Negotiations with the ELN are beginning 

By: Alfonso Insuasty Rodriguez*

Guerrilla ELN (National Liberation Army - Colombia)

Guerrilla ELN (National Liberation Army – Colombia)

In March, 2016, after various months of confidential outreach efforts in Caracas (Venezuela) and Quito (Ecuador) between the armed insurgency of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian government, a joint agenda of six points to start negotiations was made public. This initial understanding is focused on opening spaces for regional and national participation, with the objective of creating the negotiating agenda. The final part of this initial agenda would be reaching understandings on implementing the agreement and then advance with the surrender of arms and the transition to political life without arms and victims, but with truth and justice.

Nevertheless, the agreed initial agenda is not effective as there have been tensions between the government and the ELN, given that the government insisted in negotiating while in active conflict with this group, meaning that the government did not accept a bilateral cease fire as a pre-condition to negotiations.

Therefore, the ELN continued with its military actions in disarray, amid tension in various territories of Colombia: armed strikes of the regional transport ways, attacks on the oil infrastructure of the country, conflicts with the army and the kidnapping of various business people and an ex-mayor of Choco who was accused by this organization of promoting the paramilitary and diverting public money for its benefit.

Recently, a bit over a month ago, secret talks started in Caracas, so that an agreement would be reached on starting negotiations with the ELN. BluRadio informed that the result of these outreach efforts has been agreeing on the formula on “humanitarian agreements”, which would allow restarting the public agenda announced in March, and therefore would overcome the initial difficulties.

This was due to the efforts of the parties, with the support of the guarantor countries to this process.

The international affairs minister of Ecuador, Guillaume Long, stated: “Ecuador continues to be involved in peace negotiations with the other guerilla group, the ELN and, well, we are sure that we will soon have very important, positive news on the organization of the first round table discussion with the ELN in Quito, Ecuador”. As such, he disclosed that soon we would expect “very important, positive news” on the organization of the first round table discussion, in his country, between the Government of Colombia and the ELN. The same was declared by the President of Ecuador.

At the same time, the ELN was communicating that it was ready to start the public phase of the negotiations, it lowered the tone of its declarations and released various individuals who had been kidnapped by the ELN, thereby satisfying some of the pre-conditions set by the government to the start of round table discussions. Another expression of good faith on behalf of the ELN was its unilateral declaration of a ceasefire, which was needed in order for the recent referendum for peace [with the FARC-EP, another guerilla group] to take place.

Finally, the parties reached the above-mentioned formula, which will allow for the negotiations to start in Quito (Ecuador). This is important news which impacts positively on the polarized political environment that was created by the win of the “No” in the peace referendum held on October 2.

It is worth mentioning that this negotiation is an autonomous process, focused on opening spaces for regional and national participation which should result in a social agenda that will be included and implemented in the regional and national development plans.

This negotiation is not included in a possible second referendum that may take place on the adjustments or addenda that may result from discussions between the defenders of the No in the referendum, the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP.

This is a good opportunity to build the agenda from the bottom up, strengthen the local organizations and the advocacy groups, all of which translates into a stronger democracy.

We are already seeing social networks being built for this type of participation, such as the Round Table for Mining and Energy, which tries to rethink the adjustment policy regarding the mining, hydro and oil sectors of the country, and the Agricultural, Ethnic, Rural and Popular Summit, which tries to articulate proposals in a greater social, plural and collective agenda.

The same is being done by urban sectors, whose issues were not included in the Havana accords. These are religious sectors, Christian churches, unions, women’s movements, LGBT groups, etc.

It is an important challenge to continue constructing the conditions for a dignified life and deepen the fight for the rights of large masses of excluded rural and urban people (right to a homestead, access to public service, cooperative economics, connect the rural with the urban), since the model for the urban and the rural does not appear to include the active and effective voice of those who live in those areas.

We have to insist in constructing social, sectoral, regional and communitarian agendas which should be reflected in a greater national, plural, collective agenda. Such a process requires a constant communication with what has been achieved in Havana and attempts to create a formula to put an end to the long and sustained armed conflict in Colombia.

*Lecturer and researcher, Universidad de San Buenaventura Medellin, Editor of the magazine El Agora USB, director of the research group GIDPAD, member of the group Kavilando and the University Network for Peace (Redipaz)

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