Victor Builes’s account of his four years as a Colombian rebel money man offers a harsh reality check for politicians and investors celebrating an historic peace accord 1,300 miles away in Havana.
Recruited by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, in 2012 to trade cocaine and collect taxes at a gold mine, Builes said the prospect of a permanent cease-fire with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is swelling ELN ranks with former FARC guerrillas.
That migration, and an up-tick in collaboration between the two groups, indicate Colombia’s illegal gold and drug businesses will change masters, rather than disappear.
“They’re going through a romance,” Builes, 31, who escaped the ELN last month to be with his family, said in a June 14 interview from an army base in Medellin. “They hold meetings together. They do many things together.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez and Cuban President Raul Castro are scheduled to participate in a signing ceremony Thursday for bilateral cease-fire and disarmament, a key milestone toward a full agreement expected later this year.
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