- Colombia Colombian Government and ELN Begin Another Round of Talks in Cuba
- Conflict Historic ELN Leader Laughs at His Victims
The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas have signed a "national", "bilateral" and "temporary" ceasefire in Havana for a period of six months. "Here a new world is born, here is the end of a phase of the armed insurgency in Latin America with its myths and realities," said Colombian President Gustavo Petro during the signing of the agreement with the presence of the maximum leader of the ELN, Antonio García, on whom an arrest warrant weighed until this week.
The ELN, founded in 1964, had 5,850 fighters in 2022, according to Colombian authorities, and is the oldest active guerrilla group in Latin America. The text, signed by the chief negotiators of the Colombian government, Otty Patiño, and the ELN, Pablo Beltrán, contemplates "immediate compliance with Cuba's agreements," among which is "the national and temporary bilateral ceasefire," said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, when reading the points of the document.
The signing, which was also attended by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Cane, took place at the closing of the third cycle of the Peace Dialogue Table, which began on May 2 in Havana. Antonio Garcia, whose presence in Havana was surprising, was cautious: "We have not signed substantial agreements," but only "procedural agreements," he said.
"This peace process has to be different, we have to see changes," said the leader of the Guevarist guerrillas, inspired by the Cuban revolution. Patiño, a negotiator for the Colombian government, agreed that "the challenges are innumerable, but they are all worth it (...) face them."
Next meeting, in Caracas
The Cuban foreign minister reported that the fourth round of negotiations will be held in Caracas between August 14 and September 4. The only bilateral truce agreed before both sides was for 101 days between 2017 and 2018.
The document signed on Friday provides for the creation of "a channel of communication between the parties through the special representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Colombia."
The agreement contemplates that as of August 3 they will begin to "count the 180 days of validity" of this truce, as well as the implementation of the protocols and the monitoring and verification mechanism, which will be agreed in the coming days.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) on the agreement: "These are important steps that give hope to the Colombian people, especially to the communities most affected by the conflict," the organization said in a statement.
The last attempt at peace negotiations between the parties began in 2018, but was thwarted a year later by an ELN car bomb attack on a police school that left 22 dead.
At the end of 2022, Petro, Colombia's first leftist president and former guerrilla, promoted this process that began in November in Venezuela and continued in March in Mexico. The negotiation was on a tightrope in late March because an attack with long weapons and explosives left 10 soldiers dead near the border with Venezuela.
Bled dry by half a century of armed conflict, Colombia has attempted numerous peace negotiations with armed groups, many of them failed.
A historic pact negotiated in Havana in 2016 led to the disarmament of the powerful Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) guerrillas and transformed them into a political party.
The ELN delegation returned to Havana in May, where it left in September 2022, after Petro came to power. His predecessor, Iván Duque (2018-2022), had reactivated in 2019, after the attack on the police school, the arrest warrants against the negotiators of the armed group and demanded their extradition.
All this paid for former US President Donald Trump to include Cuba in the list of States that sponsor terrorism. "This president of Colombia tells President (Joe) Biden and you that this was an act (re-including Cuba on the list) of injustice that must be amended," Petro said during the ceremony.
- Gustavo Petro
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