Colombia Plans Another False Positive: Dismantling the ELN’s “Linkage” with Venezuela

Misión Verdad

  • The collapse of the Peace Accords and the political use of the ELN
  • The rise to power of Ivan Duque implied a return of Uribism and the political currents of war to power in Colombia.

One of the first actions of the new government was to undermine the Peace Accords and the partial stabilization of the armed conflict, marking a strong agenda of impunity with respect to the assassination of social leaders by paramilitarism.

Colombia’s historic crisis is far from being resolved. And a demonstration of this is, precisely, the return of Uribism and its own agenda of winning the conflict by armed means, relying on the militarization of a good part of the Colombian territory by the United States and on sectors of the ruling class with strategic interests in the expansion of the extractive border (through securitization) of the neighbouring country.

With the Peace Accords, the disarmament of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was crystallised, but the ELN remained pending. The validity of this guerrilla group, which from the beginning distrusted these agreements promoted by the government of Juan Manuel Santos, has served as an excuse to justify the need to prolong the armed conflict and boycott the possibility of a peace scenario.

Sixty years of uninterrupted conflict and more than $9.5 billion in U.S. military aid delivered in recent years have shown that war cannot be won by the Colombian army and its illegal armed wing, paramilitarism, without escalating social and human costs within Colombian society.

This impossibility of settling the conflict by military means has brought enormous consequences for the Colombian State, to the point of plunging it into a constitutional crisis that is sharpening between involutionist positions of different degrees, such as the attempt to extradite former FARC guerrilla Jesús Santrich, as a means to justify the dissolution of the courts, the erosion of the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP) and the imposition of a state of commotion that grants exceptional powers to Ivan Duque.

This structural crisis, added to the aforementioned impossibility of winning the war on the part of the Colombian oligarchy, has resulted in the unproven and forcible linking of the Venezuelan government with the ELN.

The objective behind this linkage, increasingly present in Colombian political and media discourse, corresponds to two strategic objectives, in general terms, as part of the Non-Conventional War against Venezuela:

  • Use this link as an excuse for military intervention (outsourced via Colombia) in Venezuela, since both Colombia and the United States share the objective of fighting organizations designated as terrorists (the ELN is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations).
  • Justify an increase in the U.S. military aid budget to Colombia, which would allow it to reinforce the readiness of the Colombian army and the paramilitary front in possible armed incursions into Venezuelan territory, alluding to “national security” objectives such as combating the ELN. Behind this justification, there is the need to expand the border of coca cultivation to the west of Venezuela.
  • Use the Venezuelan territory as a combat area of the Colombian armed conflict, in order to justify military aggressions against national sovereignty based on an imperative of “fight against terrorism”, previously supported by the United States.
    Justify armed intervention (and subsequent militarization) in areas with vast natural and energy resources in Venezuela (Arco
  • Minero del Orinoco, Faja Petrolífera del Orinoco, Lago de Maracaibo, etc.), where the ELN is supposed to be present. It is necessary to note that these resources are key to Colombia’s energy subsistence (in five years it will no longer have oil in its territory) and to the sustainability of the United States as an Empire.
  • In the event of a fracture of the FANB, bet on the use of certain factions as a front of support to confront the ELN.

With respect to the designation of Venezuelan strategic areas that seek to be positioned as objectives of an intervention under these premises, it is important to highlight an article recently published by the Guardian UK by Bram Ebus.

In the article, Bram Ebus argues (without showing evidence beyond “on the ground” statements that cannot be proven) that the ELN controls gold mines in southern Venezuela, where the strategic Arco Minero del Orinoco is located. The Ebus article somehow concluded the cycle of these informational aggressions against Venezuela. But the most important thing to emphasize is not so much the interruption, but the connections of Ebus himself.

Although Ebus presents himself as a journalist specialized in socio-environmental conflicts, he is a consultant for the NGO International Crisis Group, a group that constantly prepares dossiers to justify an intervention against Venezuela, using the humanitarian crisis category. This NGO’s level of commitment to the coup against Venezuela reached its climax when Luis Almagro used it as a key source for the preparation and subsequent presentation of two reports with which he sought to justify the application of sanctions against Venezuela in 2016.

ELN operations have always been criminalized by the Colombian state (Photo: Andrés Cardona Cruz)

The industrial complex of (dis)information constructs a false positive

Before it matured enough to become a reality, the proposal for the Peace Accords in Colombia originated in Venezuela.

It was during the presidency of Hugo Chávez that the first efforts were made for a political mediation that would offer a non-violent solution to the Colombian conflict. This bid was openly resisted by Uribism, which logically saw its bases of support in danger within the sectors of the Colombian ruling class loyal to the war.

Since this is an indisputable historical reality, even for the sectors of the Colombian right, it is a contradiction that the Venezuelan government is presented (and accused) as an actor that bets on the continuity of the war in Colombia, with its supposed “support” for the ELN.

With these accusations, the Colombian state confirms its inability to resolve its internal conflict, since it distracts its local public opinion by blaming Venezuela for the absence of a solution to the conflict, especially after dynamiting the negotiations with the ELN and proving incapable of controlling paramilitarism and drug trafficking.

The argumentative weakness and scarce evidence that could give credibility to this rhetoric, have turned the informative field into a strategic battlefield to force a climate of opinion favourable to the accusations against the Venezuelan government.

Basically, it is a question of politically reorienting the Colombian conflict towards Venezuela, projecting as an idea-force (outside and inside Colombia) that the definitive resolution of the war in the neighbouring country passes through an effective coup d’état against the Bolivarian Revolution.

In this way, both Colombia and the United States justify regime change in Venezuela as a moral imperative of the fallacious “fight against terrorism”.

In this sense, the forced redirection of the Colombian conflict towards Venezuela becomes evident each time the Colombian political and social scene is altered, which requires that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela assumes responsibilities that do not belong to it.

Proof of this was the accusation of President Ivan Duque after the ELN attacked a battalion of the Colombian army. Duque blamed the Venezuelan government for “protecting ELN leaders,” without producing solid evidence to support this judgment.

A month later, in order to support Iván Duque’s narrative, the influential financial media Bloomberg published a report that deepened this discursive line. In the report, which avoided contrasting with sources other than those affiliated with the Colombian state’s rhetoric of war, it was asserted that Venezuelan troops were preparing and equipping the ELN with anti-aircraft weapons.

Bloomberg used a classic disinformation technique by omitting sources that contrasted the versions presented, while at the same time using different points and spokespersons to create a general consensus fiction about the supposed training of Venezuelan troops for the ELN.

This communicational offensive would then take the form of a swarm, also a classic feature of hybrid wars in their propagandistic application. It is a set of actors, apparently decentralized, that execute operations under a premise of orchestration and specific unity of action, to fabricate the illusion of a generalized and irrefutable idea.

In this order of actions, General Luis Fernando Navarro, Commander of the Armed Forces of Colombia, declared that 1,000 ELN men were in Venezuela. Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, Francisco Santos, also pointed out that the ELN “controls the Venezuelan border”. Repeating this pattern of not showing evidence and placing the accusations on the level of rhetoric, the NGO Fundaredes published the scandalous figure of 15,000 Venezuelan children recruited by the ELN.

With this media panorama built on a tone of alarm and urgency, President Ivan Duque and the self-proclaimed Juan Guaidó had the necessary informative cushion to reinforce the narrative of Venezuela as a supposed “refuge for terrorists” in an informal conversation promoted via social networks.

In addition to this simulation of a supposed conversation between “two heads of state” who share a common concern about the supposed link between the ELN and the Venezuelan government, the head of the Southern Command, Craig Faller, raised the status of “terrorist refuge” as a military emergency for the United States. The narrative is also accompanied by statements by Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes, who accused Venezuela of desecrating the country.

After these statements, the same modus operandi would be repeated after the April attack, well used by Duque to avoid his responsibilities by accusing Venezuela. In both reports, Reuters and Infobae, both media in constant war of information against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, gave credibility to Colombia’s accusations, at the same time that they estimated that a third of the demobilized FARC members were in Venezuela.

In general terms, this selective and alarmist media management aims to mobilize support on different fronts to justify military actions on Venezuelan soil, under the supposed promotion of guaranteeing peace in Colombia and fighting against the threat posed by terrorist groups in the region. The objective is also to mobilize support within Colombian society for a military conflict with Venezuela.

From January to May, a cycle of bellicose declarations, false accusations and irresponsible accusations on the part of the Colombian authorities are visible, describing a worrying escalation for Venezuela’s national security.

The declarations of the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, the Minister of Defence and, of course, President Ivan Duque in coordination with the self-proclaimed Juan Guaidó, stand out for their danger to the peace of the Republic. All of them aim to take for granted that the Venezuelan government, and specifically President Nicolás Maduro, provide shelter to ELN leaders, and favour their recruitment.

It is worth noting that Venezuela’s unproven link with “terrorist organizations” is one of the strategic concerns of the U.S. Southern Command, as established in several of its programmatic and operational documents to justify its deployment in the Latin American region.

Paramilitarism and Overflowing Conflict: Consequences for Venezuela’s National Security

It is with the implementation of Plan Colombia (1999) that the neighbouring country acquires strategic depth (towards the Andes, the Caribbean and the Amazon) as part of the regional geo-strategy of US military control.

What was really a counterinsurgency plan disguised as an anti-drug mechanism quickly turned Colombia into a base of operations for regional destabilisation, with special emphasis on Venezuela.

Proposed and executed in this way, Plan Colombia pursued as an objective not only the extermination of the guerrilla forces, but also the militarization of strategic resources, taking advantage of its geographical projection towards the Amazon and the rich Venezuelan West, a reservoir of large oil reserves.

From the first moment, Plan Colombia was conceived to extend and overflow Colombia’s armed conflict, an excuse under which the militarization of the Andean, Amazonian and Caribbean facade of the region would be justified.

Under this geopolitical calculation, paramilitarism (strengthened by Plan Colombia), well beyond its horrific birth, was also an essential military arm for the expansion of coca growing areas, the expansion of drug trafficking flows and the forced displacement of millions of Colombians located in rural and peasant sectors.

Logically, one of the areas most impacted by this process was the border with Venezuela, both because of the intense migratory flow and because of the penetration of criminal networks related to drug trafficking and paramilitarism, which began to permeate the fabric of the border. A common habitat of centuries such as the Colombian-Venezuelan border suffered the hypertrophy of Plan Colombia, to the point of transforming it into an axis of gravitation of para-economic flows of different origin and impact.

The Colombian guerrilla still has a representative in the ELN (Photo: Andrés Cardona Cruz)

The Colombian armed conflict overflowed and its consequences for Venezuela are manifested not only by the increase in the migratory flow, but also by the assimilation of part of its western border to the ecosystem of narco-paramilitarism.

Since the United States is planning to have the Colombian armed conflict and its paramilitary variant overflow into Venezuela, this situation is being used as an option for war against Venezuela. It forged an operational environment for the deployment of mercenary contractors within the framework of the privatization of the war promoted by Plan Colombia.

According to data collected by researcher Darío Azzellini, arms companies such as Lockheed Martin, Dyncorp, among others, received huge contracts to support mercenaries in the fight against the guerrilla, but also to provide security to transnational companies of diverse types.

The relationship that these contractors established with the Colombian army and paramilitarism is symbiotic, as it was introduced as a vital component in the operations to protect areas where natural resources were extracted and militarization of areas where the guerrillas abandoned their territorial control. They have played a key role in a post-conflict that, in reality, is not such.

This relationship of predominance can be clearly seen when on April 30, the same day that the self-proclaimed Juan Guaidó and the fugitive Leopoldo López stimulated a military coup (failed), Reuters leaked that Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security company Blackwater (now Academi), was working on the proposal to develop a private war against Venezuela with 5,000 mercenaries.

According to Reuters, Prince would be seeking financial support between supporters of President Trump and Venezuelan multimillionaires in the United States. In this sense, the obstacle at this point would be financial, as Prince assumes that the necessary conditions of permissiveness exist for Colombia to be the gateway. After all, U.S. military contractors have been swimming in the neighboring country like fish in water since at least 1999.

Paramilitarism has emerged as a hotbed of mercenaries that private contractors use as a reserve industrial army. A recent demonstration of this was the sending of Colombian mercenaries to the war in Yemen to fight for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and strongly supported by the United States. The company that recruited them was Erik Prince’s academy.

In the light of the data presented, it is not only apparent that the ELN is being instrumentalised to stimulate a binational conflict between Colombia and Venezuela. A favourable scenario for the United States, whereby it can carry out its pillaging campaign against Venezuela without direct involvement, reducing the expenses of the conflict and outsourcing military casualties to the Colombian state.

Beyond this, the permissiveness of the Colombian government with mercenary contractors and their meshing within the global agenda of privatization of war, render the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela a permanently threatened state. Contrary to what the international media is trying to project, attempting to reverse, by means of deceitful headlines, this incontestable reality.

Colombian (and U.S.) Hybrid War

Since the beginning of the regime change operation with Congressman Juan Guiadó at the head, this interest in linking the Venezuelan government with Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) has grown significantly.

This corresponds, first of all, to the instrumental character of the Colombian government within the geopolitics of siege against Venezuela. In this sense, the United States has outsourced in Colombia the implementation of various coup strategies in the framework of the ongoing Non-Conventional War against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The evolution of relations between Colombia and Venezuela in the last two years has been marked by the Colombian government’s intentions to undermine Venezuelan institutions by acting on different fronts.

In this sense, the Colombian government has been positioning the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a “threat to its national security” in an attempt to project itself as a harassed country that requires regional support to defend itself. This narrative, however, is not enough to reverse reality, since Venezuela is the true State attacked and harassed.

To confirm this, it is convenient to enumerate the hybrid aggressions (economic, military, diplomatic) against the sovereignty of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in the last two years:

  • Support, protection and sponsorship to the violent groups paid by the anti-Chávez movement that took part in the clashes against the Venezuelan security forces on February 23, 2019, on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.
  • Several paramilitary incursions in Venezuelan territory (Táchira state) on February 23, 2019, within the framework of the insurrectional operation that was covered by false “humanitarian aid”.
  • Recognition and protection of the self-proclaimed Juan Guaidó, in a clear maneuver to support the fracture of Venezuelan civil and military institutions.
  • Prior knowledge and support for the (failed) “Operation Constitution”, which was intended to kidnap President Nicolás Maduro before the May 2018 elections.
  • Creation of a binational group with the United States (2018) to boycott and illegally confiscate food shipments destined for Venezuela.
  • Illegal seizure of 400 tons of food destined for Venezuela (2018), contained in CLAP boxes, as part of the block agenda.
  • Direct blockade to the contract with the Colombian company BSN Medical, which would make effective the importation of medicines to treat malaria to the Venezuelan population.