ELN Peace Talks in February

Those negotiations took four years to conclude, but the Colombian representation expects the ELN discussions to resolve much faster.

“The beginning of the public stage of negotiations with the ELN is great news for Colombia. That will allow us to achieve total peace,” tweeted Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize for his dogged pursuit of a peace agreement with FARC, ending the longest-running conflict in Latin America.

The ELN—or National Liberalization Army in English—was founded in 1964, and is a Marxist-Leninist movement strongly inspired by the success of the Cuban Revolution led by the Castro brothers in 1959. The colors and flag used by this militia are similar to those of the 26th of July Movement used by the Cuban fighters.

Negotiations will take place in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and will be sponsored by President Rafael Correa, marking a noteworthy improvement of ties between the two since relations became strained in 2008. The so-called Andean diplomatic crisis involved both countries and Venezuela, and erupted after the Colombian army led a military operation in Ecuador against FARC, resulting in the death of the guerrilla leader Raul Reyes.

The ELN is estimated to have 1,300 active fighters, in contrast to FARC’s 6,700, and this has necessarily limited their area of operations in the country. However, their impact over many decades was still considerable. The group has engaged in kidnappings and drug trafficking to finance its operations, as well as repeatedly blowing up oil pipelines in line with their belief that mineral riches must be given to the people and not to foreign companies.

This is first time that the ELN and the Colombian government will sit down together with the aim of striking a peace accord. Previous attempts to begin negotiations in 2002 and 2007 were unsuccessful, but this time a positive outcome seems more likely. The peace treaty already arranged with FARC will serve as a template for talks.

Those negotiations took four years to conclude, but the Colombian representation expects the ELN discussions to resolve much faster. The top peace negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, stated in a press conference that he expects this process to move faster, and noted that some chapters of the FARC agreement will be applicable to the ELN.

“We will prioritize negotiations on humanitarian issues to make progress on issues such as mines, child soldiers, attacks against infrastructure, and kidnappings and abductions,” he declared.
Colombia will hold presidential elections in May 2018, a contest in which President Santos will not be able to participate having twice been elected Head of State. The Constitution of 1991 limits presidents to two terms only. Santos first won in 2010, and was again appointed president in 2014. If he manages to strike a peace agreement with the ELN, Santos will have reached one of the most important milestones in the history of the country; peace in a nation once ravaged by war.

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