President Petro’s ambitious ‘Total Peace’ initiative in Colombia, aimed at engaging in dialogues with illegal groups and urban gangs, is advancing more slowly than expected. Launched over a year ago, the project has made some progress, particularly in negotiations with the ELN and the Central Command, key dissident factions of the former FARC.
Analysts, including Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst for Colombia at the International Crisis Group, have raised concerns about the exclusion of the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo), the country’s largest active drug cartel, from the Total Peace project. Their involvement is seen as crucial due to their influence over other groups.
The establishment of dialogue tables with the ELN and the Central Command, both maintaining bilateral ceasefires until January, is a positive step. These groups have agreed to suspend kidnappings for financial purposes. The future holds expectations regarding the extension of ceasefires and potential changes in negotiation strategies with different groups.
Progress and setbacks in Colombia’s journey towards ‘Total Peace’
Adam Isacson from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), an expert on Colombia, notes that the country’s peace policy is making progress despite facing issues like disorganization and unclear planning. To improve coordination and focus in the peace efforts, the government has appointed Otty Patiño, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla group, as the new head of the Peace Commissioner. Patiño’s role involves managing all ongoing dialogues in the peace process.
The dialogue with the ELN, which faced a temporary freeze, has resumed with commitments to suspend economic kidnappings if the bilateral ceasefire is extended until January 2024. This would be a historic move for the ELN. The Central Command has also committed to ceasing this crime.
Jorge Restrepo, director of the Center for Research and Studies on Armed Conflicts (CERAC), highlights the complexity of negotiations with the Central Command due to its non-cohesive structure. Defense Minister Iván Velásquez has emphasized the importance of the ceasefire for community benefit.
Dickinson points out that illegal groups aim to control territories and illicit economies, with civil society control being an effective strategy. The conflict’s dynamics have shifted, with groups like the ELN now more concerned about rivals like the Clan del Golfo than the state.
President Petro acknowledges the government’s challenges in reducing massacres and blames the previous administration for not fully implementing the peace agreement with the former FARC. Upcoming challenges include addressing illicit economies at negotiation tables and discussions on destroying and replacing illicit crops, particularly coca.
Despite setbacks, the government remains committed to the negotiation tables, with ambitious goals, including the potential cessation of the conflict with the ELN by May 2024.