The Colombian military has confirmed that the mass power outage that hit Nariño department April 18-19 was caused by an attack against a transmission tower in Ricaurte. The attack has been attributed to the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) guerrilla group, although the ELN has denied its involvement. More than 270,000 people were left without electricity beginning on the evening of April 18 in the municipalities of Ricaurte, Barbacoas, Magüi, Roberto Payán, and Tumaco; electricity had not been fully restored as of late April 19.
This was the third attack carried out against electricity infrastructure in the department in the past month.
Various armed groups are active in Nariño department, including dissident members of the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla group (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and other organized crime groups (BACRIM) in addition to the ELN. The area is a major cocaine growing and transit point, located along the Pacific Ocean and Ecuadorian border. According to the UN, there are more than 23,000 hectares (57,000 acres) of coca fields in Tumaco alone, believed to be responsible for 16 percent of all of Colombia’s coca cultivation.
The ELN and the Colombian government are currently involved in peace talks. However, the attack came on the same day that Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno announced that his country would suspend its involvement in the talks, saying Ecuador cannot remain as a guarantor while the ELN continues to conduct “terrorist” attacks. ELN representatives have denied being involved in recent incidents. It is unclear at this stage how Moreno’s decision will affect the peace process.
Individuals in Colombia are advised to keep abreast of the situation. Due to the presence of a number of armed groups, some Western governments advise against travel to various regions of the country, including parts of Nariño.