Government and ELN guerrilla to open formal negotiations in May

By Celestino Barrera Alarcón

ELN guerrilla - negotiations peace

ELN guerrilla – negotiations peace

Between these new negotiations and the advancement of the peace accords with the FARC, Colombia is getting closer to a reality without guerrillas and one with new political actors.

Negotiations will begin with the issue of civil society participation in peacebuilding. This point, agreed upon by the parties, is essential to the ELN, a guerrilla with a large civil society base and which functions like an armed political party in many ways—and to the government which must create guarantees for civil society participation in politics without fear of violence. In order to give life to this point on the agenda, the actors will convene representatives of all sectors of civil society including the elite, with representatives of professional associations, bankers, large landowners and business leaders as well as social movement and party leaders.

Negotiations with the ELN could prove to be more complex than those launched in 2012 with the FARC in Cuba given the civil society involvement integrated into the agenda and the fact that civil society has its own political agenda vis a vis the talks: a bilateral ceasefire, the dismantling of paramilitary structures (which in the course of 2016 have already been responsible for the assassination of 19 human rights defenders and environmental activists).

The negotiations will begin in Quito, Ecuador, with Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela and Chile (which will serve as a guarantor of the process along with Norway) as further meeting sites. In the various rounds of negotiation, debates are expected regarding the political reforms needed to combat the social and economic exclusion that produce poverty, corruption and environmental destruction as well the necessity to protect the rights to political participation and access to justice without threat of violence. The aim is not to focus solely on the laying down of arms and creation of political parties in the traditional sense but also to explore mechanisms that establish lasting peace with justice.

The first hurdles

The government’s insistence on negotiating amidst armed conflict contradicts the ELN’s position that a ceasefire is necessary condition for effective negotiations. Furthermore the government demands the release of all prisoners under ELN control without offering to free political prisoners it holds and also invites civil society to participate in the talks without providing guarantees to protect those that do.

Nevertheless, the government and ELN’s announcement of the initiation of formal negotiations from Caracas, Venezuela this past March 30 after two years of private talks is seen as a significant step towards lasting peace for the country.

By Celestino Barrera A – @OttoRen

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1. From January-March 2016, the System for Information on Attacks against Human Rights Defenders registered 113 separate instances of attacks, of which 81 were instances of harassment, 19 were assassinations, 5 were attempted assassinations, 5 were arbitrary detentions, 2 were instances of information theft and one was the forcible disappearance of a defender: http://www.somosdefensores.org/index.php/publicaciones/informes-siaddhh/139-que-la-paz-no-les-cueste-la-vida

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