The Process With the ELN will be Much More Complex Than the One With the FARC

Source :
El Tiempo
April 2, 2016

The Process With the ELN will be Much More Complex Than the One With the FARC

The Jesuit Father analyzes the current situation with that guerrilla group

By Yamid Amat

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

“What is at stake here is not the future of President Santos, nor is it the political future of ex-President Uribe, nor even the future of the ELN, but rather of the possibility that we can live like human beings.”

With these words, the Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux, one of the people most respected in this country for his positions and his ideas on subjects like inclusion, equality, the campesinos, and the peace, opened and closed this interview, in which he outlines his points of view on the philosophy of the National Liberation Army (ELN) with regard to the peace process that, for the first time in 50 years, it has agreed to negotiate.

Along with his degrees in Letters and Philosophy from the Javeriana University and in Economics from the University of the Andes, he has a degree in Theology and a doctorate in Economics from the Sorbonne in Paris and another Masters from the London School of Economics.

De Roux, who lived in the Magdalena Medio for 13 years, knows the social and economic necessities of the people of this country like nobody else.

What do you think of the ELN today?

It is a revolutionary organization that is fighting for a radical social democracy. It is inspired by the Cuban revolution and by Christian elements supported by four priests who died in their ranks, Fathers Camilo Torres, Manuel Pérez, Domingo Laín, and José Antonio Jiménez.

Were there any Jesuits?

Not a one. There have never been any Jesuits in the guerrillas in Colombia. The ELN is also a group that is much more complex than the FARC.

Complex in what way?

My impression is that the ELN is within itself a living debate about basic ideas, because it is very much engrafted in the countryside, among the campesinos, and their commanders express the needs and the different cultures in the regions.

Explain the comparison you make between the FARC and the ELN.

It’s my impression that the FARC have a unitary, vertical leadership, while in the ELN the commanders have relatively significant autonomy. They have really a coordination that is consolidated in the Central Committee (Comite Central COCE) who is chosen within the organization. El Coce makes sure that the strategies decided on in their meetings are carried out.

Who are the members of El Coce?

I can think of three who are very important: Nicolás Rodríguez, “Gabino”; “Antonio García”; and “Pablo Beltran”. Another significant individual is “Pablito”, the commander of the organization in Arauca, Boyacá, and Casanare.

How many men does the ELN have right now?

The government talks about 1,600 – 1,800 armed men, with the capacity for very aggressive military actions. But the “elenos” are also a political organization with a lot of influence in groups of people that are organized.

What do you think of the agreement that was just signed between the government and the ELN?

I like it a lot. First, because it clearly establishes their determination to make an end to the armed conflict; second, because the language of the agreement shows the parties’ respect for each other and creates a climate for a negotiation that will be difficult; and third, because they achieved an agenda for a process that is different from the one with the FARC. It will work for the ELN; it has its own methodology that will lead to peace.

But how is it different?

The agenda and the method. The first point determines a method for participation by society, extremely important for the ELN. The second seeks to strengthen democracy so as to transform Colombian politics. And the third point proposes regional projects that ensure that new forms of participation and democracy have been put in place. The process provides real relevance for the victims.

How do you think civil society will be able to participate?

It seems to me that what would work best would be to begin with the farthest regions, that is to say, starting with the leadership that exists in the small towns, in the municipalities.

Speaking of leadership, do you mean political leadership?

Not currently, because right now the majority of political leaders in the regions are male politicians put forward by the parties in order to get votes. We have to reconstruct our politics using serious social leaders who can call the people together and articulate their rights. During my thirteen years in the Magdalena Medio, I met leaders who were fighting for the rights and the autonomy of the communities. They had a national perspective and they had the courage to confront the guerrillas and the paramilitaries and stand up to them, as legitimate citizens who would not recognize any authority of the illegal groups. At the same time they demanded that the legitimate authorities protect their rights. That kind of leadership has meant that participation in politics has been closed to them.

How should the representatives of civil society be chosen to take part in the dialogues?

We have to look for them among the leaders that the people out in the countryside have confidence in.

Give me an example that best illustrates your idea.

Women and men who lead projects of civil resistance, in farms and markets and popular credit, in education and culture, in committees that dialogue and that fight against illegal mining, in indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino organizations that are protecting the land.

Could you give us some names?

I won’t do that because I don’t want to expose them. The conflict is still alive in Colombia. Look at the armed stoppage this week. At least 4,000 of these leaders have been murdered in the last 25 years. And these were people who were not part of the war. In the Magdalena Medio, 27 of our campesinos leaders of that kind were killed.

Is the ELN familiar with these regional leaders?

They know them in the territories where they are operating and their relations are different because these leaders protect the autonomy of the communities, and because the ELN also promote political leaders who have connections with them. But above all the local society knows who the people are who can be trusted, who fight for the lives of all the people and fight to keep them free of war and corruption.

Do you think that the parties do not represent civil society?

No. They don’t represent it. As they exist now, they are just businesses that control voting and control of public resources to keep their businesses going. And paradoxically, part of the work that peace will require is the dignification of politics and the transformation of the apparatus of our traditional political parties.

Do you think that right now the parties are too contaminated by corruption?

There is immense corruption in Colombia and it got worse in the conflict areas where the administration and the elections were subordinated to the illegal groups and the mafias, with the support of the parties in order to get more votes. But I am convinced that the presence in public matters of the leadership of the regional organizations, including cultural leaders and business managers, could transform politics and the political parties.

Looking at such a difficult scenario as the one you describe, what do we have to do to build the peace?

The peace will have to be built by critical people in the countryside, but the political class cannot be excluded entirely, because this is the only way to change it. Look: We must hope that Rafael Pardo, who is a magnificent Minister for the actions that will follow the agreements, does not turn over resources needed for the peace to the political bureaucracies in the conflict regions. Those bureaucracies can keep on managing the municipal budgets as they have all along, but not the resources for the peace. No.

These funds will have to last a long time. It will take at least 15 years to incorporate the people who are no longer at war, to change the methods of participation, and to build the projects that are needed to make structural changes. These resources have to be managed by entities that are mixed, mainly by local leaders, with a smaller participation by some members of the political bureaucracy who are well known for clean government and for their integrity, so that the transformations will be possible.

What serious risks do you see for the peace process that is beginning with the ELN?

I see that it is a much more complex process than the one with the FARC. First because of the internal debate inside the ELN. They have made a collective decision for peace but they will not suspend their internal debates. Second, because of the relative autonomy of the local commanders, which is how I explain the fact that a local front has demanded money for the crime of kidnapping Ramon Cabrales, while there has apparently been an order to release him without any payment. They will have to create some means of participation by civil society, so that society out in the countryside can participate, and not just supporters of the ELN because otherwise we are headed nowhere.

Will the ELN accept that the structural changes in the country will not happen immediately?

The demand for immediate structural change could be another difficulty, if the ELN insists on that. Because the peace has two different moments in time: one is the peacemaking, making the peace, in which no structural changes are made because the whole nation is not represented at the negotiating table to permit a legitimate change to the Constitution or to change the economic model or to change the country’s laws. Later, after the war is over and weapons will no longer play a part in politics, then comes peace building, the construction of peace, and that is the time for structural changes. Those must be carried out by the democratic participation of all Colombians, and the changes will have to be very extensive if they are to guarantee a sustainable peace.

What structural changes are we talking about?

To understand the necessary structural changes, look at Google lists: We are among the ten most corrupt countries in the world, among the most inequitable countries in the world, among the countries in the world with the most impunity. Today once again we are the world’s greatest producer of coca, we are one of the countries in the world with the greatest destruction of the environment, even though we possess more páramos than any other country and contain the second-most diverse ecosystems. That is to say that we have to make very serious structural changes, but the place to make them is not at the negotiating table. There, we have to establish the conditions for ending the war that is destroying us as a community of human beings. Later on will come the democratic, participatory debate, to make the changes that peace will demand in order to make it last.

What will be the advantages of the peace agreement?

The determination to end the armed warfare in this country and the decision to take weapons out of politics, and those of us who are interested in peace will have to protect that decision. It is a decision that the ELN has never made with so much determination and with government agreement.

Do you think that we are close to putting an end to the violence?

We are close to breaking into the eye of the hurricane that is killing us with this political warfare. Contrary to what many people in Colombia believe, that the guerrillas are just bandits that are behind the coca production and they are loaded with cash, when you talk seriously with the guerrilla leaders you find that there was a matter of conscience, that there were some who believed that the upper classes who ran the country were enemies of the people. They made the decision to fight against that, even by killing them, so that things would change. Those of us who don’t share that view have to admit, nevertheless, that it exists. And that the right path has to be dialogue, to persuade those who use weapons, on both sides, that we don’t have to kill each other to obtain a just and reconciled society. And that the longer we put off ending the war, the longer we will have put off the beginning of the necessary transformations. That is what is being accomplished in Havana and we hope for with the ELN.

Will this clash between President Santos and ex-President Uribe make peace impossible?

What is in play is not the future of President Santos, nor is it the political future of ex-President Uribe, nor even the future of the ELN, but rather of the possibility that we will be able to live like human beings.

Special to EL TIEMPO

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