Until the peace process enters its public phase, it will not be viable

By: Victor Currea-Lugo * A special for El Espectador

Victord de currea-lugo antonio garcia entrevista

Victor deCurrea-Lugo, interview Antonio Garcia ELN guerrilla commander.

– Until the peace process enters its public phase, it will not be viable: Antonio Garcia

One of the top commanders of the National Liberation Army (ELN) explained to El Espectador how talks with the government of Juan Manuel Santos are going, parallel to those of the FARC.

How would you assess the agreement that The FARC has made in regards to the issue of justice?  Does it affect the ELN’s negotiation process with the government?

Antonio Garcia: We still do not know the entirety of what has been agreed upon in this area.  As in any social or political process, even though we have different visions, we will respect the work that has been done in Havana.  We believe that the issues of victims and the agreement on the future status of the guerrillas should not be linked.  In the process with the ELN, issues of justice for victims will be determined by the community of victims.  And with regard to their future legal status, the ELN will seek a political agreement with the government.

What scenarios does the ELN foresee if and when the government and the FARC sign a final agreement?

AG:  Even though we don’t agree with everything about the negotiations with the FARC , we hope and expect the results will be favorable to the country, and that they strengthen popular and democratic alliances to further advance the changes that society needs.  The fact is that Colombia needs everyone to engage in the fight for justice to make it a democratic and fair society; in that sense the path to peace is just beginning.  The future depends on how concrete and profound the changes are resulting from this process.

We know that civil society participation is central to the agenda of the negotiations between the ELN and the government:  What “civil society” are they referring to?  Do professional associations, cattle ranchers and businessmen fit within that proposal?  Are there differences in the scope of participation between the popular sectors and the professional associations?

AG:  The Colombia of today is exclusive society, so our process hopes to help generate participatory political processes, especially with those sectors that currently have no voice.  It would be wrong to repeat the same methods that reproduce the power of money in Congress.  The powerful sectors have governed for many decades, and there is little to no space for the voices of the poor.  It would be very interesting to have a broader debate in which the establishment professional associations were involved, for example, and to have the government listen to and interpret the contrasts and diversity that exist in Colombia.  It’s about recognizing and analyzing how democratic Colombia really is, both in debate and in the ability that our diverse society is conferred to influence the changes we all hope for.  We do not want to be alone in those discussions.

Specifically, what would be the mechanisms and avenues for civil society participation in the peace negotiations with the ELN ? 

AG:  For the most part, that design has to be a participatory process with civil society, given the diversity of Colombia and its various forms of organization.  This issue is part of the public phase of the process in which we assume both the interaction of the ELN with civil society and vice versa will shape the very form of the process itself–it will surely be very creative.  We will have to wait for the public phase in order to make it happen.

It has been said that there is already a full agenda for negotiations between the government and the ELN.  Can we know what the overall structure of the agenda is?

AG:  We do not know who has leaked this, but the media has reported the main agreed-upon subjects, which are, in order: a) Civil society participation , b) Democracy for peace, c) Transformations for peace, d)Victims, e) Ending the armed conflict and f) Implementation.  There are other issues related to design and rules of the negotiation process.  A couple of issues have yet to be agreed upon.

Will civil society be able to participate in the entire agenda or are there points that only the ELN can negotiate?  What are they?

AG:  In the first four points the participation of civil society is essential.  The fifth point is more an issue between the government and the ELN.  In the sixth point, which has to do with the implementation, civil society and the international community will also participate in some way.

There is a point about democracy for peace and democracy is the main point of debate in Latin America as a whole; what state of democracy must the country reach in order for the ELN to consider laying down arms?

AG:  The democracies of neoliberal-capitalist design considers freedom to be essential in a democracy, but freedom understood only as freedom of expression, leaving out freedom of transformative political action.  However, Latin America has a tradition of reclaiming the social nature of freedom, maintaining that it is useless to be free if you are forced to live in inhumane conditions.  True freedom must be be linked to living conditions; in Colombia one of the most renowned proponents of this idea was Jorge Eliecer Gaitán. Reaching a successful examination of Colombian democracy must be the work of political entities that promote a political solution–this means not persecuting those that question the government.  In addition to this examination, changes should be made that result in transformational programs or that at least those that put Colombia on a path towards realizing that change.  If this is not possible, the struggle will continue.

Is there an agreement with the government that will safeguard the participation of popular movements so they are not suppressed or destroyed?  What has the government committed to?

AG:  We must remember that even though important discussions have already occurred, they have been about to building an agenda.  The agenda is to identify issues around which conversations will advance in the public phase in order to reach agreements that will make the transition to peace more feasible.  Of course, if the negotiations continue, we would have to reach agreements about political guarantees and the conditions necessary to end exclusion, repression and criminalization of social and political protest, but to say now what they would be is premature.

There is a point about transformation for peace.  In this part are you going to discuss issues such as the economic model and military doctrine?  Is the government willing to have this debate?

The economic model and military doctrine have been forbidden topics, but undoubtedly civil society will bring them up in the national debate because the effects that these two issues have had on the lives of Colombians and on the fragility or absence of true democracy in the country are unavoidable.

Is there a plan to put the agreements between the government and the ELN up for popular referendum?

AG:  It is an issue to be discussed with the government in the public phase. We would need to adopt a method that would strengthen the agreement and give it a stable projection into a future of lasting peace.

Will there be a moment when the two negotiation processes come together?  When would that be?

AG:  Since the peace process with the ELN has not reached its public phase, it is not viable–it doesn’t exist. Because while the process with the FARC continues, the other one is not yet visible to society as a political reality. Furthermore, interaction between the processes can only happen based on agreements reached in each process. Then and only then will we have more clarity about viable political solutions to the conflict.  The ELN has always sought ways to engage in peace processes, but it has not been entirely up to us.  The government and the FARC decided to initiate their process first.  Taking this into consideration, and for the good of Colombia, we will always be open to convergence and coordination.

This interview was originally published in Spanish by the Colombian newspaper El Espectador http://www.elespectador.com

* Ph.D. Professor National University of Colombia.

Interview translated by Tim Kurz and Dana Brown

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