Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gestures during a joint press conference with former US president and 2002 Nobel peace prize laureate, Jimmy Carter (out of frame) after a meeting on January 12, 2013, at Narino Presidential Palace in Bogota, Colombia. AFP PHOTO/Guillermo LEGARIA
As media continue to delve into the bloody aftermath of Algeria’s hostage crisis, a similar situation is unfolding in South America.Five employees of Canada’s Braeval Mining are currently in the hands of a Colombian insurgent movement, the National Liberation Army (ELN). This incident highlights two important but often-overlooked facts. One, kidnapping civilians is still a common tactic used by insurgent movements from North Africa to South America. Two, Colombia has security challenges other than the FARC to face.
The ELN is the country’s second-largest rebel group, and the Braeval Mining kidnapping is not its first foray into the business in recent memory: membersseized 11 employeesof an oil company last February and held them hostage for days before releasing them in early March. The freshest reports on the Braeval hostages indicate that the five individuals (two Peruvians, two Colombians and one Canadian) were at a gold mine in the Norosi region (north of Bogota) when they were kidnapped by an ELN unit known as “Simon Bolivar.” The miners remain, as noted, in ELN’s hands as Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos discuss the status of the hostages.The Peruvian Ministry of Defensehas declared that it will send a navy officer to Bogota to serve as a liaison with local authorities as the Colombian military tracks down the hostages. Meanwhile, Colombian security forces have reportedthe capture of three ELN guerrillasinvolved in the kidnapping, and suggest this advancement as a sign that they are closing in on the ELN bloc.
This comes as unwelcome news for the Colombian government, which has spent months meeting with FARC representatives in Norway and Cuba to discuss an end to the decades-old internal war. As a sign of good faith the FARC had declared a unilateral two-month cease-fire during negotiations – but the truce expired this past Sunday. Nevertheless, during the temporary cease-fire Bogota stated thatthe FARC had violated their own cease-fire 52 times.
True, Bogota coming to peace terms with insurgents is not without precedent — in the late 1980s, the government of Virgilio Barco Vargas reached a peace agreement with the group M19, which eventually demobilized and became a political party. But this point it looks, understandably, uncertain if the peace talks will progress. And even if some permanent agreement is reached, it will leave many loose ends. Santos has focused his efforts more or less exclusively on the FARC. And a deal with them is not a deal with the ELN. Or with the smaller criminal groups heavily involved in drug trafficking — known as BACRIM, forbandas criminalesor criminal gangs – that have become widespread in Colombia. One of the BACRIMs is the group known asLos Rastrojos, suspected of having carried outa massacre in which 10 Colombian peasants were killedin November. (A major Rastrojo leader,Jhoyner Aljhady Cabrera Rivera, was recently captured; his arrest, however, did no real damage to the group’s functioning).
In other words, shutting down the war with the FARC will do little to end battles with any of the other paramilitary or criminal groups currently challenging governmental sovereignty in Colombia. Patience may be a key part of diplomacy. But it is doubtful whether any populace would be willing to wait out the seemingly interminable peace process here – especially since it would likely clear the field for a new top insurgent group.