The announcement of resumption of peace negotiations between the national government and the ELN guerilla group was celebrated by human right activists and organizations
People’s Dispatch | October 05, 2022
The progressive government of Colombian President Gustavo Petro and the country’s largest leftist guerilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN), on Tuesday October 4, signed an agreement to restart peace talks, which were suspended in September 2018 by the former conservative President Iván Duque.
According to a joint statement, signed by High Commissioner for Peace of the Colombian national government Iván Danilo Rueda and the ELN commanders Antonio García and Pablo Beltrán, issued during a press conference in Venezuela’s capital Caracas, the parties agreed to reinstate the negotiating table, resume agreements that had been reached before the suspension, and reestablish the dialogue process after the first week of November.
The statement added that the participation of civil society groups would be “essential” for the peace talks to succeed. High Commissioner Rueda explained that the government would seek ways to make this participation possible.
Through the statement, both the Colombian government and the ELN thanked the guarantor countries Cuba, Norway and Venezuela for their “unwavering” commitment. They also expressed their gratitude to the special representatives of the UN Verification Mission and the Catholic Church.
A place for the talks has not yet been announced, though commander García suggested that different stages of the negotiations could be held in all three guarantor countries.
Colombian society wants peace
The announcement of resumption of peace negotiations between the government and the ELN was celebrated by several human right activists and organizations.
Leonardo González Perafán, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory and member of the INDEPAZ, welcoming the dialogues, tweeted that “the road to total peace advances.”
Jorge Rojas Rodríguez, human rights defender and founder of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), described it as “a news of peace.” “Six years (and who knows how many deaths later) the government’s dialogue with the ELN resumes, which should not have been suspended. The challenge of signing a peace agreement with a guerrilla [group] that has persisted for more than 5 decades [taken up] in good time!” tweeted Rodríguez.
Luis Emil Sanabria Duran, human rights activist and founder of the Redepaz, also welcomed the re-establishment of talks with the ELN, and committed “to promoting the participation of society in the dialogues.”
Fundepaz, an NGO based in the Nariño department, also applauded the news. “Every effort to save lives will always be welcome. Territories at war like Nariño look forward to the resumption of peace talks between the government and the ELN with hope. It is a new opportunity to capitalize on learning and avoid past mistakes,” the organization wrote in a tweet.
The ELN insurgent group was founded in 1964 by trade union leaders, students and radical Catholic priests under the inspiration of the Cuban revolution and Liberation Theology. Following the signing of peace agreements between the then Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC-EP) guerilla group in November 2016 in Havana, Cuba, the ELN became Colombia’s largest remaining guerrilla group. The group is believed to have around 2,400 combatants active across the national territory, with the highest concentration in the departments of Arauca, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Catatumbo and Antioquia in Colombia.
The first talks with the ELN began in 2017 in Quito, Ecuador during the Santos government. A year later, they were transferred to Havana, Cuba. Following his inauguration in August 2018, Duque halted the process.
Petro’s peace process
Duque’s successor and Colombia’s first left-wing president, Gustavo Petro, during his election campaign, had pledged to end violence, dismantle paramilitary groups and consolidate peace in the country. After assuming the presidency on August 7, he reiterated his commitment and promised to achieve “Total Peace.” He vowed to resume peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), fully implement the 2016 peace agreements, and negotiate peace agreements with all illegal paramilitary and drug-trafficking groups willing to submit to justice.
In his past two months in office, Petro has taken major steps towards accomplishing these goals. On August 8, the head of state announced the resumption of negotiations with the ELN. On August 11, a delegation of the Colombian government, headed by Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva Durán, visited Cuba to establish contact with the leadership of the ELN in order to advance towards peace negotiations. On August 20, President Petro suspended arrest and extradition orders against members of the ELN to advance this dialogue. At the same time, he confirmed the restitution of the negotiation protocols with the ELN that had been signed with the Santos government. In response, the rebel group released hostages and scaled back attacks against the Colombian military. On September 13, President Petro formally requested Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to be a guarantor in the peace talks with the ELN, which the latter accepted.
Additionally, on August 20, Petro’s government launched the first Unified Command Post for Life (PMU) in the municipality of Caldono, in the Cauca department. The PMU aims to achieve complete peace and protect the population affected by violence across the country, especially social leaders, human rights activists, environmentalists and former combatants of the FARC.
On September 18, High Commissioner Rueda held a meeting with representatives of dissidents in the demobilized FARC-EP group, who returned to armed struggle in August 2019 following the violation of the 2016 peace agreements by the Duque government, to assess the possibility of initiating peace negotiations.
The constant efforts of the Petro government to reach armed groups in all parts of the country to convince them to commit to peace yielded positive results last week. On September 28, High Commissioner Rueda reported that at least ten irregular armed groups operating in the country agreed to join President Petro’s ‘Total Peace’ policy and had already declared a unilateral ceasefire.
Among these groups were two dissident groups of the FARC-EP, the Estado Mayor Central and the Segunda Marquetalia, as well as drug cartels such as Clan del Golfo, Los Pachencas, and Los Rastrojos, among others.
In a press conference that day, Rueda stated that all groups, despite having different characteristics, showed willingness to collaborate with the authorities to move towards peace. “In this exploration phase, we’ve asked them not to kill, disappear or torture people,” said Rueda, adding that “we are moving ahead.”
According to reports, after the verification of the cessation of violent actions by these groups against the civilian population and State institutions, the government could announce bilateral ceasefire and appoint officials who would participate in dialogue tables.
The multilateral ceasefire is considered the first significant achievement of the new peace process led by the Petro administration.
The Institute of Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ) recently reported that, since Petro’s inauguration, at least 22 armed groups had published communiqués demonstrating their willingness to join his government’s ‘Total Peace’ project.
Additionally, according to the data collected by the INDEPAZ, the number of assassinations of social leaders, human rights defenders and the FARC peace signatories fell significantly in the month of September.
Venezuela joins Petro’s ‘Total Peace’ policy
Last week, on September 29, Venezuelan President Maduro expressed his support for his Colombian counterpart Petro’s ‘Total Peace’ policy, and offered the country’s full assistance in achieving peace on the recently reopened common land border.
During the celebration of the 17th anniversary of the Strategic Command Operations of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (CEO-FANB), President Maduro ordered all national security forces to coordinate actions with the Colombian military and police authorities to strengthen security and fight drug trafficking, fuel trafficking, and other cross-border crimes, on 2,219-kilometer-long border with the “sister” country.
“I order that all border outposts, under the direction of the CEO-FANB, communicate with the Colombian military and police forces, to formulate the Total Peace plan of the 2,219 kilometers of border with our sister and beloved Colombia,” Maduro declared.
The neighboring countries officially reopened their common land border following seven years of closure on September 26. The closure of the borders led to an increase in irregular crossings, smuggling and drug trafficking by illegal armed groups, who took advantage of the closure. The government officials of both nations agreed that the binational commercial reopening would solve multiple problems in the border areas, including the security issues.
Ahead of the border reopening, on September 24, Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velázquez met his Venezuelan counterpart Vladimir Padrino at the Simón Bolívar Bridge. In addition to discussing security protocols for the reopening ceremony, the officials agreed to form technical commissions to address crime in border areas.