The guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN) continues to carry out kidnappings in Colombia. After the release of Luis Manuel Díaz, father of the footballer Luis Diaz, the armed group has kidnapped five people, including two minors, in the department of Arauca. This border region with Venezuela is one of the areas most affected by the armed conflict due to the strong presence of various illegal armed groups.
According to the magazine Semana, the events occurred in the municipality of Saravena, where criminals intercepted a group of three men and two women, two of whom were minors. Apparently, the kidnapping took place on Thursday, November 9, but it was not until Monday, November 13, that the case came to light.
Confused with State officials
The kidnapped individuals are reportedly street vendors who, on November 9, the same day as the release of Luis Manuel Díaz, were selling door-to-door in the rural area of the municipality of Saravena, located 150 kilometers from the department’s capital.
The identity of the kidnapped individuals has been disclosed. They are Juan Parrado, 18 years old; Yordi Caicedo, 19; Marvelys Luque, 32; and the minors Miguel Palencia and Wisleidy Planas, both 16 years old. Two of the citizens are reportedly of Venezuelan nationality.
Just as these people were about to have lunch, ELN militants allegedly mistook them for officials of the Colombian State who were conducting intelligence work. The criminals forcibly detained them, holding them captive for several days.
The state has already initiated, in coordination with the Attorney General’s Office, mechanisms to locate the kidnapped individuals and secure their release.
A lingering issue
Defense Minister Iván Velásquez acknowledged that in the first year of President Petro’s government, kidnapping cases increased by 90% in Colombia. Thus, illegal detentions increased from 154 to 293. He detailed that they were mostly perpetrated by the ELN, dissidents of the FARC, and armed criminal structures operating in different locations across the country.
The Ombudsman’s Office has also expressed concern about the increase in this criminal practice. “At the Ombudsman’s Office, we view with concern the increase in this atrocious practice, which affects one of the fundamental rights of human beings, freedom, which should not be restricted by ideologies or to obtain resources that finance illegal or criminal armed groups,” said Ombudsman Carlos Camargo recently.
In this regard, different voices have urged the ELN to definitively abandon the practice of kidnapping as a goodwill gesture to advance the peace process. It is worth noting that the talks between this organization and the Colombian government have reached their first year.
ELN justifies it as a need for financing
However, the response from the group’s commander, alias Antonio García, has not wavered in his denial during all this time, not even with the media attention on the kidnapping of the Colombian athlete Luis Díaz’s father. “The State continues to finance its regular troops with public funds and its paramilitaries with drug trafficking to continue waging war, while trying to impose economic suffocation on us,” the commander of the armed group stated on his social media.
García recently added that “the ELN is as poor as most Colombians and needs kidnapping to survive.” The leader of the illegal armed group also pointed out that authorities cannot demand that they disarm. According to him, this is because there are no clear agreements on changes in the country amid the peace talks they have held with the national government.
“Has the government already solved Colombia’s problems and changed its practices that led to the armed conflict? Therefore, the ELN cannot be asked to disappear or disarm if there is still no agreement on changes in the country; everything is still to be discussed,” Antonio García said.
ELN’s finances, according to the State
However, according to intelligence sources from the Military Forces consulted by RCN Radio, the guerrilla receives 18,000 million pesos monthly, resulting from illicit activities such as kidnapping and extortion.
On average, each of the seven fronts that make up the armed group would be earning 2,500 million pesos monthly for committing these crimes, including illegal mining, according to the cited source.
In this regard, the ELN commander stated that the temporary ceasefire agreed upon in the context of the talks with the Colombian state only covers offensive actions. Therefore, the commission of crimes such as kidnapping and extortion can continue, from his point of view.
Antonio García stated that the ELN “will comply with established protocols,” but not before accusing the government’s peace delegation of “changing the rules of the game” through media manipulation.