News Latin America The ELN that will sit down with the new government is stronger...

The ELN that will sit down with the new government is stronger than before, but ready for dialogue

Officials from the Ombudsman’s Office speak with ELN guerrillas, during the release of several soldiers and a police officer in rural Arauca, on August 17, 2022.Ombudsman’s Office (EFE/Ombudsman’s Office)

The National Liberation Army (ELN) has been willing to sit down and talk to every government in Colombia since the late 1980s. It has spent more than half of its existence trying to find a negotiated solution, without success so far. Around these conversations the idea has been created —with good reason— that it is difficult to reach agreements, so the Presidency of Gustavo Petro has the challenge of making it work this time and putting an end to the myth that it is impossible to agree with the ELN.

The Petro government enters this new attempt with an advantage. The negotiation agenda has been signed for more than four years, and the process of citizen participation, which the guerrillas have always demanded, advanced in several hearings with the civilian population that were held before Ivan Duque, as president, suspended the process in 2019. The ELN is also helping this time to make the road easier: in one week it freed 15 people it had kidnapped, including six soldiers. Petro recognized that act – “The path of peace is the same path of freedom”, he wrote on Twitter – and the office of the Commissioner for Peace celebrated the releases as a sign of willingness to move forward. “Your humanitarian decision for him is an important gesture in building the foundations to restart the dialogue process,” he said in a statement.

Carlos Velandia, a former ELN guerrilla, says that although the organization is militarily stronger today than it was four years ago, with at least 2,500 men in its ranks, it remains open to dialogue. “The difficult thing for the ELN is not to talk, the difficult thing is to reach an agreement,” acknowledges Velandia, who was in this guerrilla group for 35 years and came to be a member of its national leadership. He is now a researcher on peace issues and enthusiastically sees the chapter that has been opened with the visit of a delegation to Havana and the Colombian government’s recognition of the guerrilla delegation that remains on the island. “They have always been willing to dialogue, which is not the same as negotiating. For them, dialogue is the way to establish a political conversation to seek solutions to the country’s problems for which they took up arms. They do not conceive of dialogue to end the war or lay down their weapons, but rather to resolve the great difficulties that are being experienced in the regions,” explains Velandia by phone, who believes that the guerrillas will sit down at the table again “quite comfortably.” ”, in front of a Government that has given legitimacy to what had been advanced in the process with Juan Manuel Santos.

“There are reasons why the ELN, now more than ever, is willing to go further: the government has given legitimacy to the delegation that is in Cuba, has endorsed the agenda that was signed, has accepted the points that were established without conditions and has renewed the protocols that had been ignored by Ivan Duque”, says Velandia, for whom until now all the governments (from Pastrana to Santos) have approached this guerrilla with a “very narrow” look. “They have always sat down with the ELN to seek to disarm them rather than to dialogue and listen to the transformations that this guerrilla has sought since its birth.”

Ivan Cepeda, who traveled to Havana as a congressman and president of the Senate peace commission, has also spoken of the mistakes that the new government cannot make again if it wants to advance with the ELN, Colombia’s last active guerrilla group. “We have spent 60 years discussing conditions, requirements that must be met before dialoguing, and the result of that is measured in lives that have been lost. There were four years of discussing whether the ELN should hand over the hostages or not, and on Friday, when we arrived at the announcement that the talks were restarting, the ELN released, without the government making any demands, nine citizens that it had in its custody. can. That means that, if the dialogue advances, we are going to achieve precisely the objective that is to save lives and achieve peace,” the senator assured in an interview with the EFE agency.

The ELN is at the best moment in its history to negotiate. After more than 30 years of failed attempts, he finds himself with a government that is willing to listen because it knows it needs to if it is to contain the violence, especially in the regions where it operates. Leonardo Gonzalez, a researcher at the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace ―Indepaz―, assures that this guerrilla has never been as strong as it is now and its presence in areas with the presence of other criminal groups has strengthened it militarily.

“The ELN is fighting in Choco with the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (also known as the Clan del Golfo) and with the FARC dissidents in Catatumbo, Arauca and Cauca. Entering into a negotiation must go through guaranteeing that these spaces are not taken over by other armed actors,” says Gonzalez, who also points out as a challenge, but for the guerrilla, that the command’s guidelines are accepted by the bases. “In recent years, they have been involved in drug trafficking and other illegal income, which could make the process difficult in areas with drug traffickers,” says the researcher.

It is impossible to think of a process with the ELN in the same way as it was with the FARC because its hierarchical command or control structure, type of members and capabilities are very different, as the book points out. Why is it so difficult to negotiate with the ELN?, from the CINEP research center. The academic Socorro Ramirez warns in the prologue of that book, that the part of the guerrilla that would be interested in a negotiation “would not be willing to regroup territorially for the process of reincorporation of ex-combatants, nor would it accept seats for its leaders, among other things, for their rejection of the electoral process and the legislative bodies”.

For now, and with the ELN microphones turned off in Havana, Commander Antonio Garcia’s messages through Twitter show that the only way to achieve peace with this armed group is through citizen participation. “Only the ability to mobilize will make changes possible; Even the reforms that the parliament will want to promote, if they are fundamental, will need popular support to confront the sectors that are involved in the construction of a truly democratic Colombia,” wrote the guerrilla, who has held the highest leadership since last year. of the guerrilla and whose voice will be key to the process with the new government that is just beginning.

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Source: EL PAIS

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