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What is it like and what is the ELN, the Colombian guerrilla that is now negotiating peace with the Petro government, looking for?

All the governments of Colombia have tried, in one way or another, to negotiate the demobilization of the National Liberation Armya Marxist-Leninist guerrilla.

But all peace processes have failed.

LOOK: Colombia: Captures of 17 ELN Commanders Suspended for Peace Talks

Now President Gustavo Petro, who was a member of the M19 guerrilla until his demobilization in 1989will try again.

This Monday, the delegations of both parties met in Caracas to start peace talks that will have Venezuela, Norway and Cuba as guarantors.

In January 2019, the government of Iván Duque suspended the negotiations launched in Havana by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, after a guerrilla attack on a military school that left 23 dead.

Petro hopes to resume that work plan with some innovations, including including at the negotiating table Jose Felix Lafauriea powerful right-wing cattle leader who opposed the peace process that Santos signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016.

So, how does the only guerrilla force in Colombia operate and what chance is there for this process to be successful?


How is the ELN

The ELN was formed at the same time as the FARC, in 1964, and in the same context: a State co-opted by two political parties that excluded any alternative proposal, and in the midst of the euphoria generated by the Cuban revolution in the region.

However, the ELN is not a peasant guerrilla like the FARC. Its founders were urban intellectuals inspired by Marxist ideology who went to train in Cuba and from the beginning received funding from Fidel Castro.

Furthermore, unlike the vertical structure of the FARC, the ELN operates as a federation: its fronts throughout the country have autonomy and decisions go through complex conciliation processes.

The ELN was born in the department of Santander, in San Vicente de Chucurí, less than 100 kilometers from the oil and union heart of the country, Barrancabermeja, and not far from the border with Venezuela, a country where they have increased their presence over the last decade. .

From the beginning, the militancy of Jesuit priests in the ranks of the ELN gave the guerrillas a certain religious connotation, a line of thought that combines revolutionary ideas with those of liberation theology.

Their interaction with the community in some regions of the country is daily. There are even towns where they have popular support. Unlike other guerrillas, the ELN has maintained its political work with the people.

According to the authorities, their source of financing has been, as for the other guerrillas, the collection of commissions from drug traffickers, as well as kidnapping. But the group denies being an active part of the drug trade.

Petro's rapprochement with Maduro, although politically costly, is behind the commitment to sign peace with the ELN.  (REUTERS).

Petro’s rapprochement with Maduro, although politically costly, is behind the commitment to sign peace with the ELN. (REUTERS).

how much power does it hold

The ELN has had moments of more and less power during its more than 60 years of existence.

In the early 1970s it was nearly wiped out by an offensive by the security forces, but it managed to survive and become stronger. His most active period was in the 1990s, when he carried out hundreds of kidnappings and actions against the country’s infrastructure, especially the oil company.

The Ideas for Peace Foundation estimates that in 2017 close to 1,000 people joined the guerrillas and that by 2018 it had more than 4,000 members.

The ELN has taken advantage of the absence of the FARC to take some territories. At the same time, it has had to confront various armed groups that are fighting to control remote regions of the country.

The guerrilla presence in Arauca is, and always has been, part of normality.  (DANIEL PARDO).

The guerrilla presence in Arauca is, and always has been, part of normality. (DANIEL PARDO).

Why previous peace processes have failed

After suspending the peace process after the 2019 attack, Duque always maintained that he would not resume the talks if the ELN did not release the hostages.

The guerrillas maintain that they have not kidnapped civilians, although from time to time they capture and release members of the army with whom they engage in confrontations. Today it is impossible to know exactly how many hostages they have, not only because each ELN front operates in isolation but also because their presence in Venezuela makes it impossible to know their current condition.

The kidnapping issue is one of the arguments used by critics to resume the process with the ELN.

Experts say that negotiating with this guerrilla is more difficult than with the FARC because of its federal nature: establishing a dialogue with its historical leaders does not guarantee that all the fronts are on the same line and will abide by the guidelines of the agreement.

Each ELN front in each region of the country has different conditions, causes, threats, and income. In addition, each one has different demands before the State.

Negotiating with one front does not mean advancing with the other and for this reason, until now, peace intentions have been frustrated: if one front is sitting at the table, another may well be launching war strategies.

Maintaining that contradiction is politically very difficult, especially in the face of a public opinion that wants to leave the page of guerrilla warfare behind.

The ELN said this week that it has been

The ELN said this week that it has been “forced” by the government to increase violence. (Getty Images).

What is different this time

Having said that, this peace process promoted by Petro has several differences with the previous ones that allow us to think that there is a chance of success.

For being an ex-guerrilla and for having a left-wing agenda, Petro enjoys a certain margin of confidence within the guerrilla.

The president also reestablished relations with the Venezuelan government, where the ELN, according to the Colombian authorities, has taken refuge for years with the approval of the State. Nicolás Maduro seeks to reinsert himself into the international community and Petro serves as an anchor to the world.

Although the ELN has strengthened in recent years, its military power is not enough to achieve its main goal of coming to power. Likewise, the emergence of drug-trafficking groups, neo-paramilitaries, and FARC dissidents has forced it to fight on fronts other than the State, which is its natural enemy.

Unlike previous governments, Petro has invested most of his political capital in what he calls “complete peace“, an ambitious objective that suggests that it will adjust the negotiation to many of the ELN’s requirements.

The arrival of Petro to power through votes took away arguments from the armed struggle. A left agenda can already come to power in a democracy. Perhaps arming clandestinely to fight against inequality and exclusion was necessary in the past, but today it is clear that this is not the case.

Source: Elcomercio

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