After more than two years of the terrorist attack against the Police Cadet School, which left 22 dead, the Government of Iván Duque has dealt a blow to one of the most media figures of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last guerrilla active in Colombia. Andrés Felipe Vanegas, aliases Uriel, He was killed in a joint action by the Army and the Police in the jungle municipality of Nóvita, in the department of Chocó, on the west coast of Colombia.
He was the third in command of the structure of the so-called Western War Front and although, according to analysts, his death does not end with the guerrilla front, it does represent a "high value objective" for the Armed Forces, which are in the middle of a credibility crisis due to the increase in massacres and reports of abuse of various kinds. “One of the most visible figures of that terrorist organization has fallen. But also, a criminal who used social media, social networks, to apologize for crime, "said the president, Iván Duque, at a press conference.
Media and radical, opposed to the possibility of negotiations between the ELN and the Government -discarded by Duque-, Uriel He was an old acquaintance among journalists who he used to call or send audios and videos with statements from the guerrillas. In the national media it was surprising why, if he was so active in networks, he had not yet been caught. Regarding this, the commander of the Military Forces, Fernando Navarro, said that "it was an operation that required patience and persistence, more than a year with a long infiltration through the Chocoan jungle."
However, the last of the public communications of Uriel It put him even closer on the authorities' radar. At the end of September, he spoke about the protests on the 9th and 10th of that month against a case of police abuse, which destroyed 50 Commands for Immediate Action of the Police (CAI) in Bogotá. In an audio that was circulated through social networks, he said that the "ELN supports every outbreak of rebellion and protest against the system" and that the CAIs were "torture centers." The Government affirmed that this was the proof of the infiltration of that armed group in the riots that allegedly left 13 dead at the hands of the Police and that these were not spontaneous but premeditated and coordinated. But in one of his interviews with Snail Radio, aka Uriel He said that "it would not be correct to say that the ELN is the one who is the protagonist of the different demonstrations and mobilizations and attempted riots that occur in the country", but that they were "thinking about the cities."
Although the killed guerrilla did not have command over the urban fronts, according to the police commander, General Óscar Atehortúa, he was in charge of recruiting young people in several cities and thanks to communications with them they managed to locate him. "The neutralization of Uriel it is a strategic blow against their intentions to destabilize the cities ”, added the Minister of Defense, Carlos Holmes Trujillo.
For this reason, this operation also means for the government a way of reinforcing the idea promoted by the minister that the guerrillas have infiltrated the protests, something that has been rejected by different political sectors because they consider the social movement stigmatizing. It also allows the Ministry of Defense to answer the criticisms of several senators about the increase in the ELN guerrilla in the two years of Duque's mandate. “At the beginning of Duque, in official figures, the ELN had 1,500 men under arms; last year there were 2,000 and now there are 4,500 ”, said Congressman Roy Barreras, during a political debate to the Minister the previous Friday.
Minors in the camp
The operation against aliases Uriel He was also involved in a controversy over the presence of minors in the camp. General Navarro confirmed that the guerrilla was surrounded by 15 members of that guerrilla and among them were two children "who were not part of that group." He added that for that reason "they took all measures within the framework of International Humanitarian Law." The armed group took them in their flight, according to Navarro.
The caution with which they acted in this case has to do with the fact that in 2019 it became known that the then Minister of Defense, Guillermo Botero, hid the death of eight minors in a bombing against the camp of a dissident of the FARC. And recently, Congressman Barreras also denounced that, according to reports from Legal Medicine, it was not only these young people, but that at least 36 minors have died in Army operations throughout the country.
The government of Iván Duque specified that the operation was carried out with a sniper and assured that they will deliver a reward of 500 million pesos (about 130 thousand dollars) to who gave details about the location of the guerrilla. It remains to be seen how this coup will impact the guerrilla front that still supports its two commanders, aliases Fabian and aliases The Indian, which terrorize the Chocoana population. “Uriel's death is more of a media and local coup than one of strategic magnitude for the ELN. Uriel He did not belong to the governing bodies of that guerrilla and his statements did not represent the organization, ”Juan Carlos Garzón, director of the Conflict Dynamics Area of the Ideas for Peace Foundation, noted in his networks.