By Celestino Barrera Alarcón
On March 1, 1991, led by Bernardo Gutierrez and Jairo Morales (Darío Mejía), a broad cross-section of the The People’s Liberation Army (EPL) signed a peace agreement with the government of César Gaviria. At least 2,200 guerrillas benefited from this process. However, Commander Francisco Caraballo of the EPL, along with several members of the National Secretariat of the Communist Party of Colombia -Marxista Leninist (PCC-ML political organ of the EPL) did not participate in the agreements. Some 700 former EPL combatants were killed. The state did not protect them, thus contravening the guarantees of life and unarmed political activity for those who have demobilized.
On June 22, 1994, Caraballo was captured by the army in Cajicá, 45 minutes from Bogota, but despite facing a new organizational crisis, the EPL but continued its guerrilla activity.
What the EPL is asking for now.
Fundamentally they are asking to participate in the negotiated end to the armed conflict in Colombia as the Government1 is doing with the FARC2 and with the ELN3. To this end, they are proposing four points known by the Government, Colombian guerrillas and the diverse Colombian Social and Political Movement:
1. A comprehensive national dialogue: This would consist of dialogue and negotiation with participation of the Government, the insurgency, businessmen, political parties, unions, social and political organizations, ethnic, native islander and indigenous groups, academics, farmers, victims and religious sectors of the country to seek solutions to the humanitarian crisis and the internal conflict that Colombia is suffering.
This proposal was made by the guerrilla movement in the 80s with the aim of finding a negotiated solution to the armed conflict; in 1982 the April 19th Guerrilla Movement (M.19) had the proposal delivered to President Belisario Betancur (1980-1984), and on August 23, 1984, Commander Oscar William Calvo of the EPL publicly proposed it in Medellin’s Berrio Park, in the context of a military truce and ongoing dialogues with the government. Today the National Liberation Army (ELN) also includes it in its schedule for the public negotiations that will begin in 2016.
2. A National Constituent Assembly: This proposal was also made in the 80s. Today both the FARC and ELN have proposed it to the government with the aim of introducing economic, social and political reforms making sustainable the peace agreements signed between guerrillas and government through a new constitution for Colombia. As a counterproposal, the Government has offered what is termed a plebiscite for peace.
3. Bilateral ceasefire and end to hostilities and 4. Repeal of war-related legislation.
The four main proposals made by the EPL have already been discussed by guerrillas and government; they pose no obstacle to future dialogue. They offer, instead, another path by which real peace might take hold in a country where heretofore people’s only concrete experience of peace has been the one known as “Peace in one’s grave.”
Who the EPL are.
The People’s Liberation Army (EPL) belongs to the generation of (armed) revolutionary organizations that Eduardo Pizarro termed the First Generation Guerrillas4 that arose in the 60s and that have particular political and sociological elements: college students and intellectuals5 collaborated with workers and peasants in their founding; they proposed transformations of a structural nature to the political and economic system as well as societal transformations; they appear to be influenced by international models such as the Cuban or Chinese revolutions, African decolonization, the Revolt of the Comuneros in Colombia, the process by which Benkos Biohó gained freedom of Black villages from Spanish oppression, and the struggles of indigenous peoples throughout the continent; they stop considering the use of weapons as a means of self-defense against state persecution and private armies in the service of companies or landholders and opt, instead, for armed political-military struggle in an attempt to seize power.
EPL’s public declaration of their willingness to negotiate.
The part of the EPL that did not demobilize in 1991 is still active6 and has been insisting on dialogue with the government. In early 2012 they sent a letter7 to the Government and the civic organization known as Colombians for Peace, announcing their readiness for dialogue just as with the FARC in Havana, Cuba, and with the soon to begin talks with the ELN.
On April 22, 2013, the EPL had their the most important opportunity since 1990 to speak to the country before more than twenty thousand people from several towns, community political organizations, official government delegates, senators and ministers, the high commissioner of the United Nations for human rights in Colombia, Todd Howland (ONU), and other international organizations, when the Peoples Congress held its Congress for Peace8, in which the ELN and the FARC also participated via video and written communications. In 20149, the EPL again stressed its intention to become a part of negotiations to bring an end to the armed conflict.
The Government of Colombia negotiates with the FARC and the ELN, but refuses to do so with the EPL.
Despite the pressure of social movements, of the UN and the need to stop the military confrontation that generates such serious violations of human rights and of international humanitarian and environmental rights, the government of Colombia has not started any talks with the EPL, whom they consider drug traffickers, but they are, in an antagonistic fashion, starting to negotiate a ceasefire with the FARC, increase military operations against the EPL10 and the ELN, and continuing judicial and military persecution against democratic political movements in society that oppose it.
The EPL exists; it is a reality that the government knows and that it seems to keep as a punching bag, as a way of appeasing and amusing its favored, violent ones, the military, who haven’t managed to defeat anybody after more than 60 years of war, billions of dollars invested, modernization and increasing of the size of the force that, including the police, totals half a million uniformed men and thousands of crimes against humanity and other violations of the rights of the peoples of Colombia.
Negotiating with the EPL might be easier than with the FARC whom the government has also denounced as a narco-terrorist group, but negotiating with the EPL doesn’t seems like such a profitable business; it can’t be sold for as many dollars and and euros as the negotiations with the FARC in much of the world.
By Celestino Barrera A – @OttoRen
- For more information relating to the Government of Colombia and the negotiation process http:// wp.presidencia.gov.co/sitios/especiales/Documents/20150921-declaracion-proceso-paz/la-paz-estacerca. html
- For more information about the negotiation process with the FARC http://www.pazfarc-ep.org/
- For more information about the negotiation process with the ELN http://www.eln-voces.com/index.php/dialogos-de-paz
- Eduardo Pizarro, Insurgencia sin revolución. La guerrilla en Colombia en una perspectiva comparada. Tercer Mundo Editores – IEPRI, Bogotá, 1996.
- Active guerrilla groups with these features exist such as the as the National Liberation Army (ELN); the EPL has great social roots but is more of a party organization like the FARC. Among defunct guerrilla groups you find Movement Obrero Campesino Estudiantil (MOEC January 7) and Quintin Lame Armed Movement (indigenous subtraction born to defend themselves against State violence and FARC)
- The EPL only appear to exist currently with the Libardo Mora Toro Front, which operates in the northeast of Colombia, bordering Venezuela, in the Catatumbo region, led by Guillermo León Aguirre alias “David León” and some urban cells and propagandists.
- CEDEMA http://www.cedema.org/ver.php?id=5472
- Congreso para la paz http://congresodelospueblos.org/congreso-para-la-paz.html
- Message to the Congress for Peace and to all the Colombian people http://www.cedema.org/ver.php?id=6471
- The Government denied talks with the EPL about a peace dialogue. http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/gobierno-desmintio-acercamientos-el-epl-un-dialogo-de-p-articulo-592500