The Colombian Defense Ministry revealed Monday that it had obtained intelligence linking the attempted shoot-down of an Air Force helicopter carrying President Iván Duque last week to the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The ELN and FARC are both Marxist narco-terrorist organizations. The Colombian government, under Duque’s predecessor Juan Manuel Santos, signed an unpopular “peace deal” with the leadership of the FARC in 2016 that has resulted in growing drug-related violence and drug trafficking in the country. Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts that year. As a result of the deal, Bogotá refers to active FARC terrorists as “dissidents,” as opposed to the few elder leaders who turned in their weapons for Congressional seats in 2016.
The assassination attempt against Duque — as well as Defense Minister Diego Molano, Minister of the Interior Daniel Palacio, Norte de Santander Governor Silvano Serrano, and Cúcuta Mayor Jairo Yáñez, all of whom were on board the Black Hawk aircraft — targeted the helicopter as it was traveling over Cúcuta on Friday. The aircraft received three gunshots to its fuselage and six total. None of the passengers reported any injuries and the helicopter landed intact, but the attack has triggered widespread alarm in Colombia given it follows two months of deadly far-left protests nationwide.
Colombian officials have accused both the FARC and ELN of participating in left-wing riots targeting police stations and historical buildings. Cúcuta is on the border with Venezuela, whose socialist regime has for years maintained friendly ties to the FARC, and has become a critical international crossing for Venezuelans in Táchira state to either flee the country or have access to life-saving Colombian stores carrying the basic food and other goods sorely lacking under socialism.
In a press conference on Sunday, the Defense Ministry published two sketches of alleged suspects in the helicopter shooting.
El ministro también afirmó que detrás del atentado habría una posible alianza criminal narcotraficante entre el frente urbano del ELN y las disidencias de las Farc, y fue enfático en señalar que los responsables del atentado serán capturados. pic.twitter.com/GOQB4VwhX7
— Mindefensa (@mindefensa) June 27, 2021
“What has been compiled through alleged information is that behind this vile, cowardly attack is a criminal alliance between the urban front of the ELN and the FARC dissidents,” Defense Minister Diego Molano told Colombian broadcast network RCN in an interview published Monday. “We are working on the basis of that information and what this criminal alliance is seeking, which is present in Norte de Santander, Catatumbo, in that zone of Colombia.”
Molano also told the network that the bullets found on the aircraft appear to be Russian- or Iranian-made and originating in Venezuela. The Defense Ministry generally has also indicated it believes the weapons used to fire on the helicopter once belonged to the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
The Colombian government is offering 3 billion Colombian pesos, or nearly $800,000, as a reward for any information leading to the capture of those responsible for the attack.
“Once again we reiterate that, as a government, we will not falter a single minute, a single day in the struggle against drug trafficking, against terrorism,” Duque, of Colombia’s conservative Democratic Center party, said following the attack. “Here they will not deter us with violence and they will not deter us with acts of terrorism.”
While addressing the FARC and ELN members sternly, Duque and his government have responded meekly to a “national strike” begun by nationwide leftist groups in late April that have escalated into violent road blockades, firebombings of police stations, and the destruction of statues and historical buildings. Leaders of the “national strike” initially claimed to have organized against a progressive tax hike Duque proposed that angered both the left and right, but Duque halted the proposal less than a week after the strike began. The strike continued, demanding a dismantling of Colombia’s police forces, “gender equality,” and other requests unrelated to the tax hike.
The riots resulted in the burning alive of police officers and an increase in vigilante activity; in light of police either refusing to attacks or being unable to do so following deliberate targeting of their stations, Colombians began taking to the street with illegal firearms and machetes to combat the leftist attackers. Colombians also organized nationwide, thousands-strong rallies in May in support of the police and against the “national strike.”
Duque responded by repeatedly offering “national strike” organizers a dialogue with the government and ordering a complete overhaul of the Colombian police force in response to leftist allegations of police brutality, despite the fact that his own government had identified FARC and ELN elements involved in the violence.
“We have determined that [involved in] the disorder and vandalism occurring in Cali in last days there are structures tied to drug trafficking, the ELN, and FARC dissidents,” Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa Delgado said in May, referring to a city that became the epicenter of leftist violence this spring.
The violence continued this weekend. On Saturday, armed assailants on motorcycles ambushed three off-duty police officers — identified as Jader Javier Martínez López, Hernando Rafael Mercado Figueroa, and Leonardo Badillo Hernández — while shopping with their families in the town of Pailitas, killing all three and at least injuring one of their wives, who is 34 weeks pregnant. Reports differ regarding if the woman survived. Authorities have yet to implicate any suspects, but Colombian media have suggested the incident may have ties to the ELN.