ELN expands to connect Colombia and Venezuela

Maduro grants ELN troops free reign to expand in Venezuela in exchange for their loyalty.

ELN expansion Colombia An ELN poster reads "never surrender." Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) – Colombia’s last remaining guerrilla movement – is building a mobility corridor to facilitate control over the roads that connect the country’s Pacific coast to its eastern border with Venezuela, according to news outlet Verdad Abierta.

Alerts from the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia indicate that the new route would cross through the departments of Antioquia, Southern Bolívar, North Santander and Arauca. 

“It seems that the ELN are attempting to position themselves in zones that were previously controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” the office has warned, adding that such expansion is likely to be motivated by a desire to increase mobility between the ELN’s different fronts, which are spread across Colombia.

It seems there is also new motivation for ELN factions to expand into Venezuela. In recent interviews with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), armed forces commanders of both Colombia and the United States in Latin America indicated that President Nicolas Maduro’s government has given free reign for the group to expand in Venezuelan territory. 

Read more: Armed non-state groups planting landmines are damaging post-conflict Colombia, says High Commissioner for Peace.

In exchange for the safe haven they are being provided, Maduro expects ELN rebels to serve his regime, the WSJ claims, although representatives from the Venezuelan government have declined several of WSJ’s requests to comment on the topic. 

The leftist guerrilla group, which has engaged in criminal activities since the 1980s, has over one thousand troops in Venezuela at the moment including Venezuelan nationals, according to government estimates published by Semana. And the group’s total numbers are believed to be around 2,500, estimates Insight Crime.    

As the ELN expands, territorial disputes between local leaders and factions of the guerrilla group have triggered a series of “violent events,” claims the Ombudsman’s office, citing affronts to the freedom, integrity and security of the local civilian population caught in the crossfire.

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