Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista alias “Gabino” joined Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group at its founding, in 1964, when he was 14 years old. By 1998, when longtime ELN leader Manuel Pérez, a Spanish priest, passed away (Colombian guerrillas often die of old age), Rodríguez replaced him.
He went on to be the guerrilla group’s nominal leader until 2021, though he has been living in Cuba since 2018. He moved to Havana, suffering ill health, to join negotiators in a peace process that collapsed in early 2019, when the ELN detonated a truck bomb at the police cadets’ school in Bogotá.
Now, “Gabino” is serving as an advisor to the ELN negotiators in a peace negotiation that formally launched in Venezuela this week. It’s not clear that he will be helpful, as the Colombian daily El Espectador observes:
Despite attempts at dialogue, experts describe Gabino as not open to dialogue, stubborn, and elusive. He has been tried in absentia for his participation in multiple crimes, including the Machuca massacre in 1998, in which the Eln bombed an oil pipeline in Antioquia and left 84 people dead, and the mass kidnapping at the La Maria church in Cali in 1999, considered the largest ever committed in the country.
Nicolás Rodríguez Batista is an ideologue, a spotlight-shunning leader who believed in using violence to achieve political ends. He failed, and now spends his twilight moments in another country. One wonders whether he believes it was worth it—though ultimately, he never knew any other reality.