“Now It’s Worse Than Before” Interview With A Soldier On The Front Lines Of Colombia’s Armed Strike (Combat Footage)
Last weekend, Marxist insurgent group ELN called an “armed strike” or forced curfew in parts of the country they dispute with the government and other illegal groups. The group seems to be growing stronger, and the government of President Ivan Duque and his Centro Democratico party is widely seen as ineffective in combating them.
While hungry soldiers (see below) battled insurgents over the weekend during the armed strike called by narco-rebels, the country’s President Ivan Duque claimed to be on a “spiritual retreat.”
The guerillas claim to be political revolutionaries but are closely tied with international narcotrafficking rings. Under the current presidential administration, coca cultivation, for processing into cocaine has reached record highs.
Now it’s worse than before. Before, we knew who we are fighting. Now there are so many groups…
The strike over the weekend embarrassed the government which appeared helpless to stop it over the weekend. There are now reports of ELN presence in the heart of coffee country. In Risaralda, near the city of Pereira the army captured 117 antipersonnel mines, 12 bars of plastic explosive, fusing material and an ELN banner. While the Duque administration refuses to implement the peace process negotiated by the previous centrist administration, it also seems either unable or unwilling to halt the advance of the previously almost inconsequential ELN, or cocaine production, which once again appears to be on the rise.
Above photo: bombing of highway by rebel guerillas last week
Though a large part of the former FARC rebels laid down arms and accepted amnesty in the peace process, dissident members refused, out of ideology, a desire to remain outside of the law, or simple mistrust of the government to honor its commitments under the incoming (current) administration. Now these groups are fighting not for a communist utopia, but for money, territory, power & impunity. Civilians, especially the rural poor and indigenous groups suffer most.
Finance Colombia was able to communicate briefly with a career soldier on the front lines in the troubled region of Tumaco to understand the situation from the point of view of the soldier on the ground. The soldier is a career NCO in Colombia’s naval infantry (Marines), equivalent roughly to a sergeant first class in the US military. Unaligned with Colombia’s political movements or ideologies, the man, with a wiry build and in his late 30s chose the military as a career as a path towards career stability and away from an unstable family life in his youth.
Finance Colombia: How’s it going?
Marine: (translated from Spanish) It’s hot (active combat) here. They are disputing narcotrafficking routes. Where I have been these past days there have been intense clashes. The FARC dissidents versus all those other groups that exist. These routes head towards the sea, and for that they are fighting over territory, and that is displacing civilians.
Finance Colombia: What’s going on with the ELN’s armed strike?
Marine: Well, my understanding is that this group is sending a message to Colombia and the president that it’s the ELN with the power to paralyze the economy, and that everyone recognizes that worldwide. Perhaps to bring the government to the negotiating table.
Finance Colombia: Does the military have what it needs to defend against the strike?
Marine: No. We don’t have what we need. The ELN is an organized structure and their mode of operation is terrorism. So one or two members under civilian cover place explosives and end up controlling (out of fear) the entire territory where they have a presence.
Finance Colombia: Why do these groups seem to be strengthening now?
Marine: They are well financed by the big drug cartels, now out of Sinaloa (México, no longer run out of Colombia as in the 1980s & 1990s). Now it’s worse than before. Before, we knew who we were fighting. Now there are so many groups, fighting over routes to smuggle out the coca.
The soldier also indicated that they lack food, the command isn’t providing them with adequate food to sustain themselves in the field and what they do receive is of extremely low nutritional value—a bag of lentils, a small portion of rice per day.