In the first press conference to local media after being sworn in as president, Gustavo Petro confirmed the official resumption of negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the largest guerrilla group active in the country. “We want to revitalize the protocols and in the coming weeks it will be announced whether we will maintain the dialogues in Cuba. It doesn’t depend only on us, but on who wants to negotiate,” the head of state said on Monday August 8.
The peace dialogues between the Colombian Executive and the ELN had begun in Havana, with the participation of other countries as guarantors of peace, including Chile, Venezuela, Norway and Brazil itself. The negotiations were interrupted in 2018 by former president Iván Duque, whose four years in office were some of the most violent in the country’s history.
Now, in addition to Cuba, the Chilean government has also offered to host the dialogues. “We express our willingness to continue collaborating under the terms that the Colombian government considers most useful for its cause,” declared the newly elected Gabriel Boric during his visit to Bogotá for the presidential inauguration. The other options would be Ecuador, Mexico, and Norway.
The first talks between representatives of the ELN and the then government of Juan Manuel Santos in 2017 took place in Quito and then in Havana.
During the elections, the largest active guerrilla group in Colombia, with a presence in 200 municipalities, announced a unilateral ceasefire as a demonstration of its interest in dialogue. Following the victory of the Historic Pact in early July, ELN commander Eliécer Herlinto Chamorro, known as “Antonio García,” issued a statement reiterating his willingness to resume negotiations with the new government “so that their results will bring peace with social justice for all of Colombia.”
The ELN, created in 1964 under the inspiration of the Cuban Revolution and Liberation Theology, is the last insurgent group with national action in Colombia after the 2016 Peace Accords. It has a presence in two hundred municipalities, with about 2,300 members, with the highest concentration in the departments of Arauca, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Catatumbo and Antioquia, according to the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Pares).
In an interview in August this year, four years after the rupture of the dialogues, Commander Antonio García said that the ELN has never imposed conditions, “it is understood that all issues can be discussed or examined at a table, if peace is truly desired.”
Upon assuming the presidency last Sunday August 7, Gustavo Petro again reiterated that his commitment is to “total peace” in Colombia.
This article was first published in Portuguese at Brasil de Fato.