German Role in ELN-Government Process

Santa Fe de Bogota Semana (Internet version) in Spanish 14 Jun 99

Unattributed article

[FBIS Translated Text]

The ELN [Army of National Liberation] and the Germans [subhead] German officials and agents and German church hierarchy have supported the activities of the ELN [Army of National Liberation] in Europe. What is behind this alliance? For the past 17 years they have been friends. For better or for worse. And as in all relationships, they each have their own interests at heart. They know they need each other. And so the happy buddy relationship between the ELN and the high-ranking German Government officials continues. At first sight it would seem like a relationship between David and Goliath, between an insurgent group that defends the interests of the people and a foreign power. However, in this case, this biblical story has another interpretation. Throughout these years the ELN has become a good ally of one of the most powerful nations in the world. Its main interest has been to open the European Union's doors in search of political recognition from the governments and various human rights organizations on the old continent. The facts have shows that the ELN has taken big steps towards achieving this goal. The leaders of the ELN are traveling more frequently to that country. All we have to do is remember that in 1996 ELN military chief Antonio Garcia [Erlington Chamorro] was in Germany for over six months. The most recent example of the political space that the ELN has opened for itself is the tour that Nicolas Rodriguez, a.k.a. "Gabino," began two weeks ago to several European countries -- including the Vatican -- to explain the reasons his organization had to kidnap more than 150 people during a Mass in Cali. But the ELN is not the only one contributing its grain of sand for this relationship to become stronger. Germany has also contributed its grain of sand and in the meantime, has harvested its own fruit. In the first place, it has been able to protect its large enterprises that operate in Colombia, among those enterprises we have Siemens, BASF, and Bayer. It has kept these enterprises from becoming the victims of extortion and having to pay "protection money" [vacuna] and have ensured that the high ranking executives are not kidnapped by the ELN. The German Government does not want to see the 1983 sad story repeat itself. Back then one of the biggest German companies -- Manessmann -- with approximately 100,000 employees throughout the world became the victim of ELN blackmail. There is a second reason for some German officials and former officials to want to maintain this friendship with the ELN. The German Government has always worried about the luck of its fellow citizens in war-torn nations like Colombia. It is believed that approximately 4,000 Germans are in Colombia for business purposes. The last kidnapping of a German citizen by the ELN was in August 1996. That year the members of the ELN kidnapped Brigitte Schonne, wife of the former president of BASF in Colombia. It was never learned if ransom was paid for her rescue. The most recent report on kidnapped foreigners that the anti-kidnapping czar has points out that there are currently 16 Germans being held. All of them are in hands of groups, not the ELN. The third reason is a political one. The German Government decided to accompany the ELN in its proposal for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict in Colombia towards the end of former President Ernesto Samper's term in office. The decision was one of the international components of the reelection campaign platform presented by Helmut Kohl's conservative government. According to sources close to former German Minister Bernd Schmidbauer, there were some officials who believed that the Colombian peace process could have interesting repercussions on the campaign. But the plan failed from one end to another. The ELN was not able to reach an agreement with Ernesto Samper's government because when it was decided to speed up the process, a new government had already been elected: Andres Pastrana's. Meanwhile, the German counterpart failed in its attempt to be reelected; Social democrat Gerhard Schroeder was elected and the ELN's contacts with the government were seriously hindered.

The First Loves

The relations between the ELN and officials of the Kohl government began in 1983. Back then the ELN's political project was on its deathbed and no one would bet a peso on its recovery. On the contrary, it was even said that the ELN would go down in history as a leftist political project that had not been able to survive. Back then the ELN was like an extinguishing candle. But the moribund pulled through thanks to the arrival of one of the most important oil companies in the world back then: Manessman, a German company. Manessman and an Italian company, Sicim, signed a contract with the Colombian Government to build the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline. The members of the ELN played their last card and kidnapped four Manessman engineers and demanded a huge ransom for their release. It was never learned how much the ELN asked for to release the engineers, but there were rumors that they had asked for $8 million. The ELN received $4 million in cash. The guerrillas asked that the rest of the money be invested in social works in the areas of education, health, roads, aqueducts, and sewer systems in communities where the oil companies and their contract workers were beginning to work. Some people have said that the negotiations with Manessmann reached a point that the ELN demanded that the company officials place a sticker on their vehicles. The sticker read: "Manessmann has a heart for children." And that is how the ELN came back to life.

The German Strategy

What made the Germans decide to approach the ELN and pay protection money [boleteo] back then? In light of the chaos confronted by Mannesmann's operations in 1983 and the dangers its engineers were facing, Helmut Kohl's government decided to take matters into its hands. The task was assigned to Minister of State Bernd Schmidbauer. Two weeks later the plan was ready for implementation. They had experienced men to do this kind of work. They were a small and select group of agents who were under Schmidbauer's orders and who did their job in a James Bond style. Agents of 1000 faces who one day were in the Middle East and a week later in Asia or Africa. Among the most outstanding within this small army of spies were Werner Mauss and his wife Isabel. For this reason, the Mauss' ended up leading the mission. This is how the Mauss' came to Colombia for the first time in mid-July 1983. The task they had been assigned was not easy to accomplish. They were asked to contact the ELN commanders and find a way of liberating the kidnapped German engineers. What at first sight seemed like an impossible mission ended up being a very simple task to accomplish because the Mauss' and the ELN hit it off immediately. During the next four months, the German agents came in and out of Colombia as they pleased. In those comings and goings they made the "deal" for the release of the kidnapped Germans. But the deal included more than just the huge ransom paid. The Mauss' got the ELN to promise not to carry out further attacks on Manessman if the agreements were respected. During those runnings around in the Colombian mountains, the foreign agents achieved in-depth knowledge of the nature of the guerrilla movement that swayed between the creed and the bullets. Its religious influence was one of its strongest pillars. "That was probably the most important thing the Mauss' discovered about the ELN. They understood that religion was that guerrilla movement's Achilles' heel. Throughout the years, and as the relationship strengthened, they found that if they involved the Church to resolve the ELN's armed conflict, success would be ensured," a source that requested anonymity and who had first hand information on the negotiations undertaken with Manessman told Semana. During the five years that followed the release of the German engineers the ELN went from being an impoverished group to having the wealthiest coffers. Since then the ELN unleashed an offensive that was known throughout the country as petroterrorism and which did touch the activities of the German enterprise. Throughout those years the ELN blew up the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline more than 20 times, it dynamited 15 other oil installation, and kidnapped approximately 14 mayors in the areas where oil explorations were being conducted. While its fronts carried out merciless attacks on oil stations, the ELN leadership began speaking a direct and practical language in regard to the revision of the country's oil policy. Demanding protection money, blackmail, and extortion of the oil enterprises allowed the ELN to fill its coffers with approximately 3 billion pesos thus making it -- an organization that back then had no more than 800 members -- one of the groups of people with the largest income per capita on the planet. Amid that boom characterized by kidnapping and blowing up of oil pipelines, the ELN had no borders. So it was that in May 1988 they kidnapped two German consuls, two Swiss officials, a French diplomat, a Swedish social worker, and six correspondents, including two foreign correspondents. The wave of kidnappings was part of an operation called "Life and sovereignty of Manuel Gustavo Chacon," that had as a political premise the nationalization of petroleum. The strategy that had been so successful five years earlier, was once again implemented by the Kohl government and the Mauss' came back into the picture once again in an attempt to rescue the European citizens being held by the ELN. Weeks later, the Mauss' were able to get the hostages released. New Phase [subhead] The friendship between Kohl's government and the ELN became stronger. For the first time, in late 1988, a delegation of guerrillas left the jungle to board a plane that took them to the streets of the powerful Germany. The tour included visits to the German parliament and European human rights organizations. The honeymoon lived by the ELN with Kohl and Schmidbauer cooled off around 1990 and the Mauss' were sent to work in other countries until 1995. In the summer of 1995, the Mauss' were finalizing an operation in Asia aimed at capturing a group of international terrorists who had sowed terror in Europe. The mission was about to end when Schmidbauer got in touch with his old friend. The order was clear and precise: Mauss had to return immediately to his country to head an ultra-secret task. Upon arrival in Germany he was instructed to travel to Colombia and contact the ELN leadership and find out if the subversive group was willing to sit down at a negotiation table with Ernesto Samper's government. After completing his mission Mauss returned to Germany where he gave Schmidbauer a detailed report that would later be delivered to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. On 8 November 1995 Mauss and his wife sat face to face with the most important ELN commanders: Antonio Garcia and Nicolas Bautista. For a week they discussed the different viewpoints of the guerrillas and the German Government regarding a possible peace dialogue with Samper's government and the possibilities of making it to a negotiation table. The Mauss' returned to Germany with a draft of a document on peace and the ELN's request to coordinate a trip for the commanders of that organization to begin a series of contacts throughout several European countries. Early in 1996 Antonio Garcia and 18 guerrillas left for Europe on a five-month tour that took them to Spain, Switzerland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway. The European Union countries issued special authorizations so that Garcia and his boys [muchachos] could move around Europe without problems. One of the most important visits was to the Vatican where the peace plan received the blessing of the church. That was when the church got truly involved in the matter and Bishop Karl Lehman, president of the German Bishop's Conference, was appointed to represent it. In mid April 1996 the Mauss' returned to Colombia to inform Ernesto Samper's government of the negotiations underway with the ELN. Also present at these meetings were former Government Minister Horacio Serpa and Carlos Villamil Chaux, appointed by Samper to coordinate the meetings with the Germans. The talks between the two governments continued in Bonn in mid June 1996. "At that time we met on two occasions with Foreign Minister Schmidbauer, Colombia's ambassador to Germany, and Mr. and Mrs. Mauss. A private luncheon was held to analyze the ELN's peace proposal. A similar meeting was held in New York when President Samper attended a UN conference. I believe that at that time the German Government was very interested in promoting a peace process with the ELN," former presidential candidate Horacio Serpa Uribe told Semana. The ELN's peace process with the Samper government seemed to be a reality. Proof of this is the exchange of letters between Chancellor Kohl and former President Samper. But two big obstacles emerged along the way. The first one had to do with one of the points in the peace document drafted by Schmidbauer. The German Government wanted to include drug trafficking in the overall peace plan to be negotiated with the ELN. The US Government reacted strongly against this. The second incident occurred in November 1996 when the Mauss' were in Colombia to rescue Brigitte Schonne, wife of former BASF president in Colombia. When the Mauss' were getting ready to board a light plane at the Rionegro Airport in Antioquia they were detained by the Anti-extortion and Kidnapping Command [CAES] and charged by the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Nation of kidnapping and extortion. This was the first time the Colombian people heard that the Mauss' were agents. Later all the secrets regarding the negotiations under way between Ernesto Samper's government and the ELN were disclosed. Mr. and Mrs. Mauss ended up in jail and the peace process with the ELN fell through.

The Last Effort

The Kohl government spared no effort and moved all the strings it had to get its agents out of jail. The team of lawyers responsible for their defense was chosen directly by Schmidbauer. The German Embassy in Colombia took over the negotiations with Samper's government. Eight months later the Mauss' regained their freedom. The Office of the Prosecutor General of the Nation filed the process away. The Mauss' stayed on in Colombia and on three occasions traveled to the ELN camp to resume the contacts with the Central Command in an attempt to promote the process once again. The idea to hold a meeting with the civil society to discuss a draft agenda that would serve as a basis for summoning a national convention and after that the beginning of negotiations with the government in search of paving the way for a peace process emerged at one of those meetings. In early July 1998 the Kohl government, the German church, and the Mauss' organized, at Heaven's Gate Monastery, the meeting with civil society. Pablo Beltran [Victor Manuel Cubides], number three man on the ELN's Central Command, led the talks. For three days they discussed an agenda and the ELN made several commitments aimed at a national convention. It is at this time that another German appears on the scene. To date, his role in the negotiations with the ELN is still not clear: Monsignor Emilio Stehle. Representing the German bishop's, Msgr. Stehle became, as of that day, a key player in attaining the release of kidnap victims in the hands of the ELN. At the same time that the meeting with civil society was being held, former Environment Minister Eduardo Verano de la Rosa was holding a series of meetings with Minister Schmidbauer in a race against time in for the ELN and the government to sign a peace agreement. At meetings with Pablo Beltran, Schmidbauer, the Mauss', and Verano de la Rosa, a peace plan was drafted with which President Ernesto Samper had planned to end his term in office with a final flourish. The plan included the creation of a fund in which the German Government, together with the European Union, committed themselves to make several economic contributions that surpassed the $40 million mark. That money would be invested in social development plans in the regions where the ELN has settled. It was also agreed that a negotiation table would be created to agree on an immediate cease-fire. But once again the process failed, this time for lack of time. After Andres Pastrana won the elections the Central Command of the ELN was emphatic in stating that it could not negotiate a peace process with a government on its way out and Verano de la Rosa's efforts in Germany were ruined. Without the Germans There is no Release [subhead] With Andres Pastrana as president of Colombia and Gerhard Schroeder as the new German chancellor, the efforts made by Kohl, Schmidbauer, and Mr. and Mrs. Mauss, became a memory of the past. Pastrana wanted nothing to do with Samper's allies and Schroeder wanted nothing to do with Kohl's allies. For these two rulers, something shady was being hidden behind the good intentions for the ELN to join in a peace process: there were too many economic interests in the way. The two governments decided to close that door. But at the same time that one door was closing another one was opening: the meeting in Caracas between High Commissioner for Peace Victor G. Ricardo with ELN military commander Antonio Garcia. However, what in the beginning was thought would be the start of a process with the ELN in search for paths toward peace, very soon turned into an ordeal for the government. Garcia spoke clearly and harshly. If the government wanted to negotiate with them it would have to demilitarize four municipalities in southern Bolivar. Victor G. said that this was impossible. For more than a month Garcia remained in Venezuela waiting for an offer from the Pastrana government. At one of the last meetings with the government representative the guerrilla leader went from a conciliatory tone to a threatening tone: "If we cannot convince them here to agree to the demilitarization, we will convince them with bombs planted in shopping centers." The ELN's reckless operations of the past weeks during which they took passengers off a plane and a group of people from a church confirmed Garcia's words. At the same time it has placed the Schmidbauer and Mauss' back on center stage. Since friends are friends for better or for worse, last week Schmidbauer, currently a deputy in the German parliament, the Mauss' and Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, a.k.a. "Gabino" met once again in Germany. They meeting is aimed at reinitiating a race against time in the hopes of convincing the international community, and the church in particular, that the actions carried out by the ELN were a political move to pressure Andres Pastrana's government into a peace negotiation. At the same time the Colombian Government has made a drastic decision. After accusing Msgr. Stehle of negotiating kidnappings with not too clear a purpose, the DAS [Administrative Department of Security] issued an order banning the German prelate from entering the country in the future. "Gabino's" visit to Germany has borne its fruits. Schmidbauer coordinated several meetings, including a visit to the Holy See, the Vatican. While at the Vatican "Gabino" and Schmidbauer met with Msgr. Dario Castrillon. The meeting lasted three hours. The message was clear: the ELN apologized to the Pope for the operation it carried out at La Maria Church in Cali. After the visit to the Vatican they met with human rights organizations in several countries, including Switzerland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. "Gabino" told all of them that the ELN wanted peace and was willing to return all the hostages. However, he conditioned the release of the hostages to the German Government being allowed to mediate in the process and to Schmidbauer being an eyewitness at the release of the hostages. This condition, however, has met with this opposition of the governments of Germany and Colombia. The German Government has described the hijacking of the plane as an act of terrorism and a spokesperson for that country has told Semana that Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista has not been issued a special permit to move around Germany. Meanwhile, Juan Gabriel Uribe, political advisor for the presidency, has told Semana that any type of rapprochement with the ELN will be done directly or, should mediation become necessary, only and exclusively through the German Government. According to Uribe, no other mediator will be accepted. However, in negotiations as complex as this one, and since they are holding civilian hostages, it is not always the government the one that establishes the rules. All seems to indicate that to achieve the release of the hostages and begin the talk process with the ELN -- even if the government is against this -- the mysterious Germans will be seated between the ELN and the official negotiators.