The Colombian government and the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) will resume peace negotiations in November, suspended in 2019 by the then president, Iván Duque, both parties announced on Tuesday in Caracas without specifying the place of the next meetings.
Delegates from the government of Gustavo Petro and the ELN agreed “to reestablish the dialogue process after the first week of November 2022,” according to a statement read after a meeting in Caracas.
In addition to formalizing the reinstatement of “the talks table”, the text reports the decision to “retake all the agreements and progress made since the signing of the agenda” on March 30, 2016.RELATED
The meetings will take place in “rotating venues” between the countries that are guarantors of the process: Venezuela, Cuba and Norway, said Antonio García, commander of the ELN, during a press conference in the Venezuelan capital after reading the statement.
Where the talks will restart is still being evaluated, Garcia added.
For the time being, the ELN leader ruled out that Chile and Spain would participate: “We appreciate the will (…), but until now we are going to maintain the structure of guarantors that was agreed upon.”
Petro, the first left-wing president in Colombia and a former guerrilla, reactivated contacts with the ELN after assuming power on August 7, with an eye toward resuming negotiations, interrupted in 2019 by the government of Iván Duque after an attack on a police school that left 22 dead, in addition to the aggressor.
The ELN delegates were welcomed for four years in Cuba, from where they left on Sunday for Venezuela.
The commander of the guerrilla group stressed that the way to seek peace is not only through arms, but to “attack the causes” of the “armed conflict, which are inequality, lack of democracy, inequity.”
The ELN is the last recognized guerrilla in Colombia. Founded in 1964 by trade unionists and students sympathetic to Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Cuban revolution, the organization has held unsuccessful negotiations with the last five Colombian presidents.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement in 2016 and became a political party.
Venezuela expressed “its strongest commitment to the total peace process in Colombia,” in a statement released by Foreign Minister Carlos Faría.
Maduro, who resumed bilateral diplomatic relations with Petro after three years of rupture due to political differences, received Colombian Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva at the presidential palace at night.
“Venezuela and Colombia continue to advance in cooperation for the well-being of our peoples,” the socialist president posted on Twitter, without giving further details.
UN calls to seize “opportunity”
The United Nations welcomed the resumption of talks. A statement from the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, sent by his spokesman, “urges both parties to make the most of this opportunity to end a deadly conflict that has lasted for decades and whose resolution is essential to expand the scope of the peace”.
The document “ratifies the readiness of the United Nations to provide whatever assistance is required” and “encourages the international community as a whole to lend its support.”
After the suspension of the talks, the ELN increased its foot force from 1,800 to 2,500 members, according to official estimates, with the energy infrastructure and the transnationals in Colombia as the main “military objectives.”
Although García heads the governing body known as the Central Command, the organization has a federated structure with its own spokesperson on each front, which according to experts makes negotiations difficult.
With a presence on the border with Venezuela, the ELN has less firepower than the dissolved FARC had, but its social base, made up of militiamen, is broader and more diverse, according to researchers.
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