First modification: 06/25/2021 – 00:40
Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, known by his nom de guerre ‘Gabino’, will no longer be the first commander of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the largest guerrilla in Colombia since most FARC members laid down their arms. In the statement, issued at dawn on June 24, he assures that he is resigning due to health issues. The ELN already has a replacement.
Nicolás Rodríguez, alias ‘Gabino’, is one of the oldest insurgents in the world. Of his 71 years, he has spent 57 in the ranks of the ELN, of which 22 years he has been the first commander of that guerrilla. And now, he takes a step to the side, although he affirms that he will continue in the armed organization.
So assured in the statement by which he announced his resignation to the command. ‘Gabino’ also specified that he has received health treatment in Cuba since July 2018, a country to which he moved due to the peace negotiations that were underway with the Colombian Government. And since then, it has remained there despite the fact that the dialogues broke down in 2019.
“This unfortunate circumstance (the health treatment) prevents me from developing my functions as the first ELN commander, which led me to submit my resignation to that position, which has been accepted,” says Rodríguez Bautista in the statement dated the first May 2021. However, only until now has his resignation been made public and he did not specify his state of health or the disease he suffers from.
Both Rodríguez Bautista and the ELN Central Command announced that their presence in Cuba will serve to represent the armed group in the event that there is a new opportunity for peace negotiations.
This announcement can be seen as a maneuver to evade arrests by international authorities and protect the leaders of this guerrilla, according to the Colombian newspaper Time.
And the ELN is responsible for an attack against the General Santander Cadet School in Bogotá, which left 23 police officers dead after the detonation of a car bomb in January 2019. Colombia asked Cuba to authorize the extradition of the ELN delegation following the attack, but the island government rejected the request, considering that it went against the international protocols that protect the peace negotiations, which were still in place at the time.
In addition, ‘Gabino’ in particular has more than 50 arrest warrants against him by the Colombian authorities and for crimes ranging from murder and kidnapping to conspiracy to commit a crime, among others.
Some of the crimes for which he has been sentenced are for his responsibility in the Machuca massacre, perpetrated on October 18, 1998 in the municipality of Segovia (Antioquia).
This is one of the most painful and remembered events of the Colombian conflict, as the ELN guerrillas dynamited a section of the Central Oil Pipelines and this caused a fire that spread to the town of Machuca. In total, 84 people died, of which 42 were boys and girls, according to the National Center for Historical Memory.
He was also sentenced for the kidnapping perpetrated in the La María church, in Cali, capital of the department of Valle del Cauca, in the southwest of the country. That time, the ELN held 194 people, making it the largest kidnapping in the history of Colombia.
In addition, ‘Gabino’ has had a red circular from Interpol since 2018 for aggravated homicide and illicit recruitment.
The slow peace negotiations with the ELN and the Colombian Government
The most recent round of negotiations began in February 2017 in Quito, Ecuador, when this armed group sat down to dialogue for the first time with the government of then-President Juan Manuel Santos.
But then, the Ecuadorian Executive withdrew as mediator and the talks were transferred to Havana, Cuba in May 2018. Two months later, ‘Gabino’ arrived on the island under a special permit to be part of the negotiating table.
But the talks did not advance much and ended up stalling in August 2018, when the current president of Colombia, Iván Duque, assumed the Presidency. Both he and his political party, Centro Democrático, disagreed with the conditions under which the peace process was taking place. And one of Duque’s first actions was to subordinate the continuation of the negotiations to the abandonment of the criminal actions by the ELN.
However, four months later, that guerrilla committed the attack against the National Police Cadet School and since then the Government broke off the talks.
The ELN is the last active guerrilla that Colombia has, after the peace agreement signed between the Colombian government and the FARC in 2016. It was born in the early sixties with left-wing intellectuals who went to train in Cuba and counts – differently of other guerrillas in Colombian history – with a religious influence. He even had priests who joined his ranks during the early years.
For his part, ‘Gabino’ joined the ELN when he was only 14 years old. In 1983, he became the military leader of that guerrilla, together with the former Spanish priest Manuel Pérez, alias ‘El cura Pérez’. When he died in 1998, ‘Gabino’ assumed the role of his partner and remained number one in the armed group, until his recent resignation.