The Ejercito Popular de Liberacion (EPL), or Popular Liberation Army, was founded on December the 17th, 1967, as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Colombia Marxist-Leninist (PCC-ML), a Maoist and then Hoxhaist split from the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Colombia founded in July, 1965. The Popular Liberation Army is considered the third largest guerrilla group in size after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) and National Liberation Army (ELN). Little information is available about the struggle of the PCC-ML and the EPL. The author has compiled this information about the party’s struggles and history of brave resistance to imperialism, neo-colonialism and the fascist Colombian government.
Colombia is a bourgeois pro-imperialist state where the rights of the people are trampled, and they are thus forced to take up arms. The Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist) was formed as a revolutionary party and has provided the political leadership of the EPL since it was constituted. The EPL is a guerrilla army based on the people and operating in rural Colombia.
In the 1970s the organization developed support from the working class and peasantry among banana plantations and peasant colonos. It was originally loyal to Maoism but became pro-Albania Hoxhaist in the 1970s. The EPL based its actions on guerrilla warfare, education of the peasant class and the creation of an army for the masses. It started its military activity on the borders between Cordoba and Antioquia, a traditional refuge area for guerrillas during La Violencia.
The EPL’s leaders included Francisco Caraballo, Jaime Fajardo, Bernardo Ferreira Grandet, Amanda Ramírez and Rafael Vergara Navarro. Their standard weapons included rifles, shotguns, revolvers machetes and occasionally explosives. At their peak, before a series of military defeats by the Colombian army and paramilitary groups, they also had influence in the regions of Alto Sinu and San Jorge, extending into regions of Bajo Cauca and Urabá.
At its zenith, the EPL boasted about several thousand fighters, most of whom were peasants and intellectuals. In the decades-long conflict that followed, EPL would sacrifice the lives of over three thousand of its members, these casualties including the deaths of great leaders like Carlos Pizarro, Luis Carlos Galan, Oscar William Calvo, Ernesto Rojas, Bernardo Jaramillo, Jaime Pardo, José Antequera and many others in the struggle for Marxism-Leninism, socialism, the class struggle and the Colombian proletariat.
A former government minister, Rafael Prado, was assassinated by the EPL in September 1978. AUC paramilitaries attacked the EPL’s social and political bases after the government sent forces to counter the guerrillas. There was fighting against the EPL’s most powerful fronts, and in the locations of the fighting there were recorded massacres of peasants, supporters and some of the commanders.
In one typical raid, Colombian forces captured $5 billion pesos, 60 real estate deeds, 389 securities such as bills of exchange, checks, life insurance, leases, exchanges, purchases and ledgers the organization as well as confidential reports. In another, five microwave ovens, a compressor, an electric saw, a drill, a polisher, a riveter, three electricity generators, metallic tubes, containers and 800 gallons of ethanol.
After an intense decades-long armed conflict with the widely-deployed EPL guerrillas, paramilitaries, law enforcement and other sectors began the overflow of a “dirty war” into the countryside, accusing the EPL, ELN and FARC-EP of terrorism. What analysts called the “crisis in the crisis” occurred in the late 80’s and there were true expressions of civil war and lawlessness.
The EPL’s cadres universally met with harsh repression and were usually killed rather than arrested. One example was EPL leader Jesus Chiquito Becerra, alias “Leytor,” who had eight warrants for crimes of terrorism, rebellion and extortion, and also had four outstanding prison sentences: two of 35 years for kidnapping and extortion and two of 29 and 27 years for various other offenses. In 1975 Pedro León Arboleda was killed and a number of other important leaders were arrested. Still, by 1978 there was be a revival of the guerrillas in the northwest (Antioquia and Cordoba).
The party began to make a break with Maoism during the Sino-Albanian split in the 1970s, and by the 11th Congress of the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1980, the party has completely abandoned Maoism, saying that it over-emphasized the role of the peasantry and underestimated the role of the proletariat in political work.
Their conclusions read: “The Maoist concept of protracted people’s war, on the centralization of work in the countryside to encircle the cities, involved taking in practice the field as the work setting and not the areas of greatest industrial development.” Instead, they decided to emphasize the idea of “[forming] an army of professional fighters to coexist in large agribusiness and even in large urban industrial centers.” The party had a tradition from the early 1970s of being in the cities.
The EPL chose to participate in the 1984 peace talks and cease-fire along with FARC-EP and ELN on August 23, 1984, but it refused to sign a peace agreement. As in the case of FARC, this was cleverly used to expand into new regions and increase the number of combatants and of fronts.
In the second half of 1985, after the seizing of the Palace of Justice by fellow guerrilla group M-19 and the breaking of the cease-fire with the murder of its negotiator, Oscar William Calvo, and of its leader, Ernesto Rojas, the organization ignored the cease-fire and EPL military action resumed.
The EPL was frequently attacked by the Colombian armed forces and right-wing paramilitary groups, the former affecting their military structure and their social and political bases. From 1988 the battle in Córdoba and Urabá intensified against the most powerful and fronts of the EPL.
President Alvaro Uribe gave the order to annihilate the EPL, and the regions where they were active were kept on edge for years afterward. The group has managed to establish support networks that have allowed them to resist any military movement. Hence, they have been kept alive despite the ongoing military operations against them.
In late 1990, the EPL began to negotiate their demobilization, as it was severely beaten by Colombian military forces and paramilitary groups. In 1991-1994, a large section of the EPL, 2,556 fighters, abandoned armed struggle, some of whom formed the now-defunct group “Esperanza Paz y Libertad,” whose members were later executed as deserters.
The section under Francisco Caraballo opposed the demobilization of the EPL in 1991 and continues to support the section of the EPL still fighting. The EPL kidnapped former Algerian minister Durán Quintero during the peace talks in Tlaxcala. During the captivity, Duran suffered a heart attack and died. After publication of the death of the former minister, the episode led to the breakdown of peace talks.
The peace process with the EPL reflected in the reduction of violence in some of the areas under their control. The total reduction of revolutionary violence, however, was not attained by the government thanks to the efforts modern EPL commander Francisco Caraballo.
The EPL guerrillas, according to official data, became a kind of “Robin Hood” structure of the region. It continued to remain relevant to the practice of its commanders: that is, sharing with the farmers the money and land obtained by the group in their liberated areas. The EPL also worked to participate in local unions and worker’s rights groups.
This situation put the Colombian military at a disadvantage, as the EPL, through this method, was fed intelligence by the locals and had advanced knowledge of any troop movement.
As of 1995 the EPL consisted of thirteen different fronts, each named after a leader, commander or martyr. These included Aldemar Londoño Front, Virgilio Enrique Rodriguez Front, Oscar William Calvo Front, Pedro León Arboleda Front, Hernando Vasquez Pedro Rendón Front, Elkin González Vásquez Front, Bernardo Franco Front.
The EPL continues operating under the command of leader Francisco Caraballo. Its military activity is concentrated in Antioquia, Caldas, North Santander and Guajira and is in coordination with the FARC-EP and ELN groups.
A sample of the union between the FARC and EPL occurred in the attack in Hacarí (Norte de Santander) on a military patrol on 20 April in 2006. It killed six soldiers and 10 officers of the Department of Administrative Security, DAS. This was led by EPL leader Víctor Ramón Navarro, alias “Megateo.”
Repression against the surviving branches of the EPL continues to this day. On Jan. 25, 2010, police in the eastern Colombian city of Cucuta arrested Jesus Villalba Torres, alias “Carmelo,” suspected of being head of the Libardo Mora Toro front of the Popular Liberation Army and of being responsible for the killing of sixteen policemen who died when guerrillas blew up their truck. “Carmelo” was charged with rebellion, the production and trafficking of cocaine, kidnapping, extortion and homicide.
Francisco Caraballo is First Secretary of the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist) and commander of the People’s Army of Liberation. He has been re-elected leader of the Party and is also spokesperson for the EPL. In 1994 he was caught on a farm in the municipality of Cajicá with his wife and son by the Thirteenth Brigade of the National Army of Colombia. Caraballo was sentenced to 38 years in prison for rebellion, kidnapping and terrorism. He was also sentenced to 29 years for kidnapping Turbay Beatriz Elena and army major Yepes Luis Demetrio in 1992 and 1994. He was imprisoned in the high security jail at Itagui outside Medellin.
Due to pressure from an international campaign, on April 2008, Caraballo was freed from prison on parole after serving 14 years of his sentence. He was sent to the “Peace House” in Medellín with two former leaders of the ELN. Despite this, he is still the leader of the PCC-ML and the EPL, which remains hidden in the cities and countryside of Colombia.
The EPL’s tenacity and the intransigence of its remaining leaders makes it a force that cannot be easily dismissed.
The Colombian Revolution, which is led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National Liberation Army (ELN) and Communist Party of Colombia/ML (PCC-ML & EPL), progressed through combining with general strike actions of urban toilers and the working class in recent years. Revolutionary struggle, despite the fascist attacks of USA and Colombian reaction and the massacres of death squads, did not only maintain its existence but also increased its mass support.
These forces prevented the USA from conducting “Plan Colombia,” which consists of crushing the revolution directly with its military forces through occupying Colombia. After September 11th, while US bandits increase the threat of “Plan Colombia”, the Colombian Revolution grows, challenging USA and its servants.
PROLETARIANS OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE!
LONG LIVE FRANCISCO CARABALLO!
LONG LIVE THE GLORIOUS EPL!