Caracas, October 5, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela welcomed the resumption of peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, calling it another step forward for regional stabilization.
The announcement was made on Tuesday by ELN guerrilla commanders Antonio García and Pablo Beltrán (both noms de guerre) as well as the Colombian government high commissioner for peace, Danilo Rueda, during a press conference in Caracas, where the parties signed the agreement. Colombian senator Iván Cepeda and UN representative to Colombia Raúl Rosende participated in the event as well.
According to the joint statement, the dialogue process is expected to begin after the first week of November and meetings will be held on a rotating schedule of locations. Venezuela, Cuba and Norway will resume their roles as peace guarantors while a UN Verification Mission and Catholic Church representatives will serve as special guests.
“For Colombia’s government and the ELN, society’s participation in this process is essential to achieve the changes that Colombia needs to build peace,” read the communique.
The statement added that the renewed talks would reactivate a previous protocol that established guarantees for ELN negotiators prior to the failed 2017-2018 dialogue table. The delegations also expressed gratitude to the guarantor countries for their “unwavering commitment.”
Speaking to reporters, guerrilla commander Antonio García explained that “Colombia’s new political circumstances have allowed negotiations to restart” but clarified that the delegations were still “in a phase of building trust.” No bilateral ceasefire has been declared yet.
“We are going to talk about the issue of [laying down our] weapons at the dialogue table, but we must also speak about the Colombian state’s weapons and what they are used for,” said García. He added that many criminal and paramilitary groups were created and funded by the country’s decades-long right-wing rule.
The top ELN leader went on to stress that achieving peace in Colombia goes beyond a ceasefire. “The way to look for peace is not just by thinking about weapons but by attacking the root causes of this conflict which are inequality and the lack of democracy,” he said.
For his part, Colombian government representative Danilo Rueda confirmed that the resumed peace dialogue aims to consolidate democracy as well as economic, social and environmental justice in the South American country.
Rueda likewise emphasized the delegations’ trust-building phase and highlighted that the Marxist rebel group had recently scaled back attacks against the Colombian military. The high commissioner for peace reinforced Venezuela’s key role as a “guarantor of what is agreed on both sides”.
Following the peace process announcement, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez celebrated the agreement and reaffirmed Caracas’ “unwavering commitment to peace in Colombia and in all our America.”
“The Venezuelan government hopes that this new effort succeeds so that the people of Colombia can overcome this long period of conflict, which would also reaffirm Latin America and the Caribbean as a peace zone and advance the union and prosperity of our people,” read a communique.
Following Gustavo Petro’s arrival to the presidency on August 7, Venezuela and Colombia fully restored diplomatic relations and reopened their shared border after years of broke-off ties. The border region has staged violent confrontations between ELN combatants, other Colombian irregular armed groups and both countries’ armies on a regular basis.
On September 13, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accepted Petro’s request to resume Caracas’ years-long role as guarantor state of the peace negotiations and agreements with the ELN. Maduro pledged “absolute support” to help its neighbor country de-escalate the almost 60-year-old conflict, which has reportedly killed at least 450,000 people.
Inspired by the Cuban revolution, the ELN was founded in 1964 by students, union leaders, and rebel Catholic priests and grew to become a 4,000 men guerrilla army with strongholds on Colombia’s Pacific coast as well as along the 2,200-kilometer border with Venezuela.
The Marxist guerrilla’s political purpose was to use armed struggle to resist Colombia’s decades-long oligarchic rule that had sunk the country into abysmal social inequalities. In 2016, the ELN became the largest guerilla group in the country following the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) demobilization after signing a peace accord with the former Juan Manuel Santos administration.
Since 1994, the insurgent organization has been involved in on-and-off peace talks but so far without any success. Venezuela has accompanied previous dialogue efforts, including the 2016 meetings to establish conditions for the talks and the formal rounds of negotiations held in Quito and Havana between 2017 and 2018.
However, in August 2018, former president Iván Duque halted the negotiations as soon as he took office. In January 2019, the far-right politician officially suspended the talks after alleged ELN members drove a car bomb into a police academy in Bogotá that killed 21 officers and injured 68 others.
At the time, the ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán stated that the delegation in Cuba had nothing to do with the attack, carried out by an ELN dissident group.
The Duque government responded by issuing international arrest warrants and extradition requests against the ELN leaders forcing them to remain in Havana for the last four years.
On August 20, Colombia’s first leftist president Gustavo Petro suspended the Interpol red alerts against the guerrilla negotiators to kickstart the peace process, which had been one of his campaign promises.
Petro, a former member of the dissolved M-19 guerrilla group, has stated that he seeks “total peace” in Colombia and wants to engage in talks with FARC dissident factions that rejected the 2016 peace deal, as well as other armed organizations. The goal is to have all of them lay down their arms and achieve social justice for Colombian society.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.