By Ovidio Castro Medina for EFE, EL ESPECTADOR,

November 20, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The last meeting between the parties was on August 1, 2018, in Havana. Now we open a new chapter in the dialogs.

Four years and four months after their last meeting in Havana, the Colombian government and the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) will sit down at the table again on Monday, this time in Caracas and with Gustavo Petro as President, to re-initiate negotiations for peace.

The last meeting between the parties was on August 1, 2018, in Havana, during the administration of Juan Manuel Santos. That meeting was the sixth cycle of dialogs, and concluded without reaching any agreement, six days before the inauguration of President Iván Duque, who put the dialogs on the shelf.

In this new stage of dialogs, Cuba and Norway will be guarantor countries, along with Venezuela, which plays a crucial role because it is Colombia’s close neighbor, and because its territory has been a refuge for the guerrillas for years, according to Colombian authorities.

Right now we don’t know what the methodology will be, or if all of the cycles will be in Venezuela, and we don’t even know what role countries like Spain or Chile will play. They have offered to be available to the Colombian government if that will be useful.

The total composition of the negotiating teams will be made known this Monday in Caracas. However, on the government side, Otty Patiño, a former M-19 guerrilla, will be the chief of the negotiating team, and the President of the Colombian Cattle Ranchers Association (Fedegan), José Félix Lafaurie, the guerrillas’ bitter enemy, will be on the team.

It’s also rumored that Members of Congress, María José Pizarro, the daughter of Carlos Pizarro, the commander of the M-19 who signed the demobilization of those guerrillas, and who was murdered in 1990 when he was a candidate for President, and Iván Cepeda, a Senator and defender of the peace talks, will be part of the government’s team.

The administration has said that the ELN side will be represented by Israel Ramírez, alias “Pablo Beltrán”, its second in command, as chief of the delegation.

Beltrán was the chief of the peace delegation in the dialogs initiated in 2017 by Santos. Those began in Quito and were transferred to Havana the following year.

The left as the ELN’s counterpart

Since before his inauguration as President, Petro has emphasized that one of the priorities of his administration is “total peace”, whose cornerstone is in the dialogs with the ELN.

As part of that policy, Petro is also seeking some agreement or submission to the legal system by other illegal armed groups, such as the FARC dissidents and the criminal gangs.

These conversations in Caracas have several particularities. One of them is that they are being re-initiated in the midst of local and international situations that didn’t exist before.

One of those is that, for the first time, the ELN is approaching a negotiating table where the government is represented by a leftist administration. In the previous negotiations, the administrations were part of traditional parties or right-leaning coalitions.

Those attempts had as their counterparts the administrations of César Gaviria in 1991 and 1992, of Ernesto Samper (1998), and Andrés Pastrana (1999). Between 2005 and 2007, the Álvaro Uribe administration pursued exploratory phases with the ELN in Cuba and Venezuela.

This situation “could open up opportunities, but it could also generate tensions about how to conceive the solution to the structural matters and to the termination of the armed conflict,” according to a recent analysis by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP in Spanish), an independent think tank.

“The atmosphere is favorable, but it’s not without the complexities that accompanied earlier approaches to the ELN,” indicates the FIP, recalling that the ELN is not a completely hierarchical organization, and that decisions are made by consensus.

Guerrillas strengthened binationally

The ELN, born in Colombia in 1964 and following the model of the Cuban revolution, has suffered changes. The most important change is that it was able in recent years to turn into a binational movement that has taken up arms as it consolidated its presence in Venezuela.

“This is a binational challenge that requires a binational response, with the understanding of the fact that part of the differences in ways of operation, of organization, and its relationships with institutions and strength is based on obtaining funds to finance its illegal activities, the ELN has a strong presence in border areas of the two countries.

It also has strong influence in key areas for the extraction of resources and, in addition, some of its commanders are in Venezuela.

“This is a binational challenge that requires a binational response, with the understanding that there are differences in ways of operating, in organization, in relationships with institutions, and in the territorial control on both sides of the border,” indicated the FIP report.

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