After yesterday’s admission of responsibility by the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla in the kidnapping of the father of Colombian footballer Luis Diaz, there are many public figures in the country questioning the peace talks with this illegal armed group.
Luis Manuel Diaz, the athlete’s father, was kidnapped on October 27 in Barrancas (La Guajira), the town where the family lives and where the Colombian international footballer hails from. After several days of uncertainty and speculation, it was confirmed yesterday that the ELN was responsible for the criminal act. Interestingly, this illegal organization has been in a dialogue process with the Colombian government for a year amid a bilateral ceasefire.
The high-profile nature of this kidnapping, given the international fame of the victim’s son, has jeopardized the peace process with this guerrilla group. Criticisms and questioning have arisen from people close to the government itself, with some voices even calling for the suspension of the peace talks.
Government Condemns Kidnap and Demands Immediate Release
Simultaneously, government sources announced the ELN’s responsibility for the kidnapping, and state officials condemned the act while demanding the immediate release of Luis Manuel Diaz. In this regard, Interior Minister Luis Fernando Velasco acknowledged that the kidnapping “puts the process” of negotiation at risk.
Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez joined the condemnation and is coordinating a police operation involving over 200 officers to locate and secure Diaz’s release. Meanwhile, Colombian President Gustavo Petro had a conversation with the victim’s son, assuring him that everything possible is being done to secure his father’s immediate release.
Throughout the day, condemnations and calls to the ELN continued. The High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, has demanded that the guerrilla group “immediately release Luis Manuel Diaz (…) and cease the use of kidnapping by this group.” Rueda also stated that “this incident generates mistrust in the peace-building process.”
Finally, Ivan Cepeda, a senator from the government’s coalition and a member of the government’s peace delegation, has demanded “the immediate release of Mr. Luis Manuel Diaz by the ELN, ensuring his life and integrity.” Cepeda reminded the armed group that the practice of kidnapping “violates International Humanitarian Law.”
One of the most outspoken voices was Daniel Quintero, the former mayor of Medellin, an independent aligned with the government coalition, Historical Pact, who called for the “immediate suspension of talks with the ELN.” Quintero also stated that with this kidnapping, the ELN “earns the contempt of all Colombians and demonstrates a lack of peace intentions.”
The Opposition Denies the Dialogues
On the other hand, the political opposition has been even more resolute, denying the peace talks and seizing the opportunity to discredit President Petro’s Total Peace project. Maria Fernanda Cabal, a senator from the conservative Democratic Center party, described the peace dialogue with the ELN as a “farce.”
“The bilateral ceasefire with the ELN terrorists only serves to strengthen them. A complete farce. They are the authors of the kidnapping of Luis Diaz’s father,” the senator wrote shortly after the perpetrators of the kidnapping were identified.
Similarly, David Luna, a senator from the opposition Radical Change party, questioned Petro’s Total Peace and demanded that President Petro take a tough stance against criminals. “The ELN’s confirmation of their responsibility for the kidnapping of Luis Diaz’s father is proof that Petro’s Total Peace has failed. Where did the so-called ceasefire go? Mr. President, protect civil society and stop being lenient with criminals,” Senator Luna wrote.
The opposition party, Radical Change, has expressed similar sentiments. “The ELN is responsible for the kidnapping of Luis Diaz’s father. What is their peace intention with this slap in the face to the country? It is a mockery as the government of change insists on subjugating Colombia to crime under total peace. Meanwhile, Petro tweets about Israel,” read a message on the conservative party’s social media.
The ELN’s Complex Power Structure
Many voices in Colombia rose against the ELN’s criminal action yesterday amid peace talks with the government. Several people don’t understand the actions of this guerrilla group. However, Humberto de la Calle, the former head of the government negotiating delegation with the FARC, indicated that the complex power structure of the ELN conditions its unity.
Unlike the FARC, the ELN does not have a hierarchical structure. In reality, there are various commands that operate almost independently. In this sense, it is possible that the group holding Luis Diaz’s father hostage may not even be in contact with the top leaders of the organization or the government’s peace delegation. It is known that the Northern War Front, a unit of the ELN operating in the Caribbean region, is responsible for the criminal act. At the head of this group is a woman known as alias Patricia, who many media outlets point to as the top person responsible for the action.
Late last night, leaders of the ELN’s Central Command (COCE), who were not involved in this illicit operation, were reportedly trying to coordinate the release of Luis Manuel Diaz with the unit that is holding him hostage in the coming days.