Cuba Tipped Off Colombia about Looming Left-Wing ELN Rebel Attack

Cuba has tipped Colombia off about a plan by the left-wing ELN guerrilla group to attack Bogota in the “next few days,” Colombia’s defense minister said Monday as quoted by France24.

“The Colombian government received from the Cuban ambassador… Jose Luis Ponce a communication with an alleged terrorist attack that was being planned for Colombia by the ELN group,” Diego Molano said in a statement. “Our armed forces and police have all deployed capacity in all Colombia cities, regionally, to protect all Colombians” .

Ponce’s two-paragraph letter said the attack was planned for the coming days. But it added the embassy could not evaluate the “verisimilitude” of the information. Cuba asked the ELN delegation – which remains in Havana – about the possible attack, the letter said, and the delegation “expressed total ignorance.”

Since May 2018, Havana has hosted a delegation from the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the last active guerrilla organization operating in Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement by the main rebel group, the FARC, which was negotiated on the island.

The ELN rebels had been angling for a similar truce with then-president Juan Manuel Santos that would completely end the civil conflict that had stretched on for more than half a century. But Santos’ successor, President Ivan Duque, broke off talks after the ELN detonated a car bomb at a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 people, in addition to the attacker, in January 2019.

Cuba said in the memo, signed by its ambassador, that it had shared the intelligence with the guerrilla delegation on the island, but that the ELN representatives “expressed total ignorance” of the plot.

The ELN delegation also “reiterated that it has no involvement in the military decisions or operations of the organization,” according to the memo, released by Colombian officials. After the breakdown of the peace process, Duque demanded that Cuba extradite the rebels in its territory, which President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s government opposed.

Cuba should extradite the ELN negotiators, Colombia’s High Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos said in the broadcast with Molano. Colombia has repeatedly urged Cuba to extradite the negotiators on charges related to the police academy bombing.

“This declaration and official communication from the Cuban government confirms the great division there is within the ELN,” Ceballos said. “The Eastern Front insists on standing in the way of the real will for peace.”

Havana argued that there are protocols signed by Colombia and guarantor countries that provide for the ex-negotiators to be safely returned to their camps on Colombian soil.

The government of former US president Donald Trump used Cuba’s refusal as an argument to include the island nation again on its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The ELN has some 2,300 combatants and an extensive support network in urban centers. Bogota also condemned the fact that a significant number of the rebels are in Venezuela under the protection of “the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.”

The ELN, founded by radical Catholic priests in 1964, is widely considered to be less centrally controlled than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, which inked a peace deal in 2016.