Colombia's longest-running insurgency may be winding down, but that won't necessarily bring peace to the troubled nation. The mayor of Toribio in Cauca department told El Pais newspaper on March 19 that former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had been spotted in the area wearing the uniforms of the National Liberation Army (ELN) — a smaller guerrilla group that is not included in the FARC's recent peace deal with the Colombian government. According to the Colombian media outlet's report, the ELN is expanding its control of illegal mining and drug trafficking activities in Cauca, with the help of members of the FARC's Front 60 who refuse to lay down their arms.
The ELN's encroachment on Cauca, and especially Toribio, is notable because the region has historically served as a FARC stronghold. Though the ELN began its own peace talks with Bogota in February, its actions on the ground are anything but peaceful. In 2017 alone, the group has already launched more than 20 attacks against oil pipelines and Colombian security forces, including one in the country's capital. The assaults have taken a toll on Colombia's oil production: Damage to the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline, for instance, has reduced output by 52,000 barrels per day since the start of February.
Cauca is not the only department witnessing the ELN's effort to rekindle its insurgency, either. The group has attempted to take control of other FARC positions such as Tumaco, on the Pacific Coast, and northern Choco. The ELN's attacks have proved particularly strong in the eastern department of Arauca, where one of its top commanders — known only by his alias, Pablito — deeply opposes the idea of negotiating a peace deal with the government. Chief ELN mediator Pablo Beltran, however, has denied the existence of any dissent within the group over the talks.
As the FARC completes the process of demobilizing, Colombia's remaining armed groups, including the ELN and criminal organizations like the Clan Golfo, will move to snatch up the territories the insurgency leaves behind. (The FARC delivered the first batch of 140 weapons to a U.N. team in Colombia last week, and it is scheduled to have handed over all 14,000 of its weapons by June 1.) In fact, the ELN has already clashed with other criminal groups while working to secure its hold over the FARC's illegal mining and drug empires. And as the competition for the FARC's abandoned land and resources intensifies, so will the violence that has plagued the country for decades.