Dialogue with the EPL* is urgent       

 By Javier Orozco * *

Flag of the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), a Colombian guerrilla group.

Flag of the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), a Colombian guerrilla group.

The EPL rose up against the state starting in 1967 and those who fight today in the name of the EPL did not demobilize in 1990, maintaining their insurgency in Norte de Santander, where they meet and coordinate with the ELN and the FARC.

Acknowledging the existence of an internal armed conflict opened the door for the Colombian government to enter into dialogues with the FARC-EP and talks with the ELN with an eye to a politically negotiated end to the war. However, the process of a negotiated resolution to the conflict will be incomplete if it fails to include the People’s Liberation Army, EPL, which in recent years, along with the Communist (Marxist-Leninist) Party of Colombia, has expressed its willingness to participate in political negotiation.

The talks with the FARC-EP are moving forward on difficult issues and on issues that may still seem impossible to resolve, such as a bilateral and definitive cease-fire, the surrender of weapons, reviewing cases of FARC fighters taken prisoner, shedding light on and combating paramilitarism and corruption, security guarantees for former guerrillas and those who defend human rights and mechanisms for public endorsement of the final agreements.

With the ELN it appears that talks will soon stop being secret and exploratory and start to address an agenda that fosters hope. But in the case of the EPL, the government, the military leadership and the mainstream press just keep firing at them and describing them as a “criminal gang,” ignoring them as a political interlocutor, as if the view of one of the parties were sufficient to define the enemy for all history, or were enough to hide a half-century’s worth of evidence that establishes this guerrilla force as a military-political opponent of the state.

The calculations of those who insist on a military solution may well include the “restoring the honor of the military” with the EPL, showing the body of the last guerrilla fighter of this force killed in The Catatumbo. It would be a grave mistake to leave a guerrilla group out of the dialogues and keep in the post-conflict formula precisely the concept that must be overcome: war as an excuse to persecute civilian opponents and continue the practice of acquisition through displacement and exploitation.

The insurgent character of the EPL is comes from its uprising against exclusion and has put it in the category of an organization that has taken up arms, opposing the paramilitary groups or “gangs” that the government seeks to assimilate.

The EPL rose up against the state starting in 1967 and those who fight today in the name of the EPL did not demobilize in 1990, maintaining their insurgency in Norte de Santander, where they meet and coordinate with the ELN and the FARC.

Since its inception, the EPL has maintained unity in its leadership, its pursuit of power, its program to transform the country, and its territorial control in part of Norte de Santander.

Leaving out the EPL or attempting a definitive military victory over them as they seek to permanently cease hostilities is counterproductive and even dangerous: plans to exterminate the guerrillas have resulted in the resurgence of armed resistance, as happened with the ELN after the Anorí operation with the FARC after the shelling of Marquetalia and Casa Verde, and with the EPL after the 1990 dissidence.

As Pepe Gutierrez stated, “Partial negotiations that leave out both the structural causes and a historic insurgent movement like theirs can only serve as a prelude to a new cycle of political violence1.”

It is important for the future of peace that we members of social and political movements strongly demand the inclusion of the EPL in the dialogues to end the armed conflict. The devil is in the details.

*  The EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación) is also known as the PLA  (Popular Liberation Army) in English.

1. http://www.anarkismo.net/article/27189

* * Javier Orozco is a exiled  labor leader, and coordinator of Luciano Romero  group of refugees in Asturias, Spain.

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