What has the history of the peace processes with the ELN in Colombia been like?

What has the history of the peace processes with the ELN in Colombia been like?

( Spanish) — Talking about peace agreements with the ELN guerrillas is talking about decades of failed processes and governments that have tried to negotiate, unsuccessfully, throughout the country’s recent history.

This time the government of President Gustavo Petro is again attempting a negotiation with the oldest guerrilla in Colombia which, after years of suspending talks with the government of Iván Duque, has conveyed its intention to accept an agreement to lay down their arms.

The most recent advance to reach a cessation of violence was a bilateral agreement on fire with the ELN, in addition to four other armed groups —the Segunda Marquetalia, the Central General Staff, the AGC and the Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada— from this 1 from January to June 30, 2023, as reported by Colombian President Gustavo Petro on December 31. The bilateral ceasefire will be “extendable depending on the progress in the negotiations,” said Petro, who promotes “total peace” whose objective is to negotiate the end of armed violence with all criminal groups in the country.

“The bilateral ceasefire obliges the armed organizations and the state to respect it. There will be a national and international verification mechanism,” Petro wrote on December 31. “May peace be between us. Happy new year.”

Will it work this time?

Dialogue table between the Colombian government and the ELN in Ecuador, on March 15, 2018. (CRISTINA VEGA/AFP/Getty Images)

Negotiations during the Petro government

In October 2022, representatives of the Government of Colombia (led by President Gustavo Petro) and the ELN announced from Caracas, Venezuela, that they would reinstate the talks table, after a three-year hiatus during the government of Iván Duque.

“For the Government of Colombia and the ELN, the participation of society in this process is essential in the changes that Colombia needs to build peace,” reads a joint document signed by the parties. The Government of Colombia said that compliance with the protocols agreed between the State and the ELN is a “fundamental step to achieve total peace” and that it is giving the ELN “full guarantees” to return to the talks table.

The first formal cycle of negotiations of this new stage took place between November 21 and December 12, 2022 in Caracas, Venezuela. In this cycle, agreements were reached on the agenda, the institutionalization of the negotiation table, pedagogy and communications.

Peace Colombia ELN

Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla commander Pablo Beltrán (left) shakes hands with Colombian government delegation member Iván Cepeda (right) opposite Colombian government delegation member Otty Patino, during the closing of the peace talks in Caracas on December 12, 2022. (Credit: FEDERICO PARRA/AFP via Getty Images)

But a false announcement by the Petro government at the beginning of January 2023 generated a fracture in this peace process: a unilateral announcement about a supposed bilateral ceasefire by President Gustavo Petro ended in a political entanglement that left doubts about the will of peace of the armed group and the decisions of the president and the negotiating group. According to that announcement, the agreement would be for six months.

But it turned out that the deal never happened.

“The ELN cannot accept as bilateral a unilateral decision of the government, which does not abide by the formality of the Mesa as the agreed space to reach understandings and violates the procedures of not disseminating to public opinion what is not based on consensus. Therefore , this decree does not commit the ELN,” the ELN said in a statement.

The two delegations had extraordinary talks in Venezuela in which “the impasses that were generated previously were clarified and overcome,” according to a statement issued on February 12.

On February 13, the second cycle of peace talks with the ELN with the United States as the guarantor country, along with Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Brazil, was installed in Mexico City. Besides,

The negotiations of the ELN of Santos, Duque

Those of Petro are the continuation of the peace negotiations with the ELN that advanced during the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.

These negotiations began at least since 2014, the year in which the exploratory dialogues between the parties began. And in 2016 the start of peace talks was announced after reaching an agreement and establishing a six-point agenda: participation, democracy, transformation, victims, conflict and implementation.

During those negotiations, the peace talks were marred by a weak bilateral ceasefire that the parties agreed to in 2017, when the ELN stopped firing for the first time in 52 years. But with accusations of armed actions on both sides, the truce was finally broken, and the agreement was gradually weakened, so much so that in April 2018 Ecuador suspended its participation as facilitator of the talks until the armed group suspended its hostilities.

File photo: Pablo Beltrán, representative of the ELN in the peace talks (left) and the chief negotiator of the Colombian Government for the talks with that guerrilla, Juan Camilo Restrepo, speak at the Archbishop’s Palace in Quito on March 3, 2018 (Credit: RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

With the end of the Santos government in August 2018 and the arrival of that of Iván Duque —a staunch opponent of the negotiated solution to the conflict— the peace talks with the ELN were frozen, as Duque called for an end to the kidnapping and the armed actions by part of the guerrilla group.

“A forceful gesture is needed towards the Colombian people and it has to be the release of all those kidnapped. If this premise is fulfilled and these criminal activities are terminated, we are ready to begin that exploration,” Duque said weeks after beginning his term. , in September 2018. The ELN asked the Government to continue with the dialogues.

But an inexcusable event for Duque led to the definitive suspension —during that administration— of the search for peace with the ELN: a terrorist attack with a car bomb at the National Police Cadet School in the south of Bogotá in 2019, which the guerrillas won.

At that time, the ELN said in a statement that “it has insisted on agreeing to a bilateral cessation to generate a favorable climate for peace efforts, this proposal has had significant national and international support, but the government response has been negative.”

Since January 2019, Duque has terminated the dialogue table with this illegal armed group, due to the ELN’s lack of guarantees and willingness to move forward with the search for peace.

The ELN or the FARC, which group is more radical?

Petro lifts arrest warrants and tries a new negotiation

One of the commitments of the Petro Government, at the beginning of its mandate, is what it has called “total peace”, which is the negotiation with all the armed groups to end the war in the country. Within this commitment, he approached the ELN and both parties agreed to continue with the 2016 agenda, suspended for several years.

So in August 2022, Petro lifted the arrest warrants and extradition requests against the ELN chief negotiators, in force since the Duque government, and a month later the guerrilla delegation left Cuba —where they had been since 2018— for Venezuela. to return to the negotiating table.

For this new stage, Petro has considered Venezuela “key” in the peace talks with the ELN, for which reason it invited Nicolás Maduro, the questioned president of the neighboring country, to be the guarantor of the negotiations, a request to which Maduro agreed immediately.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (center) speaking alongside peace commissioner Rodrigo Rivera (left) and Gustavo Bell (right) in March 2018, as he ordered government negotiators to resume talks with the last group active rebel of the South American country, the National Liberation Army (ELN). (Credit: PRESIDENCY OF COLOMBIA/AFP/Getty Images)

The failed negotiations between 1975 and 2014

The first peace negotiations between the governments of Colombia and the ELN date from 1975, when the Colombian Army practically dismantled the central command of that guerrilla and the ELN communicated its interest in disarming President Alfonso López Michelsen. The government accepted the proposal, but the guerrillas never arrived, alleging military operations that prevented their displacement, he says a documentary account of the failed peace agreements made by the Center for International Affairs of Barcelona, ​​CIDOB.

In the 1990s, the government of President César Gaviria (1990-1994) managed for the first time to get the ELN to sit down to negotiate and the result was slightly encouraging: the Socialist Renovation Current, an ELN dissidence, demobilized in 1994. But the bulk of that guerrilla group never laid down their weapons and continued committing crimes, according to an account of the think tank Ideas for Peace.

During the government of President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) a rapprochement with the ELN would again be attempted, this time with Magnucia’s talks”, so called because they were held in the German city that bears this name. In 1998, a preliminary agreement was signed between “civil society” and the ELN, backed by the government, to start a peace process, but an attack in Antioquia by the ELN that left 70 people dead clouded the advances that had been achieved up to that moment.

Finally, during the government of President Álvaro Uribe, between 2005 and 2007, exploratory phases began in Cuba and Venezuela for rapprochement with the ELN, with the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez and the Governments of Spain. , Switzerland and Norway, according to the CIBOD count.

Francisco Galan (L), one of the leaders of the Colombian rebel group ELN, speaks to the press before his arrival at the Nariño Palace on April 03, 2008, in Bogota, to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. (Credit: AFP PHOTO/Inaldo PEREZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Out of these exploratory dialogues came a document entitled “Proposed Base Agreement National Government — ELN”as then the local press reportedwhere the bases of a negotiation are laid and touches on issues such as the bilateral ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, the release of hostages and a road map to advance with the negotiations.

According to the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, a disagreement between the parties, the ELN’s non-compliance with the Government’s immovable conditions, and the weakening of then-President Uribe’s relations with Venezuela, led to a weakening of rapprochements, until the The dialogue reached a deadlock, which was revived with the government of Juan Manuel Santos almost a decade later.

With information from Melissa Velásquez, Fernando Ramos, Florencia Trucco, Stefano Pozzebon and Kiarinna Parisi

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