EL COLOMBIANO, January 1, 2023


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Making peace with the ELN, the Dissidents, and the Clan Del Golfo is an ambitious plan. Analysts point out the difficulties.

The Segunda Marquetalia, the AGC, the ELN, the Central Command Staff, and the Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada have agreed to a bilateral cease fire.

In less than five months, President Gustavo Petro achieved a bilateral cease fire with the five principal criminal organizations in the country, responsible for kidnappings, extortions, drug trafficking, and attacks on the Armed Forces. Lika a New Year’s gift, Petro announced that “total peace will be a reality,” However, the truce already has to overcome a number of challenges in the first days of January. We hope it doesn’t turn out like in the saying, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

Apparently the idea that was Petro’s battle flag in his campaign is off to a good start. The cease fire took effect on January 1 and will remain in effect until June 30, 2023, with the possibility, of course, of an extension, depending on the progress of the negotiations with the ELN, the Segunda Marquetalia, the Central Command Staff, the AGC, and the Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada.

With this agreement they will have to suspend all of their offensive actions and avoid armed incidents with the Armed Forces and the other illegal organizations. Besides, “for the commencement of these cease fire agreements, the government will issue a specific decree for each of the organizations, which will determine the duration and the conditions of each cease fire,” Petro explained from the Presidential Palace.

Right away, the decision had strong support in the regions most affected by those criminal groups, like Arauca, Putumayo, Cauca, Norte de Santander, Chocó and northeast Antioquia, but the visible sign of the truce could fail if there is no attention to specific matters like verification, Armed Forces activities, the war on drugs, and the protection of civilians in places where there are other criminal groups who have made no agreement.

Although Petro announced that a verification system, both national and international, had already been established, with the participation of the Verification Mission of the UN, OAS/MAPP (Mission to Support the Peace Process), Colombia’s Ombudsman, and other international observers. But some analysts agree that this is precisely the most problematic part of the matter.

Colombia has had a lot of peace processes, but the novel thing here is having to watch to see that the halt in hostilities with five groups at the same time actually happens. It’s still more complicated with the existence of the other gangs and organizations that are not part of the truce agreement.

Add to that the credibility that the verifying agencies, both national and international, have to demonstrate, which would be measured by their guarantees of doing their work objectively.

For Max Yuri Gil, Professor at the Institute for Political Studies at the University of Antioquia, besides the foregoing, there will be two relevant elements in that work of verification: the participation of civil society, with the establishment of effective channels for making complaints, and the guarantee that there will be no intimidations, as well as empowerment of local authorities, not in the negotiations, but rather in the monitoring of the cease fire commitments. “It’s indispensable that there be an extremely high level of credibility,” he concluded.

Verification has definitely been the breakdown point for other political sectors that have already made pronouncements about Petro’s decision.

From the opposition, the Democratic Center Party deplores the decision, and demonstrated the possible complications of a measure of this size.

Even Rafael Nieto, the former nominee for President, published in his Twitter account his concern that this could turn into an opportunity for gangs to keep on committing crimes while the Armed Forces refrain from attacking. “A bilateral cease fire, without a concentration of troops, will favor the ELN,” he insisted.

Omar Yepes, former president of the Conservative Party agrees with that. He questioned the decision to enter into an agreement with armed groups and he expressed fear that it could run the risk that the illegal organizations “would take advantage of it to expand their territorial control and be consolidated,” he said.

In the same manner, for former Presidential candidate Enrique Gómez, the truce announced by Petro is a strategy to “tie our Army’s hands” and benefit only the criminals.

On the other hand, the majority of the Historic Pact caucus applauded and supported Petro. The first to celebrate it was Defense Minister, Iván Velásquez. In his comments, he contradicted the fears of the opposition by announcing that even the Armed Forces agree with the truce.

And one of the most controversial comments up to now came from former Senator Gustavo Bolívar, who referred to Petro as the “commander” and thanked him for the New Year’s “gift”.

Others were surprised by the announcement, like Ariel Ávila, a Senator from the Green Party.

“I didn’t expect this to be so quick; it’s a big step,: she said, but at the same time, she warned that it’s a bilateral cease fire, meaning that it covers the government as well as the five gangs, “but it’s not that there is a cease fire among all of them (meaning multilateral),” she explained.

The difference in the terms is essential as, in reality, the greater number of people killed in the current conflict were not killed in combat with the Armed Forces and every criminal gang, but rather in the war that they have among themselves for the conquest of territory.

When all is said and done, we have to wait for the issue of the decree that will serve as the legal framework of the bilateral cease fire. It’s in that document that the challenges to see that the peace does not fail again will be addressed.

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