Colombia’s progress towards peace is currently threatened. The demobilization of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in 2016, after 52 years of conflict, led many to believe that violence in Colombia would end. However, the slow implementation of the peace process with the FARC, combined with the crisis in Venezuela, is allowing insurgent groups to grow. The National Liberation Army (ELN in Spanish), is taking control of FARC territories and using Venezuela as a sanctuary. It is expanding its role in drug trafficking to fund its military operations and recruit new members. The ELN is now one of the biggest threats to stability in Colombia.
The United States has invested more than $10 billion over the last 15 years in support of Plan Colombia, which is a U.S.-funded plan to significantly reduce drug trafficking and conflict in Colombia. We have a major stake in the country’s stability and peace. The United States must continue to help Colombia combat the ELN and help it to control its border with Venezuela, to ensure that the progress made towards peace does not regress.
First, the United States should push the Duque Administration of Colombia to continue peace protocols with the ELN negotiated by his predecessor. President Duque understandably canceled talks after the ELN’s Urban Front bombed a police academy in January. He also asked the Cuban government to arrest ELN leaders who are currently residing in Cuba. The breakdown of negotiations is counterproductive and will set the country back. Colombia spent years of work building a negotiations framework, and Duque should now meet with the ELN to move the peace process forward.
Second, the United States should assist Colombia in fulfilling the promises made in the FARC peace deal. While they seem unrelated to the ELN, these promises are directly related to the government’s credibility to win back support and trust of rural populations who were under FARC rule. Crop substitution projects, demining efforts, and government services to rural populations will help counter the ELN’s narrative and its ability to exploit them. The Colombian government should aggressively implement the FARC peace deal to stop the threat of more former FARC territories falling under the control of the ELN.
Finally, the U.S. government should help the Colombian security forces gain better control over the border with Venezuela. The ELN takes advantage of dense jungle and river networks to avoid detection, and top leaders are hiding in Venezuela. The United States can help support the Colombian military through increased technology, intelligence cooperation, and monitoring of informal crossings. Gaining more control over the border region will allow the Colombian government to close in on the ELN and hinder its operations.
Many scholars and policymakers warned about the vacuum that would be created after the demobilization of the FARC. The U.S. government must act swiftly and decisively to help Colombia combat the increased belligerence of the ELN.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, U.S. engagement and support brought Colombia back from brink of state failure. After the peace deal with the FARC, the U.S. shifted attention to the demobilization of FARC members and reprogrammed funding towards a “post-FARC’ Colombia. However, the diversion and ultimate decrease in funding undermined the rising security threats Colombia is facing. U.S. engagement to help Colombian security forces address the rising threat of insurgent groups in Colombia is needed now more than ever – to preserve our investment in Colombia’s stability and its historic strides made towards peace.
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Adriianna Lagorio is an M.A. candidate in Security Policy Studies specializing in Counterterrorism and Latin American Security at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She previously studied at the University of San Diego, where she studied International Affairs and Spanish.