The search for total peace that Gustavo Petro yearns for will begin imminently. The president considers that there is no time to lose. The ELN, the last active guerrilla in Colombia, thinks the same and assures that talks with the Colombian government will begin in a matter of weeks. The negotiation, according to the armed group, will take place in several rotating venues. Spain offered to host it, Venezuela wants to play an important role and Cuba is the country where the ELN leadership lives, so they seem the most likely places to hold the discussion.
One of the guerrilla negotiators, alias Pablo Beltran, has explained that right now the group is organizing its negotiating delegation, as the government itself does. “We are in similar moments. Once that is completed, a first meeting will be held,” said Beltran in Havana, in an exclusive interview for the Efe news agency. The talks would resume in Cuba and then continue in other countries. The negotiator says that right now they are studying the offers of “accompaniment and help” from Spain and Chile.
Almost all the presidents of Colombia have sat down at some point to negotiate the disarmament of the ELN, a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla that emerged in Cuba. A group of 18 Colombian students traveled there sent by the communist party to meet Fidel Castro and learn first-hand about the bearded revolution. The group returned to their country and began the armed struggle. The government of Petro’s predecessor, Ivan Duque, held talks in Havana with a guerrilla delegation, but suspended them after the armed group carried out an attack on a cadet school in Bogota, which left 22 dead and 68 wounded.
The negotiation with the ELN is the first stone of total peace, a concept of Petro. His theory is that previous presidents have sought negotiations and agreements with guerrillas and paramilitaries in isolation. Once one group has surrendered its weapons, the others continue to exist and hold even more power. His intention is to dialogue at the same time with all the armed entities, either through a negotiation with the ELN or a submission to justice with the drug cartels.
It is on this point that some ELN leaders are critical. “Total peace is a false peace, since it is reduced to the mere absence of armed confrontation. Giving the wrong treatment to social conflicts will continue to lead us to an armed uprising,” the ELN chief, alias Antonio Garcia, wrote in August, a few days after Petro’s inauguration. Garcia is considered the representative of the toughest and most intransigent wing of the organization. Some commanders are dissatisfied with being included in the same process as criminal groups dedicated to drug trafficking and extortion.
The ELN has never reached the military potential of the FARC (they have some 2,500 combatants, according to the Colombian Army), who reintegrated into civilian life in 2016. But they are widely accepted by the population in some regions of Colombia, like Arauca. The guerrilla maintains strict social control there. It takes care that there is no common crime or prostitution. However, one of its cities, Saravena, has the highest homicide rate in the country due to the war between the ELN and FARC dissidents. The gangs are fighting over this land that serves as a drug corridor to Venezuela, from where the planes loaded with cocaine leave for other countries.
Its passage to legality would not end the violence in the country, but it would be a good first step. He would have great symbolic force: the 20th century and his utopian projects would be buried forever. Petro wants to start talks now and the ELN seems willing to do so. It seems like a matter of weeks.
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Source: EL PAIS