Image A fight for natural resources in Colombia

A fight for natural resources in Colombia

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Last week, a cease fire between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), a communist guerrilla army, came to an end, and the rebels went straight to work attacking the county’s oil infrastructure. 

Colombia’s ELN rebels attacked oil installations and Colombia’s military on Wednesday.

“The government was always willing to extend the ceasefire. Inexplicably, the ELN refused,” said Santos in a televised address. “Under the circumstances I have ordered the return of our chief negotiator to evaluate the future of talks.”

Peace talks were scheduled to start on Wednesday in Ecuador.

Three ELN bomb attacks targeted the Cano Limon oil pipeline, which takes crude oil from the Cano Limon oil field to the port of Covenas. According to the government, the attacks have forced the suspension of pumping for the second most significant pipeline in the country. 

The ELN also attacked a naval base in Arauca with grenades, injuring two soldiers. The state company Ecopetrol also reported an attack on a facility in a rural area in Casanare.

ELN rebels training.(Federico Rios/New York Times)

Since then, the ELN has kept up the pressure on the country’s oil infrastructure. Over the weekend, the ELN conducted a kidnapping raid on the provincial offices of an oil company, and have conducted continuing attacks on pipelines. Consequently, Colombian oil production is down over 20% relative to this time last year.

Colombia has been in a state of violence nearly continuously since 1948. What started as a civil war between left and right wing paramilitaries, morphed into guerrilla war waged by the government, and then into a drug war. The recent shift to resources reflects changes in Columbia’s economy; the country’s negligible fossil fuel exports in the mid 1980s have grown to around half of their exports.

Both the government and the rebels are attacking each other’s access to natural resources. Colombia’s infamous cocaine industry is now small potatoes, with gold mining bringing in 3 times ($2.4 bn) as much for criminals and rebels.

Police destroying mining equipment in southwestern Colombia, near the community of Barbacoas. (Juan Manuel Barrero)

The ELN has said that it will not extend the truce unless it is under new terms. The truce is the first ever, and began in October.

“We’re seeking a response from the government to see if it’s interested in finding a way out of this incident. If there’s a positive response, the ELN delegation will remain in Quito,” said Pablo Beltran, chief ELN negotiator in Quito, Ecuador, where the talks were scheduled to begin.

The situation, which has failed to be resolved through violence, may be resolved politically. May will mark the first elections since 2014, and voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on the peace process.  

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