in Catatumbo are tied to the region’s growing importance as an axis for criminal activities and newly shifting dynamics of criminal control.

As InSight Crime has previously reported, Catatumbo not only has one of the highest yields of coca crops in the country and the ability to cheaply produce cocaine, but its location on the border with Venezuela gives criminal actors access to key drug trafficking routes and other lucrative activities like contraband smuggling and extortion.

The ELN and the EPL both have a long history in Catatumbo, with the EPL in particular enjoying loyalty from the local communities due to its ability to maintain the facade of an ideological drive in spite of operating purely as drug traffickers. However, with the recently “declared war” between the two groups, and the growing presence of several former paramilitary groups like the Rastrojos and the Urabeños, the battle for control could become more protracted and bloody.

SEE ALSO: EPL Profile and ELN News and Profile

Struggles for control over this major center of criminal activity have spiked following the recent demobilization of the country’s former largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), which previously controlled large swathes of the region and had maintained a ceasefire agreement with the ELN and EPL.

Venezuela’s spiraling economic and political crises have also fueled corruption and desperation across the border, strengthening the relationships between Colombian criminal groups and corrupt Venezuelan security forces, and increasing the number of young Venezuelans coerced into providing cheap criminal labor to groups like the ELN and EPL.

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

COCAINE / 21 NOV 2018

Relying on a formula that has become an entertainment industry darling, Netflix has once again produced a series featuring a…

COLOMBIA / 1 MAY 2013

As the biggest irregular army in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia…

COLOMBIA / 26 APR 2011

El Espectador reports that 80 families, including some former members of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…