Colombia and Venezuela – together with Ecuador and Panamá – are part of what Simón Bolívar called “Great Colombia.” They share a history, a culture, and the same project of emancipation. That is why a substantive peace in Colombia is of huge importance not only for the Colombian people, but also for Venezuela and the region.
In this exclusive VA interview, Commander Pablo Beltrán – a member of the ELN’s [Colombia’s National Liberation Army] Central Command and the head of the ELN Dialogue Delegation – talks about the Peace Dialogues that began in Caracas last November and are currently being held in México. Venezuela is a “guarantor country” in the negotiations now underway.
Colombia has seen 70 years of civil war and, in 2022 alone, at least 157 social leaders were killed. Are there political and social conditions to sign an agreement between the ELN and the Colombian government?
There is no shortage of conditions – along with political and social demands – to move forward with a Peace Process in Colombia. For one, it is the only thing that will make us into a viable nation. Additionally, there is now a progressive government that has, as one of its main goals, a comprehensive and definitive peace. The victims, counted in the tens of millions, maintain their demands for truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition. The right-wing sectors that previously opposed the Peace Process maintain a skeptical attitude, but they also expect to be taken into account in the formulation of a common vision of peace.
On November 21, 2022, the Peace Dialogues between the Colombian government and the ELN entered a new phase, with meetings in Caracas. These talks marked the beginning of a new political and geopolitical scenario. Please, briefly tell us about Venezuela’s role as a “guarantoor country” in this process.
Since President Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has hosted dialogues between Bogotá and the ELN. Since then Venezuela has had the double role of being a Guarantor Country – which comes with being both a witness and a depositary of the agreements that are subscribed – and also being the country through which our Peace Delegation transits.
You have stated in an interview that, from the ELN’s perspective, the dialogues must work toward: (I) deactivating the internal factors that generate the social, political, and armed conflict; and (II) promoting a sovereign project in Colombian, without the intervention of the United States, it being the country that has continually stoked the flames of war in Colombia. Let us begin with the first point: What would be the minimum conditions for deactivating the conflict’s internal factors?
We insist that, while the consequences of the armed conflict in Colombia must be dealt with, its causes must also be addressed. We have also said that these dialogues won’t make a “revolution by decree,” nor can they be expected to lead to a demobilization of the rebellions by decree.
We understand deactivating the conflict’s original causes as a process that entails eradicating poverty and social exclusion and ends the looting of national resources, their ruthless depredation. It must also bring an end to the old regime’s Security Doctrine of persecution and political genocide, systemic corruption must be done away with, and the country’s policies must not be dictated by Washington.
This program of transformation must be supported by a broad alliance of political forces committed to change and to a political conflict solution over the short, medium, and long term, thus ensuring that the process will go on beyond the term of the current government.
In relation to point II, it seems like Gustavo Petro’s government does not intend to dismantle the US bases in Colombia. What could change this situation, which affects the whole region?
US imperialism’s methods of domination involve using the logic of divide-and-conquer. Nonetheless, there is a new phase in the process of Latin American and Caribbean integration that is opening up, and this will make it possible for us to speak with one voice before world powers.
The huge problems that our pueblos face will be dealt with as a unified, sovereign force demanding dignified solutions for the nations and the peoples of the region. For example, making this region a zone of peace, seeking alternatives to the failed “war on drugs,” and getting rid of foreign debt slavery can only happen through continental integration.
One could argue that one of the biggest problems in the dialogues between the Colombian government and the FARC was the limited participation of the people in the process. I understand that the ELN’s first point on the agenda of the dialogues is the “participation of civil society in the construction of peace.” How can this objective be achieved?
The first three points of the agenda are about ensuring the participation of Colombian society in the process of finding a political resolution to the conflict, with the purpose of weaving a common vision of peace. This requires carefully designing a methodology for participation, one that allows for the country’s structural problems to be diagnosed. Furthermore, the approach must allow for formulating a transformation plan in the short, medium, and long term.
The people must be the ones who decide what are the indispensable changes and then assume the responsibility for carrying them out. This requires a national agreement, bringing together many political and social forces that want to end to the old regime’s war and seek alternatives that go beyond savage capitalism.
How would a possible agreement impact the Colombian people, and also for Venezuela and the region in general?
On Monday, February 6, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would become a “Guarantor Country” of the peace dialogues once again. He added that the dialogues were a “fundamental process for consolidating peace in Colombia and, for that reason, of great importance to the region and world.”
After reaching an agreement in these dialogues, how would an eventual bilateral ceasefire work?
We have the experience of the FARC’s Bilateral, Temporary, and National Ceasefire with the government of Juán Manuel Santos in 2017, which occurred in the context of Pope Francis’ visit to the country. While there were some incidents, it worked out and – for the first time in the history of Colombia – one could see that this kind of de-escalation of the armed conflict was possible. To carry it out, it was necessary to agree on very specific protocols defining what was entailed by the ceasefire and what was not.
How does the ELN propose that questions of social justice be addressed in the context of the dialogues?
The fourth point in the negotiation agenda states that in “the construction of a stable and lasting peace, it is essential to recognize all the victims and their rights. Also, the treatment and resolution of their situation must be based on truth, justice, reparation, and the commitment to non-repetition and not-forgetting. All these elements together form the basis for forgiveness and for the prospect of a reconciliation process.”
For us, the most important thing is listening to the victims and ensuring that they are effectively involved in this Peace Process. Second, we need to address the legal situation of ELN members, which is included in the agenda’s fifth point, which is about putting an end to the armed conflict and removing violence from politics.