The Government of Colombia and the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN) declared this Friday, June 9, a historic 180-day bilateral ceasefire while the cycle of negotiations in Havana was closed. This is good news for President Gustavo Petro who, without serving a year in office, has already faced several internal crises, the latest being an investigation for alleged illegal financing of his electoral campaign.
Colombia takes another step towards ‘total peace’. A 180-day ceasefire will take effect on August 3 between the Colombian Army and the country’s longest-serving guerrilla, the National Liberation Army (ELN). It is a historic ceasefire, as both sides have never reached an agreement of such duration in the past.
“On August 3, 2023, the full implementation (…) of the national and temporary bilateral ceasefire will begin with the full application of the protocols and the full operation of the monitoring and verification mechanism,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Bruno Rodriguez.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro traveled to Havana to sign the agreement and expressed his hope to see an end to the country’s armed conflicts.
“Here ends a stage of armed insurgency in Latin America (…) The world of weapons and killing each other (…) must end,” Petro said before the participants in the closing ceremony of the cycle of negotiations. “In May 2025, the decades-long war between the ELN and the state ceases definitively,” he added.
Petro had hinted at this agreement even a few days before it was signed when he posted a photo of a military meeting on Twitter where a slide gave details of the measure to reduce hostilities.
President @PetroGustavo He said that “we must love and protect the heart, because by protecting it, violence will not win us over, but love.” And he concluded that “this signing of these partial agreements today, which brings you to a ceasefire, to a point that you have never had… pic.twitter.com/QJNT0dLdiY
– Colombian Presidency 🇨🇴 (@infopresidencia) June 9, 2023
This is the longest ceasefire ever agreed between the ELN and the government. Only in September 2017 had another bilateral ceasefire been agreed that lasted 101 days.
The ELN is a Marxist armed group that was founded in 1964 with the ambition of seizing power by force to establish a “democratic and popular government.” The State tried to make peace with the organization on six occasions, but never successfully.
Currently, the armed group operates in more than 200 municipalities in Colombia and could have between 2,000 and 4,000 members, according to authorities.
Long process of talks
The dialogue between the Government and the ELN was resumed when Petro came to power, pointing to a “total peace” project with the desire to resume talks with the armed groups that are still active in the country.
The dialogue with the ELN was organized in several rounds of negotiations. The first took place in November 2022 in Caracas and had concluded with an agreement to promote humanitarian relief in some of the regions most affected by violence.
On December 31, 2022, Petro had announced on his Twitter account an alleged agreement with the armed group. However, the information was not confirmed by the ELN and the president had to delete its publication. So, eThe ceasefire did not materialize.
A second cycle of negotiations took place in February in Mexico City. There, the government recognized the political status of the ELN as a “rebel armed organization” and the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire was discussed.
Negotiations in Havana continued on May 2, but stalled in the middle of that month after Petro questioned the unity of the group’s leadership. The ELN had announced that the talks were in “crisis.”
A fourth cycle of peace talks will take place in Venezuela between August 14 and September 4, Rodríguez reported.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, speaking at the ceremony, acknowledged a long and complex dialogue process, but said that despite the “high price” his country paid for participating in these negotiations, it had been worth it.
“The price we have paid is high, but we do not regret it,” Díaz-Canel said.
The United States classified Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism in 2021. A measure that came when Cuba refused to extradite ELN leaders who were on the island after an attack carried out by the group in Bogotá in January 2019 The request was made when Donald Trump occupied the White House and the right-winger Iván Duque the House of Nariño. The attack led the former Colombian president to end the ongoing negotiations.
On this occasion, Mexico, Norway, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and Chile are the guarantor countries of the negotiations.
Good news amid a turbulent outlook for Petro
The news came as a relief for Gustavo Petro, who is facing major internal political crises.
A week ago, he had to remove his right hand, Laura Sarabia, chief of staff, due to the scandal of alleged illegal wiretapping related to the case of the theft of money from his house, of which his nanny was accused. Because of this scandal, Petro also had to fire another politician from her close circle, Armando Benedetti, who was ambassador to Venezuela.
On the other hand, this Friday, the Prosecutor’s Office reported that it will investigate the alleged illegal financing of the president’s electoral campaign in 2022.
“Here, possible responsibilities will be established in the crimes of financing electoral campaigns from prohibited sources, violation of electoral limits and others that can be classified,” the Prosecutor’s Office notified this Friday.
Petro’s party is accused, among other things, of having received 15,000 million pesos, which were not accounted for to finance his electoral campaign, something that the president rejects.
Finally, this agreement will make it possible to reinforce the president’s ‘total peace’ project shortly after the government announced the suspension of the ceasefire with the dissidents of Iván Mordisco’s FARC. The pause in hostilities had been announced on December 31, but was interrupted when four minors were murdered last month in the departments of Caquetá and Amazonas at the hands of the armed group.
With EFE and Reuters