ELN: In-Depth Interview with Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista

Sasha Yumbila Paz

“The categorical disassociation with drug trafficking is an integral part of our essence.”
– Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista

“The Nixon White House…had two enemies: the anti-war left and African-American people (…) We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war or to be black, but to get the public to associate hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then to criminalize them severely, we could break into those communities (…) arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the news Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course we did.”
– John Ehrlichman advisor to President Richard Nixon in a 1994 interview with Dan Baum for Harper’s magazine (online March 22, 2021 [1]).

Fifty years ago, one of the biggest lies in the criminal history of the White House was fabricated, and the effect of the “illusion of truth” [2] became massive after President Nixon’s press conference on June 17, 1971, where he announced the famous “War on Drugs” [3] imposing on the world half a century of a useless, “total (and) worldwide offensive” against drug trafficking and a permanent interventionist strategy of political control that has violated the sovereignty of the countries. The obedient governments of Colombia have transformed the country into a scenario of a fatal war against drug trafficking. Nixon began the anti-drug “global offensive” with a budget of 71 million dollars, but according to official sources, the accumulated amount reached 51 billion dollars in 2019. With the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York the United States developed a worldwide so-called “war on terrorism” which merged with the “war on drugs”.

In Colombia, the objective of the “war on drugs” was to reduce the production and export of cocaine, with the opposite result, as stated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its World Drug Report 2021 [4], Colombia continues to be the world’s leading cocaine producer.

UNODC estimates that coca leaf plantations decreased for the third consecutive year from 154,000 hectares in 2019 to 143,000 hectares in 2020, representing a 7 percent reduction in the area cultivated. However, due to improved agricultural and processing techniques to extract the alkaloid, the UNODC reported an 8 percent increase in cocaine production, from 1,137 tons in 2019 to 1,228 tons in 2020. Why not attack the international market and the profits that remain in U.S. and European banks in the form of money laundering.

International consultant and analyst Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein asserts that, “this is happening in a country where, according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), 3.6 million people have fallen into poverty and 2.78 million into extreme poverty since the beginning of the pandemic, so it is evident that the increase in cocaine production does not bring benefits to the peasants, but to the big capital that traffics in it” [5].

The purchase of votes for the presidential election in 2018 by Duque’s close friend, drug trafficker Ñeñe Hernández, the businesses of drug trafficker Memo Fantasma and Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez, the narco-pilots at the service of the presidential campaign connected through the current president of the House of Representatives of the Democratic Center Jennifer Arias and the narco-laboratory for the processing of cocaine in the Haras de San Fernando farm, located in rural Guasca, Cundinamarca – which used the El Dorado airport in Bogota for shipments to the United States and Europe – of former Colombian ambassador to Uruguay, Fernando Sanclemente; are irrefutable proof that half a century later the “war on drugs” of President Nixon and his successors continues to be functional to the Colombian political mafias anchored in the State. I recommend reading about Mr. Phil Jordan, said to be “one of the most notorious former DEA agents”.

To continue delving into the research on drug trafficking and social and political violence in Colombia, I conducted this interview with Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (Gabino), commander and outstanding political-military strategist and founder of the National Liberation Army -ELN- a guerrilla organization with more than 57 years of armed political struggle.

Gabino is in Havana (Cuba) for health reasons and is currently a representative of the ELN in the search for a political solution to the social and armed conflict that plagues Colombia. In this in-depth interview he shares with us the ELN’s vision on the phenomenon of drug trafficking and the political proposals of this organization to confront this scourge. I hope it will contribute to the clarification of the issue and the search for solutions.

I suggest you make yourself comfortable and enjoy drinking hot coffee while reading the interview.

Sasha Yumbila Paz: On April 12, 2021 Presidential Decree 380 was signed with which Duque intended to resume the Program for the Eradication of Illicit Crops through Aerial Spraying with Glyphosate Herbicide, which was suspended for five years by the Constitutional Court considering the need for prior studies on carcinogenic effects and negative environmental impact; this year they were authorized again but in May a ruling issued by a court in Pasto ordered the suspension of spraying with this chemical. In addition to the impact on health and environmental damage, what impact would the resumption of aerial spraying with glyphosate to eradicate illicit crops have?

Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista: Many analysts and politicians, including former Presidents of Colombia, have argued that the anti-drug policy in Colombia is a failure; this same opinion has even been expressed by politicians and organizations in the United States (US).

Forced eradication with the use of glyphosate, in addition to its serious impact on health and the environment, has other no less serious effects, such as the destruction of this source of subsistence economy of the families that grow coca; it is estimated that close to one hundred thousand families are involved in the phenomenon and depend economically on it. Aerial spraying not only affects coca crops, but also affects the cultivation of bread crops, forcing farmers to move and to cut down new stretches of jungle. Research shows that aerial spraying does not achieve a significant reduction of the crop, but rather its displacement to other areas, strengthening the cartels and exponentially increasing the levels of violence around the phenomenon of drug trafficking, as well as corruption and illegality in the State, which at the same time conceal the phenomenon because it is a powerful economic source for individuals as well as the economic growth of industry, business and commerce in our country for the benefit of the powerful.

S.Y: Is this continuing to make war on the peasantry?

N.R: The war policies of the State applied to drug trafficking are one of the most juicy businesses for the owners of power in Colombia, which is why their essence will not change as long as those in power are neoliberal politicians associated with the U.S. economy, which profits the most from these businesses. That is the underlying reason why they have assassinated more than 150 peasant leaders who, by opposing the violent treatment and enrolling in a voluntary substitution plan, threaten their businesses, which is why they are not interested in ending the cocaine markets.

S.Y: Recently I read a series of articles where they analyzed the ELN regionally, in one of them they stated that in the southwest of the country “the relationship with coca growers forced them to relax their policy of categorical separation from drug trafficking”.

N.R: From the Pentagon institutions in association with the Colombian Military Intelligence and the agencies of psychological modern warfare, a systematic campaign has been designed against the ELN in which it is described as being linked to drug trafficking with the intention of affecting its legitimacy; In this sense, articles abound with lies and half-truths that generate doubts and confusion, there are many friends who ask us about it, we maintain the policy of categorical demarcation because it is part of the revolutionary essence of the ELN in reference to our ideological, political and moral principles, this policy will not be changed but strengthened.

S.Y: You invite the “UN Security Council and an emissary of the Secretary General to participate in this debate and in the Verification Commission”, but what neutrality does it represent to you when a body attached to the UN in charge of monitoring compliance with the anti-drug treaties, in the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of March 25, says that the ELN has alliances with the Sinaloa cartel in Venezuelan territory?

N.R: That statement would be one of the things to be clarified in the debate, because we believe that when we are judged without consideration and using sources provided by those who oppose us, we fall into unilateralism and that does not contribute to the clarification of reality, that is why the most important thing is to concretize the proposal that we put forward.

S.Y: Why would the ELN insurgency make such a serious political proposal (public letter of October 9) to the Government of Duque, if it is fully known that a journalistic investigation (Ñeñepolítica) proved the purchase of votes coordinated from the UTL of former Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez through Caya Daza with the drug trafficker Ñeñe Hernández?

N.R: The Government would be one among many others assisting attendees to experience the reality and we aspire that this reality will admit neither misunderstandings nor deceits, our public policies withstand direct debates with those who oppose us and with our most bitter enemies such as Duque or the third Uribe’s Government.

S.Y: How did the population and the communities receive your proposal, do they support it?

N.R: Several interlocutors have welcomed it and are studying the way in which it can be materialized, this is an activity that due to its importance will not be achieved in the immediate future, but we will continue to persist, in this sense we are open to the contributions of those who are interested in it.

S.Y: It is well known by some sectors of society, especially those who are more committed to the political solution of the conflict, that the Duque Government does not have a Peace and Dialogue Agenda in response to the demands of the organized mobilized communities and the insurgency in Colombia, why persist in the face of a political-economic system that is deaf to the demands and whose policy is militaristic, why insist on a Bilateral Ceasefire?

N.R: Peace is the most sacred right of the peoples, we revolutionaries fight to achieve genuine peace and we will never tire of reaffirming it regardless of the refusal of the Duque and Uribe government, the ELN’s search for peace goes far beyond this government, we are interested that the peoples of the continent and the world are clear about what we are, what we think and to seek peace we are ready for any effort, that is why our delegation remains in Cuba to talk to all those who have an interest in peace in Colombia, we will never give up seeking peace.

S.Y.: “I have just signed the extradition of José Gabriel Álvarez Ortiz, alias ‘Alex’, requested by the US for drug trafficking, and after favorable concept of the Supreme Court of Justice this criminal of the ELN narcoterrorist group is requested by the Court for the Southern District of Texas”, said in his official Twitter account Iván Duque last March 29, for which the ELN replied in the same month: “A necessary clarification” [10] title of the public statement in which it denies that Alvarez Ortiz “is a member of the ELN, just like the other three who say they will be extradited”; what is your interpretation of these extraditions?

N.R: I have said that our enemies have the purpose of demonstrating that we are involved in drug trafficking based on lies and half-truths, I reiterate with the necessary forcefulness the content of the communiqué where we deny that such persons are members of the ELN.

S.Y: Why the insistence of the Duque Government to include the ELN in the list of the Treasury Department as Sdnt (Specially Designated Narcotrafficker) or Sdntk (Specially Designated Narcotrafficker Capo)?

N.R: Duque has today only 16 percent approval as President and there are two causes for this, a closed attitude of violence against the humble and a conduct subordinated to the designs of U.S. imperialism, that is why he not only states the lie that you point out, he also expresses many others, the man is faithful to the interests of Washington as everyone knows, he does not have the approval as President not even that of the entire political elite.

S.Y: What would be the ELN’s concrete proposal to overcome the problem of drug trafficking?


* Only the legalization of psychoactive substances will put an end to the extraordinary profits of drug trafficking and its raison d’être.

* A pact of shared responsibility is needed between drug-producing and drug-consuming countries.

* Drug addicts are sick people who should be cared for by the States and should not be prosecuted as criminals.

* Farmers who work with illicit crops should have alternative plans for food production or industrial raw materials, financed by the States, so that they can resolve their subsistence without resorting to illicit crops.

* In addition to going after the cartels in the countries that produce narcotics, we must also go after the distribution cartels in the industrialized consumer countries, as well as the chemical precursor cartels and the launderers of the drug money in the national and international financial system and in tax havens.

The Southwestern War Front Comandante Carlos Alberto Troches, acts within the same national policies in which the other War Fronts act.

S.Y: What is the ELN’s policy on the categorical demarcation with drug trafficking?

N.R: We are not linked to that illicit trade, we are not owners of crops, we do not have supply routes or laboratories, we do not have means of transport for that illicit trade, we do not have investments either in the business or in the fruits of that business, nor do we have relations with the cocaine cartels.

Another thing entirely different is that there are individuals who pretend to be from the ELN who are drug traffickers, or former ELN leaders who marginalized themselves have joined the ranks of drug traffickers, or that ELN commanders have been contacted by enemy intelligence and in an act of treason have committed themselves and carried out drug trafficking activities in compliance with their plans to accuse the ELN of being drug traffickers, Or that people who in certain circumstances were part of grassroots structures to help collect a tax, have disassociated themselves from the ELN and act on its behalf with an individualistic and opportunistic spirit of profiting from this phenomenon.

These are realities that have occurred and that exist, but they cannot be confused or serve as an example to suggest that the ELN has changed its policy of categorical dissociation from drug trafficking; it is no secret that the strategists of the wars against the peoples use lies and deception and develop them as part of their counterinsurgency war [6].

S.Y: What control mechanisms does the ELN employ so that its War Fronts [7] are not involved in drug trafficking?

N.R: The most important thing is the training, education and discipline within the structures established in the geographic areas such as the War Fronts and the Guerrilla Fronts.

All the members of the ELN are attached to hierarchical structures with their respective commands and are subject to disciplined and managed policies from the combatants to the most experienced cadres; this is the main guarantee for acting in accordance with the national political guidelines.

Together with this there are the Statutes, Codes and Regulations that make up the internal legislation, these are concrete mechanisms that contribute to develop what is for us the revolutionary vigilance, so that we act within the political definitions and the regulations established in the National Congresses as the highest internal democratic authority.

When there are cases of those who violate or fail to comply with what has been defined, there are corrective measures ranging from a call for attention to sanctions, which corresponds to any structure governed by internal legislation.

S.Y: Why do you charge a tax to the buyers of coca paste in the regions where there are crops?

N.R: The ELN has a policy similar to that of the States in terms of taxing all persons or financial institutions that have businesses, land or trade system where the ELN has its territories or control capacity, we charge a tax that we try to establish by common agreement, this is how it works in most cases; of course the traders that profit from the work of peasants forced to work in illicit crops for reasons of social exclusion, cannot be the exception since these traders are part of those who benefit the most from the business.

The ELN is an armed insurgent force that supports thousands of people who are in its ranks and this demands a lot of resources and finances, especially in the context of the war we live in, apart from the normal support of any person, weapons and other supplies and logistics are extremely expensive because we are forced to supply ourselves in illegal markets.

The contributions in kind from the humble population, who are never taxed, and the direct production of our troops are not enough to cover the expenses and needs of a force at war.

No entity assigns a budget to the ELN, we must obtain it in the midst of confrontation, we have never denied that we suffer shortages, we do not hide that and we prefer it to be that way, rather than getting involved in drug trafficking.

S.Y: There are studies that indicate that coca crops have expanded in areas where there is a historical presence of the insurgencies, what explanation do you have for this?

N.R: It is a product of the counterinsurgency war, of the abandonment of the countryside by the State, in addition to the particularities of the national geography.

The US counterinsurgency experience applied in Vietnam was also applied in Colombia; “taking the water from the fish” means breaking the links between the insurgents and the population.

In Colombia, war planners saw that this was applied by deteriorating relationships between the insurgency and the population through inducing the idea of an “easy life”, which then led to the rupture of the habits of collective, austere and modest effort of the poor peasantry, dazzling them with the individualistic mafia culture generated by drug trafficking; they planned for this degradation to remove the villagers’ support for the guerrillas.

Likewise, by confronting drug trafficking with war operations, they outlawed life in the regions where illicit crops were grown, thus taking another leap in counterinsurgency action, because now the “Internal Enemy” is both the guerrillas and the population.

With this counterinsurgency conception came the massacres, assassinations and forced displacement because all of this was part of the purpose of “taking the water from the fish”.

In this counterinsurgency war, narco-paramilitarism concealed the real intellectual authors, the politicians, businessmen, landowners and merchants, obeying the plans of the U.S. government, who make lucrative business out of drug trafficking, which they share with their local partners.

In this complex reality, the ELN adjusted its methods to face this new reality, overcame the difficulties and continued until today without the counterinsurgency policy of “taking the water from the fish” having triumphed.

S.Y: What is the proposal sent by the ELN to the State Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Colombian Government, in the Open Letter of October 9, 2020 [8] and ratified on April 3, 2021 to the President of the Global Commission on Drug Policy [9], about?

N.B: The ELN’s position is that drug trafficking, as an economic, social, environmental and cultural phenomenon, can only be overcome with political initiatives of the same nature: economic, social and cultural, not with police measures and no attention to the reality of the peasants and their communities or of the millions of addicts (…) Given the responsibility that we have, we propose:

1. To carry out a national and international debate where we analyze if what the ELN does is different from what we express here.

2. To form an International Commission to verify on the ground if the ELN has crops, laboratories, infrastructure or routes for drug trafficking, or if it has business with chemical precursors used in the production of cocaine.

3. Invite the UN Security Council and an emissary of the Secretary General to participate in this debate and in the verification Commission.

4. Agree to a Bilateral and Temporary Ceasefire with the National Government as urged by the UN Secretary General, Pope Francis and the UN Security Council, in order to better carry out the humanitarian work required to confront Covid-19; a ceasefire that would also create conditions for this debate, as well as for the work and guarantees of the International Commission that we propose.

5. To take up the proposals put forward on different occasions by the ELN with the purpose of reaching an Agreement that overcomes the phenomenon of drug trafficking with the participation of the international community, the communities of the regions that suffer from this scourge and the diverse sectors of Colombian society.

S.Y: How would this debate be carried out or under what mechanisms?

N.R: If it were to materialize, both those who are invited and the inhabitants of the regions who know the reality best would participate actively, and we would spare no effort so that diverse organizations and personalities of the country contribute to the necessary clarification.

S.Y: After the publication of this proposal, Commander Uriel stated that the Western War Front had the conditions and the disposition to receive the International Commission to materialize the proposal, does that proposal still stand on the part of that War Front, if we take into account that the response of the Duque Government was to assassinate him?

N.R: That front is available for that, Commander Uriel spoke as a spokesman for the political thinking of the ELN and in particular of that Front.

S.Y: The ELN has experience in military intelligence and control in some areas, therefore, do you handle identification of politicians, businessmen and other personalities who benefit from drug trafficking or the owners of the laboratories and who control the routes?

N.R: Yes, your statement is correct and when it has been necessary we have made concrete and forceful charges, we have a lot of information that will be made public when the time comes, so that the truth always prevails.

S.Y: You invite the “UN Security Council and an emissary of the Secretary General to participate in this debate and in the Verification Commission”, how neutral is it for you when a body attached to the UN in charge of monitoring compliance with the anti-drug treaties, in the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of March 25, claims that the ELN has alliances with the Sinaloa cartel in Venezuelan territory?

S.Y: Finally, tell us about the experience of voluntary substitution of coca crops in Arauca by the communities, what was your involvement in this process?

N.R: The population, particularly the social organizations understood that the illegalization of the population’s livelihood was a breeding ground for the State to violently destroy the popular organizations, that is why in their Assemblies they defined the end of the coca plantations.

As ELN, what we did was to support them as much as we could, respecting the decisions of their legitimate organizations; at that moment, the main obstacle was with the FARC, which did not agree with that decision of the population, however, the strength of the momentum left them no alternative but to accept it.

The Araucanian population have the experience to share but neither the governments nor their cartels are interested in it; once coca leaf production ended, Arauca returned to being the agricultural and livestock pantry of eastern Colombia, thanks to the levels of popular organization, all done without the support of the State or the international community.


[1] Dan Baum, 1994, Legalize It All -How to Win the War on Drugs- (Harper’s Magazine) USA, https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/ (accessed: August 1, 2021)

[2] (Explanatory note) “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” Nazi Germany propaganda ministry law. Among psychologists, this is known as the “illusion of truth” effect. (Joseph Goebbels served as Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1945).

[3]Richard Nixon, Comments on an intensified program for the prevention and control of drug abuse. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/240238 (Accessed August 1, 2021).

[4] The World Drug Report 2021 (https://wdr.unodc.org/) states that in the last year about 275 million people in the world used drugs, “22% more than in 2010”. This was partly due to the increase in the world population, but the market has remained stable in proportional terms.

[5] Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein, 2021, Colombia y USA: productores y consumidores unidos jamás serán vencidos (La Pluma) Spain, http://www.lapluma.net/2021/08/05/colombia-y-usa-productores-y-consumidores-unidos-jamas-seran-vencidos/ (accessed August 6, 2021).

[6] (Explanatory note) Counterinsurgency is the set of policies, instruments and practices of the exercise of force and violence that States apply in order to subdue rebel movements. When popular rebellions are expressed with weapons of war, the state response is counterinsurgency warfare.

After World War II, the socialist bloc was established, whose leadership was exercised by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics USSR, and on the other side by the United States, which led capitalist imperialism.

Although once the Second World War was over, the countries of the then Socialist Bloc and the capitalist countries agreed on the UN Charter to settle conflicts and guarantee world peace, the rivalry continued, which fueled conflicts in Asia, Africa and Latin America and unleashed the arms race and the danger of atomic war, in what was called the Cold War.

The United States, starting in 1961, advanced a counterinsurgency war plan to prevent new revolutions; to which they gave the category of low intensity warfare whose essence is preventive warfare, to defeat the internal enemy in its cradle; they start from the vision that the rebel power rests in the trade union, peasant, university and religious movements, declaring them a threat to national security.

Given that the triumph factor of guerrilla warfare is based on winning the minds and hearts of the people for the revolutionary cause by creating territorial powers that improve the life and security of the inhabitants, the counterinsurgent strategies are based on destroying the revolutionary base, “taking the water from the fish”. To this end, they apply methods of psychological warfare, that is, terrorism, fear, and surveillance, which are delegated to the paramilitaries and also to civil-military operations.

In order to give shape to the counterinsurgency warfare capabilities of the local armed forces, they created the School of the Americas and from 1962 onwards deployed countless training, advisory and operational missions in Latin America, prioritizing assistance to Colombia.

In 1962, as part of the LASO Latin American Security Plan, an advisory mission led by U.S. Army Lieutenant General William P. Yarborough recommended that Colombia should be the first country in the region to receive assistance. Yarborough recommended for Colombia the establishment of five special forces detachments attached to the brigades destined to the pacification of rural areas, the collaboration between the Administrative Department of Security (das), the National Police and the Armed Forces, in intelligence, counterintelligence and coordination and standardization of national counterinsurgency programs; and to arrange a team to select civilian and military personnel for clandestine training in resistance operations, develop counterespionage and counter-propaganda functions and execute sabotage against communist supporters.

The decision to create paramilitary structures attached to the FFMM was taken in 1962, before the emergence of the FARC and ELN guerrillas in 1964, it is the military and police doctrine that caused the State terrorism and the ongoing genocide in Colombia.

[7] (Explanatory note) Each War Front is composed of Guerrilla Fronts, Companies and Specialized Teams.

ELN War Fronts:

Northern War Front Commander José Manuel Martínez Quiroz.
Northeastern War Front Commander-in-Chief Manuel Perez Martinez
Western War Front Omar Gómez
Darío Ramírez Castro War Front
Eastern War Front Eastern War Front Commander in Chief Manuel Vásquez Castaño
Central War Front Darío de Jesús Callé Correa
South Western War Front Commander Carlos Alberto Troches
National Urban Warfare Front Commander-in-Chief Camilo Torres Restrepo

[8] ELN, 2020, Carta abierta al Departamento de Estado, a la Fiscalía Federal de los EEUU y al gobierno colombiano (Rebelión) Spain, https://rebelion.org/propuestas-para-erradicar-el-narcotrafico/ (accessed August 3, 2021).

[9] ELN, 2021, Letter to the Global Commission on Drug Policy (Rebelión) Spain, https://rebelion.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/colombia_dreifuss.pdf (accessed August 3, 2021).

[10] ELN, 2021, A Necessary Clarification (Latin American Summary) Argentina, http://www.resumenlatinoamericano.org- https://www.resumenlatinoamericano.org/2021/04/01/colombia-eln-una-aclaracion-necesaria/ (Accessed: August 3, 2021)

Contact  Sasha Yumbila Paz: Twitter: (@SashaYumbilaPaz)

Translation by Internationalist 360°