Colombian government and ELN restart peace talks in Venezuela

The talks have been resumed after a four year pause in the process during the government of former president Iván Duque

November 22, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
The delegations of the Colombian government and the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) guerilla group restarted peace talks on November 21 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo: Iván Cepeda/Twitter)

The Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), restarted peace talks on Monday, November 21, in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. During the historic meeting, the delegations of the government of President Gustavo Petro and the ELN expressed their willingness to advance in the process that leads to peace, democracy, and justice.

The head of the ELN delegation, Pablo Beltrán, commented: “We hope that these negotiations can be an instrument of change, and we hope that we do not fall short of these expectations for change,” said Beltrán.

Beltrán added that “We Colombians cannot see each other as enemies. The work we have to do is of reconciliation, rediscovering common ground, and building a nation in peace and equity.”

For his part, the High Commissioner for Peace of the Colombian government, Iván Danilo Rueda, highlighted the historical significance of these talks: “We are honoring the lives of those who have been affected by violence by trying to resolve a series of conflicts. This is an exercise of respect for differences, of recognition of the histories where we come from, because we believe that respect for differences unites us in a common purpose, respect for life, freedom and necessary changes to overcome a set of rights and inequalities that in Colombia have been denied to many sectors of society.”

“The first meeting that we have held this morning with the ELN peace delegation has given us certainty and deep conviction that we are going to achieve the purpose that they also add to, to be sons and daughters of a homeland with changes and transformations. Subjective changes that lead us to overcome dynamics of death, death in the word, in the exclusion of the other, to build a nation in which we all fit,” Rueda added.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, the both parties stated that they are willing, optimistic, certain, and hopeful to resume the dialogue with full political and ethical will.

They once again expressed their willingness to “build peace based on democracy with justice and achieve tangible, urgent and necessary changes for Colombia.”

The delegations thanked the guarantor countries Cuba, Norway, and Venezuela for their commitment, as well as the Catholic Church and the UN Verification Mission for their accompaniment to the process.

For their part, the representatives of the guarantor countries, and the Catholic Church and the UN Verification Mission welcomed the resumption of the dialogue process, appreciated the trust placed in them, and reiterated their commitment to act in strict adherence to their condition granted by the parties in a responsible and impartial manner.

The ELN is Colombia’s largest active guerrilla group. It has around 2,400 combatants active across the national territory. The first talks between the ELN and the Colombia government of then president Juan Manuel Santos began in February 2017 in Quito, Ecuador. A year later, they were moved to Havana, Cuba. In January 2019, they were called off by Santos’ successor, conservative Iván Duque, after a car bomb attack on the Police Cadet School in Bogotá left 22 dead and 68 wounded.

Contrary to his predecessor, Petro, the first left-wing president of Colombia, promised to bring “total peace” to Colombia. He also vowed to fully implement the 2016 peace agreements signed with the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerilla group. From his first day in office, he promoted peace negotiations, not only with the ELN, but with all illegal paramilitary and drug-trafficking groups willing to submit to justice.

On August 8, the day following his inauguration, Petro announced the resumption of negotiations with the ELN. On October 4, the Petro administration and the ELN commanders signed an agreement to reinstate the negotiations. They also decided to resume agreements and advances achieved before the suspension of talks.

In order to advance in these peace negotiations, the Petro government has suspended arrest and extradition orders against various members of the ELN. In response, the rebel group has released hostages and scaled back attacks against the Colombian military.

The reinstatement of peace talks with the ELN is the first major step in President Petro’s efforts to end nearly 60 years of internal conflict in Colombia, during which more than 450,000 people have been killed.