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Does The ELN Lose The Political Argument?: This Is How The Dialogues With The Government Of Gustavo

The progress of the negotiations between the government of Gustavo Petro and the ELN has been cut short by decisions made by both parties. It seems that the ELN does not want to take advantage of the opportunity that is presented to it.

ELN members

Photo: ELN

LatinAmerican Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: ¿ELN pierde el argumento político?: así van los diálogos con el Gobierno de Gustavo Petro

During the two presidential terms of Juan Manuel Santos, the negotiations with the ELN bore little fruit and remained frozen during the Duque government until, after a 4-year hiatus, they were resumed by the government of President Gustavo Petro. In October 2022, the negotiating tables were reestablished in Caracas, and then it seemed that the process would advance with great steps since both were shown to be in tune: a similar language, the same concerns, and similar ideals. And of course, in broad strokes this made a lot of sense, considering that the Petro government is the first left-wing administration in Colombia and that the ideals of the ELN are on a similar path (or at least in comparison with the traditional Colombian class). ) when it comes to political issues.

But as of today, four months after its resumption, the peace negotiations are in crisis according to their members, and Petro's total peace seems to be a long way off after 7 months of his presidential term.

Why Is It So Difficult To Negotiate With The ELN?

This guerrilla group born in 1964 and with far-left ideals is recognized in Colombia because it has maintained negotiations with almost all the governments since its inception, but with none, it signed an agreement that means or implies its demobilization. Moreover, only once have they signed an agreement, the one at the end of the Santos government, in which a bilateral ceasefire was established for 101 days.

For Juan Camilo Restrepo, ex-minister and ex-negotiator with the ELN during the process carried out in the presidency of Santos, the difficulty in seeking an agreement with the ELN resides in the fact that "unlike what was the FARC, [the ELN ] is a tremendously ideologized group with no pragmatic sense [...] it has not yet been able to define what it wants. It has very general, very vague formulations," he said in an interview with El País.

Likewise, there is a clear disconnection of the ELN commanders with the country in which their acts are committed. The leaders are in Cuba, therefore they are not the ones who live the day-to-day of armed life and violence.

The fact that the armed group has had so many opportunities to advance in negotiations and reach agreements and that it has not taken full advantage of any of them shows how unclear the social and political position they claim to have is, especially within the framework of conversations with a left-wing government, which may come closer to its requirements and conditions.

This difficulty is perhaps what led to President Petro announcing a ceasefire in the new year during this new attempt without the decision being ratified by the guerrillas, which led the armed group to ensure that the negotiations were in crisis, even when, with the closing of the first stage of the negotiations, there were several attacks by the ELN in the regions most affected by the group. The ELN has already announced that the bilateral cessation should be discussed to make decisions regarding it; the question is when. The second stage of the negotiation will be delayed because in Mexico, the place where it would take place, the logistics were delayed, so it is expected that it will take several weeks longer than expected. For now, there has been talking of bringing the table forward to the end of January in Caracas, to address these issues as soon as possible.

Although the actions of the Petro government were not very calculated, since a very serious mistake was made by assuming a unilateral decision as bilateral, the resistance shown by the ELN makes it very clear that the path of negotiations for this peace agreement will be full potholes and it will be more difficult than expected even though this time it is a leftist government that is on the other side. Furthermore, this error demonstrates a clear communication failure, not only between both parties but also in the internal structure of both the government and the ELN.

If you want to move forward with these agreements, it will be necessary that the harmony that was seen during October is not just a small door of hope, but that it becomes the daily bread during the tedious process that is ahead. Crises, of course, will be present, but they are not insurmountable. The ELN must show interest and action consistent with what it is supposedly looking for.