Colombia’s ELN guerrilla has stated that kidnappings will stop – but on one condition. This armed group announced last week the temporary end of the practice of kidnapping, at the end of the fifth round of negotiations in the peace talks it has been conducting with the Colombian government for just over a year. However, the leader of the oldest guerrilla group in Latin America, still active, has now stated that the fulfillment of his promise will depend on alternative financing being found for his illegal organization.
“Peace is not for only one party to win,” said Antonio Garcia, head of this illegal armed group, in a statement published on his social networks. The guerrilla has also stated that it is necessary to make adjustments to the bilateral ceasefire with the government, in order to ensure better compliance with it.
The ELN is repeating what it has always argued: it justifies the practice of kidnappings, what the group calls “retentions”, with its economic needs. The illegal group amends what the government communicated, just at the conclusion of the last round of dialogues in Mexico, making the fulfillment of its commitments dependent on an alternative to its financing.
In the communication, Antonio Garcia asserts that the extension of the temporary ceasefire, the suspension of “economic retentions” and the financing issue are related. He warned that “point 2 will not be possible without point 3, or rather simultaneously, so that we can all be understood”.
Likewise, the leader of the organization has given his assurance that if their demands are fulfilled, his group will comply with the agreement to put an end to kidnappings by the end of January 2024. “As can be seen, what has been agreed upon regarding this suspension will be within the framework of an extension of the ceasefire, it cannot be given outside this extension, understanding that no definitive ceasefire has been signed, but only a temporary one”, said the guerrilla leader.
Improving the ceasefire
In the same text, Garcia points out that his group is willing to extend the bilateral ceasefire, but clarifies that it has not been working satisfactorily and that “adjustments must be made so that it is well fulfilled.”
The ELN has referred to the complex situation in various regions of the country, especially in the department of Cauca, where it has not been possible to reduce violence, caused by clashes between various illegal armed groups operating there. “Despite our willingness to comply with this ceasefire, the massacres and murders of social leaders continue, as well as the persecution against them,” said the guerrilla leader, who denounces what he calls the passivity of the State and the Armed Forces in the face of this situation.
Denounces media hostility
Likewise, the head of the armed group has denounced in the text the alleged media hostility, relating a recent survey that says that, for the first time, more Colombians are opposed to the negotiations with the ELN than those who support them, because of the “manipulation” of the media against them.
Regarding the information provided by the media in Colombia, Garcia regretted that “of course, the results of a poll have the pollsters’ purposes and sometimes they seek to incline an opinion according to the selection of the sample population, but they are also careful to gain credibility with approximate results, especially when they are events of great national interest where those of the big economic groups prevail.”
In reality, the survey presents a polarized social overview: while 49% oppose the negotiations, 47% support them. This is not new either; just remember the result of the plebiscite that put Colombia’s peace with the former FARC to a vote in 2016, which was rejected in the popular vote by a slim margin. This forced the government to change the way of ratifying the Havana agreements, so avoiding submitting them again to the consideration of the citizenship.
On that occasion, the decisive role of certain conservative media, hostile to the peace achieved by President Santos, was crucial in the final result of rejection in the popular vote.
Much to do in the new year
Finally, Antonio Garcia’s communiqué ends by reiterating that there is still nothing substantial agreed to guarantee the final success of the talks “because the process of participation of society that will build an agenda of change for the country is still in its initial phase. For now, what has been agreed upon is a discussion agenda and how the participation of society will be is still being worked out”
What is clear from this last statement of the Colombian guerrilla is that 2024 will involve a lot of work for peace negotiators on both sides. This is something that is not exceptional either, since the dialogues with the demobilized FARC lasted for more than four years and also had moments of anxiety.
In this type of process, what is needed is empathy, calm and discretion, something that it does not seem that the political opposition is willing to facilitate. As expected, there has been a flurry of reactions to the communiqué from those opposed to the peace talks with the ELN from the beginning, putting pressure on the government.
Cascade of questions
One of the first contrary reactions has been from the senator of the conservative Democratic Center, Maria Fernanda Cabal, who said that “they have kidnapped, raped, tortured, disappeared, murdered innocent people and now they want the country to support them. Terrorists should not impose conditions, it is the country that should demand that they answer for their atrocities.”
Another habitual critic of the dialogues, the senator of Cambio Radical, David Luna, has not been absent either. “The ELN is a pantomime, they announce one thing at the dialogue table and do another thing in the territories. Unfortunately they will continue kidnapping. A few days ago they said in Mexico that they will stop kidnapping and today say that they will not stop unless the government finances them.”
The former commissioner for peace under former President Pastrana (1998-2002), conservative Camilo Gomez, has also harshly criticized the peace process, asserting that this armed group has no real interest in abandoning its criminal practices. “Once again, the ELN has no political direction and is highly linked to drug trafficking. It changes its position and instead of looking for peace, it looks for money. The ELN has no interest in stopping kidnapping or seeking peace.”
Perhaps the most notable reaction comes from another player highly critical of the government, and not only of the peace process: the attorney general, Francisco Barbosa. A few weeks before the end of his term, Barbosa has not missed the opportunity to attack the government on account of the ELN leader’s declarations. Barbosa described President Petro’s Total Peace project as “criminal peace”. The prosecutor emphasized that the last communiqué of the guerrilla was “one more example of the shamelessness of the ELN.”