Colombian guerrilla group FARC dissidents, (Estado Mayor Central) announced yesterday that they are giving up the practice of kidnapping for economic purposes. This important news is a boost to the illegal armed group’s talks with the Colombian state.
After experiencing a crisis of confidence and a temporary suspension last month, Colombia is exploring ways to resume the parallel peace talks with the two illegal organisations: the Central General Staff (Estado Mayor Central – EMC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberación Nacional – ELN). While the ELN does not recognise or renounce kidnappings, which it calls “retentions”, the EMC has taken the step of abandoning this practice and thus fulfilling one of the requirements that the Colombian state demanded in order to continue advancing in the peace negotiations.
New round of talks planned for January in Bogota
After ending the last round of talks with the EMC a couple of days ago, the talks have announced that they will resume in Bogota between January 9 and 18 next year. In this new round of talks, issues such as illicit crops and the socio-environmental situation in the Amazon will be discussed, according to the communiqué made public by the parties.
They also agreed that the government will bring allegations of alliances between members of the security forces or state officials with illegal groups to the competent authorities so that “they can be investigated and, when appropriate, prosecuted and punished”.
“With the aim of promoting relief in human security, the delegations and commissions of the Peace Dialogue Table will listen to communities”, mainly in the departments most affected by the violence, these being Antioquia, Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca and Putumayo, the information added.
According to data from the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Pares), at least 287 people were kidnapped in Colombia between January and October and it is expected that “the year will close with the highest peak since 2016,” when the state managed to sign a peace agreement with the former and now defunct FARC.
Abandoning kidnapping, a major step forward
“According to data from the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) court, in 60% of the kidnapping cases registered between August 2022 and October 2023, the alleged perpetrator is not known, with the ELN accounting for 11% of the cases and the EMC dissidents for 10%,” the Pares report states.
It was precisely this criminal practice that led to the suspension of talks with the ELN, the other guerrilla group with which the state is holding talks, after this organisation kidnapped the father of the well-known footballer Luis Díaz.
Kidnapping is one of the financing methods commonly used by these illegal armed groups. Today it is widely rejected by society in Colombia and has become an indispensable condition for the government in order to be able to continue negotiating peace. For now, the ELN has stated that it will not renounce it, justifying it on the grounds of economic needs, which has led to harsh criticism from sectors of the political opposition.
As for the bilateral ceasefire, which extends between the ELN and the state until January 15, it is being maintained with the installation of mechanisms to verify compliance, and it is hoped that it can be extended beyond that date, just as the third round of talks begins.
Relief for the government and its ‘Total Peace’ project
The EMC’s announcement that it had agreed to abandon this practice paves the way for a tortuous dialogue with the main dissident group in the peace accords signed with the FARC in 2016. It is also a relief from the tension generated in November, when the talks were suspended and the government decided to dismiss the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, replacing him with Otty Patiño.
It is also a relief for Colombia’s own president, Gustavo Petro, who from the beginning of his term in office made a strong commitment to his ‘Total Peace’ project, an offer of an outstretched hand to the various illegal armed groups that proliferate in Colombia. The serious difficulties that have arisen during the negotiations with the ELN and the EMC have led to harsh and bitter criticism of the government and the president himself from national political sectors and some media groups, although he has enjoyed international support, which backs the umpteenth attempt to make peace in Colombia.