EL ESPECTADOR, March 21, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
In the same week that the administration suspended the ceasefire with the Clan del Golfo, it announced the start of dialogs with the Central Command and presented a definite agenda for negotiation with the ELN, at the close of a second cycle of conversations with the ELN guerrillas.
Of the five armed groups with which President Petro announced a bilateral ceasefire last December 31, minutes before the New Year, three of them were still complying with the commitment. On Sunday, March 19 the President himself announced the suspension of the ceasefire with the AGC or Clan del Golfo, the same way in which he had announced the start of the truce 78 days earlier: by Twitter. That suspension, added to the fact the ELN guerrillas said on January 3 that they had never agreed to any ceasefire with the government yet—even though it would be the subject of discussion in the next cycle of conversations in Havana—leaves the cease fire in effect only with the two dissident groups of the now-defunct FARC, the Central Command and the Second Marquetalia, and with the heirs of the paramilitaries, Conquerors of the Sierra Nevada Self-Defense Forces (ACSN).
Ceasefire with the Clan del Golfo: an illusion lasting 78 days
The decision was not made lightly, nor was it surprising. During all of that week, the President himself was sending messages that gave clues to the path he would end up having to take. His statements were focused on the violent actions that had taken place during the miners’ strike in Bajo Cauca, where not only were curfews being maintained in several municipalities in Antioquia, but water mains had been cut off in several areas, toll imposed, several vehicles burned, and communities were running out of food. Although the Clan del Golfo denied responsibility, the administration claimed to have proof that demonstrated the contrary.
In spite of the fact that the difficult public order situation reached some tense moments last week, what really filled the President’s cup to overflowing was a rifle attack on a Colombian Army SUV that was traveling on the West Trunk while patrolling the caravans of public service trucks and buses that, if not for this security accompaniment, would not have been able to travel. Specifically, under this context of public order, on last March 19, the Governor of Antioquia, Aníbal Gaviria, confirmed that four cargo vehicles and two buses going from Yarumal to Tarazá were burned on the same road where the attack on the patrol took place.
The Clan del Golfo insists that the ELN was behind those events and that their organization complied with the ceasefire as a sign of their willingness to negotiate with the administration, as part of its policy of “total peace”. However, the Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez, reiterated Sunday night that he has “credible” evidence that it was indeed the work of the group that descended from the paramilitaries. Although the context of the miners’ strike and the violent events that took place were what led the President to order the reactivation of all of the military operations, it’s true that since January of last year, social organizations have been warning that the Clan del Golfo hadn’t kept its word.
One of those organizations is the Institute for the Study of Peace and Development (Indepaz). Since December 31, 2022, that group has been scrutinizing events of public order to determine whether the illegal armed groups, like the Clan del Golfo, the ELN, and the FARC dissidents, have been keeping their word, not just not to attack the Armed Forces, but also not to continue attacking civil society. In none of these cases, according to their reports, did the groups keep their promises. To focus on the case now occupying the attention of public opinion, Indepaz has registered 11 violent events involving the Clan del Golfo between January and February where they have failed to comply with the ceasefire.
In six of those cases the confrontations affected the civilian population (effects on the cessation of hostilities), while in five cases, the actions were between the Armed Forces and the Clan del Golfo (a direct violation of the ceasefire). In its investigation, Indepaz points out that there may be more public order events where the ceasefire was violated, but those are still being verified by the researchers, and the events that took place during March in connection with the miners’ strike are not yet counted in their statistics. In other words, the statistics may be much more and be irrefutable evidence that, in spite of Petro’s decision, the ceasefire was never carried out. And much less in the area that, historically, has been the rearguard of the Clan del Golfo.
Although a sector of public opinion celebrated the administration’s position, it’s a sure thing that the violent battle with this group is once again generating uncertainty about the backlash that this decision could bring, especially with civil society. Doubts also remain about what will happen with the negotiations for the submission of this group to the legal system, the biggest and most important armed group in this country, at a time when approaches by the High Commissioner for Peace had already taken place. In spite of these uncertain scenarios, the Clan del Golfo did state, in a communication, that it continues with its “disposition for peace. We are disposed to dialog with the appropriate official entities to overcome the impasses that are being presented.”
In any case, the Armed Forces were ready to attack. Last Sunday night, in a statement in which all of the top-ranking officials and Ministers in Interior and Defense took part, the Commander of the Armed Forces, General Hélder Fernán Giraldo Bonilla, was trenchant. Live and in person, he ordered his people to carry out “offensive and decisive operations against the Clan del Golfo. I mean, that in every part of the national territory where that armed group is committing its crimes, you are to carry out offensive operations in coordination with the Police. Let’s continue honoring our nation, subduing the battle capacity of this illegal group.” A declaration of war in times where the “total peace” is still being talked about.
The current state of the peace process with the other groups
The suspension of the ceasefire with the AGC or Clan del Golfo came to an end in the same week in which the President had announced the imminent commencement of another dialog, with the Central Command, the dissidents of the now-defunct FARC, led by Iván Mordisco. On Monday, March 13, we learned that the Attorney General’s Office had agreed to lift the arrest warrants for 19 members of that armed organization, which unlocked the process with that group. The next step was that more than a dozen mid-level commanders in that group traveled from Catatumbo, Arauca, Magdalena Medio, and Cauca, as well as from prisons in Jamundí, Popayán, Villavicencio, and Bogotá to a point between Caquetá and Meta for a “commanders’ summit” where they will choose their representatives for the official dialogs with the Petro administration. In the next few days, we will know more of their names, as well as the names of the government’s representatives in that negotiation.
Just a little more than a month ago, February 8 of this year, the administration and the FARC dissidents had announced the signing of the ceasefire protocol, the only one that exists officially with any of the groups that were included at the beginning of the bilateral ceasefire announced by the President. The document, signed by Danilo Rueda, the Peace Commissioner, and by Andrey Avendaño, the delegate from the EMC, created the system of Oversight, Monitoring, and Verification (MVMV), made up of representatives of the government, the Armed Forces, the EMC, civil society, and the church. It also provided that neither the government nor the EMC could end the ceasefire without having discussed the event that caused the breach with the other party.
“What happened with the AGC (or Clan del Golfo) is a warning bell to alert us to what can happen with the Central Command and specifically with their Western Command Coordinator, who is the actor who has violated the ceasefire the most,” states Leonardo González of the Indepaz Human Rights Observatory. And it’s that the monitoring by that organization registered 44 violent actions that involved the EMC between January and February; 26 of those actions were against the Armed Forces (a violation of the ceasefire) and 18 of them affected the civilian population (an act against the cessation of hostilities).
Regarding the progress in the process with the Second Marquetalia, led by Iván Márquez, we have not learned many details, except that the Peace Commissioner has confirmed that there will also be negotiations like those that will be undertaken with the EMC. In fact, the Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa, already confirmed that it is legally permissible to negotiate with that organization, and that if the President requests arrest warrants for some of its members be suspended, that would be approved. That was the end of the discussion on the treatment that this group would receive. The majority of them signed the Peace Agreement of 2016, but re-armed in 2019.
Even fewer details are available about the progress as of now with the Conquerors of the Sierra Nevada Self-Defense Forces, except for the fact that that group has complied with the bilateral ceasefire with the Armed Forces in the midst of the war that continues with the Clan del Golfo in that region of the country, between Magdalena and La Guajira.
Finally, the process with the ELN is the most advanced. Last March 10, at the end of the second cycle of dialogs in Mexico, the parties announced a definite agenda for negotiations; it contains six points: participation by civil society in building the peace, democracy for peace, transformations for peace, victims, ending the armed conflict, and a general plan for execution of the agreements. On that same day, both parties announced relative progress to a bilateral ceasefire, which they will go on to refine in Cuba. They assured that this truce will be taken as referring to the temporary, bilateral and national ceasefire of 101 days that was carried out in 2017, and that the parties have agreed already on “a basic design of a ceasefire that will be temporary, oriented toward continuity, under joint evaluation that will be initiated with a reciprocal cessation of offensive actions, maintaining those that are defensive, with a mechanism of monitoring and verification.”
It’s hoped that the completion of the third cycle of conversations, which will begin in Havana in the coming weeks, will have a concrete announcement on the subject.