Colombia Is Under Threat: ELN Armed Strike

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Currently, if you insert the word “Colombia” into your Google search bar and hit enter, your results won’t alarm you much. The top searches will provide you with a site that will offer an intricate guide of Colombia’s tourism, you’ll get to scroll past the history and facts of this beautiful country, and some old news might appear. Nothing too concerning populates immediately, but this is worrisome considering Colombia isn’t doing so well presently. There’s actually an armed strike that’s being implemented by the ELN (The National Liberation Army) for all of Colombia at the moment and it will go on until 6 AM on the 17th of February. 

As part of the armed strike initiative, the ELN demanded the shutdown of transport throughout the entire country. They are, however, allowing some people to commute to work and do some travel within the city. But there’s no telling how far is too far to travel. Though they say it’s a peaceful strike, it is an armed strike at the end of the day. The locals are skeptical about this ordeal and many have opted to stay confined to their immediate areas out of fear. 

Strikes are not new to Colombia, especially not in recent times. 

These past few month’s, labor unions have taken protests into the streets to express their disdain for Colombia’s current president, Iván Duque. They have protested Duque’s irrational plan to cut the age they can retire, the way they get paid, without any intention of raising the painfully low wages Colombians barely live on. But this strike is different. This one is armed and organized by the ELN. As a matter of fact, the ELN has never taken over the entire country as it is doing now — this is the first one of its kind. Honestly, this situation makes me feel a bit uneasy as well. 

It is important to note that the ELN has nothing to do with Colombia’s official government or anything that was organized by President Duque. This group is basically one of the last standing rebel armies in all of Latin America. They’ve been going strong for over five decades. They had lessened their force when they were in the middle of the Colombian Peace Process, but that didn’t go through. However, now it doesn’t seem as though they will be losing their strength any time soon. In fact, it has been speculated that they have received support from some very vicious people in Venezuela. Many say this is because the goal of the ELN is to become a Colombo-Venezuelan revolutionary group , something that should be avoided at all costs. I mean, there’s enough people unnecessarily suffering in those respective countries as it is already. If you have been thinking of the guerilla while reading this, you are not entirely wrong. Even though the guerilla has been eradicated, the similarities the ELN has to them is uncanny. In other words, the ELN has the potential to be extremely dangerous. 

 

To make matters worse, the ELN released a statement urging (well, practically forcing) people follow their orders:  

 

“Any civilian who travels in a caravan with the military and ends up in the crossfire at checkpoints or during ELN ambushes is responsible for allowing it to be used to sabotage the strike.”

 

There’s no doubt that the proposed peaceful aspect of the strike became foggy as quickly as the strike began. It’s no surprise that people weren’t too keen on this idea — an idea they didn’t agree to in the first place. 

 

In order to combat ELN’s armed strike, President Duque has released some of its militia into the country. Duque’s government spoke out about how he was going to advocate for them and protect them. 

 

“The Military Forces and the National Police will respond with appropriate and legitimate firmness and with full rigor to the threats of these terrorists. We will not allow these criminals to blackmail the Government with terrorism and attacks on the civilian population and infrastructure.” This was the statement provided by Carlos Holmes, the Defense Minister of Colombia. 

This is something that perturbed many citizens. They are wondering, what is really happening? Does the government even have control of what is transpiring? If you look at this situation closely, this armed strike can be deemed as a successful attempt of the ELN taking over the government. Regardless of how frightening this all seems, President Duque has sent soldiers, who are unaware of what to expect, into the streets. 

Aside from this, there’s not much information on what the government of Colombia thinks of this situation since there hasn’t been much media coverage on the situation at hand. Sadly, the press is often censored or threatened into reporting events that go against the government. It is understandable that no government would like to be presented as incompetent to their citizens, but silencinig news outlets isn’t the solution, either. 

The only reason I became aware of this strike is because I personally have family in Colombia. I also had a family member who traveled to Medellín from the United States and was amid the start of this situation. They even had to cut their trip short because the ELN strike was set to affect flights as well. 

All I know is that people are not feeling too great about what’s happening at the moment. People are legitimately afraid. Many are not even stepping out of their homes. 

There are some things circulating through #ParoArmadoELN on Twitter that are depicting what’s happening in Colombia at the moment. Despite being labeled as a peaceful strike, cars that have been vandalized and burnt (presumably by ELN) are being posted. Pictures of empty streets also appear under this hashtag. Mainly, the hashtag features a lot of disappointed and anxious Colombians in regard to Colombia’s actual particular circumstance. 

Photo via Twitter @leonuribe1

 

Photo via Twitter @DJGeorgeJB

This situation pains my heart as this is my birth home. Colombia has agonized far too much throughout its lifetimes and we don’t need to do so again. Hopefully, this strike is as peaceful as the ELN claims it to be and that it truly ends on the date that has been provided. As for now, all we can do is wait.