Colombia / ELN: “We Must Not Abandon The Road And The Political Solution To The Conflict, Nor The Struggle For Peace” | Opinion

Negotiations between the Colombian government and ELN began in 2016 but with the arrival of Iván Duque in the presidency, call by Pablo Beltrán in the following interview as “the third government of Álvaro Uribe, the process has stalled. Moreover, Duque has initiated a campaign against the Cuban government, demanding that the main negotiators of the ELN guerrillas be deported to Colombia, thus violating the act between the government of Juan Manuel Sanos and ELN in the case of a break in negotiations between the two parties, what the Cuban government also maintains.

Duque says that he did not sign that act, therefore it is not binding on him. As a sign of the worsening relations between Cuba, as a facilitator also in this peace process, and the Colombian government is voting in the UN General Assembly recently when Colombia abstained, for the first time, from condemning the US blockade against the island. Shameful position he only shared with the coup regime of Ukraine.

Between 2016 the two parts of Colombia-ELN agreed a six-point agenda:


1. Participation of society in the construction of peace.

2. democracy for peace.

3. Transformations for peace.

4. Victims.

5. End of armed conflict.

6. Implementation. The guarantor countries of the process are Brazil, Chile, Norway, Venezuela and Cuba as host country; Germany, Italy, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland form the Group of Support, Accompaniment and Cooperation Countries -GPAAC.

Following is the interview with the head of the ELN delegation in Havana, Pablo Beltrán, which can also be seen on video:

– At the moment we are on the Cuban island, in the heart of the Caribbean and we have the honor this day to speak with Pablo Beltrán, head of the National Liberation Army delegation, ELN. Negotiations with the Colombian state were going to start a long time ago but because of many obstacles that have arisen during this path it has not been possible, not even to make a single negotiation between the two parties.

But first of all, Pablo, thank you very much for helping us to clarify some unknowns that public opinion, both in Colombia and abroad, has about these negotiations. I would like you to give us a bit of background to this situation that has arisen, not only that the negotiations have not started but also that the government even wants you and the other commanders of the delegation to be extradited as international terrorists were and back to Colombia.

Pablo: “Thanks Dick, for coming. The ELN dialogue delegation together with the Santos government delegation in May 2018 changed the location of the Ecuadorian table. Because Lenin Moreno at that time said he didn't want to be the venue for the dialogues anymore. We ask Cuba, both the government of Santos and the ELN, to come here to Havana and continue the table here. The table is moved here from May to August. It was done, let's say a good start to the negotiation. The expectation was that the government would be able to continue it. But of course, it was very difficult because he came to the Uribe government again. We are in the third Uribe government and Uribe has always said that it was going to break the peace. And he did it. That meant flagrantly violating all the agreements they signed with the Farc and enforcing them. They began the persecution against the main bosses. Partner with the US DEA to extradite several chiefs who had signed the peace. That forced those bosses to take refuge and depart from the process of announcing that the process had been buried without penalty or glory. ”

“As for ELN Duke, he started by saying that he was going to evaluate where the process with Santos had ended. It was never worth it. In the end he said no! that ELN should disappear and disarm. There they began a negotiation, a bit absurd. He made a lot of prerequisites. ”

“We told him; "If you have criticism of what we did with Santos, name your delegation and bring them to the table and there we discuss them." Well, conversations happen in that; They sit both sides and take each one to bring their arguments to the table. We invite you yes. We were told; 'Don't get up from the table'! Then the government said that "Cuba was a refuge for terrorists." What all guarantor countries have told you is; `No sir! The delegation is here because the government asked for it. In Bogotá they said: no, but that was Santos, not us! Over there one can read; `hey; If you did not sign the external debt, then why are you paying it? Yes, why pay? Why don't you deny it?

“A process against the agreements began, against that will for peace that began in the previous government and today because all that is very prostrated the agreements with the Farc. They have been reduced only to reintegration. They are very stigmatized. They are killing as they reach 200 former combatants killed and their relatives. The peasant leaders who committed themselves to the voluntary illicit crop substitution program are the ones who are killing the most. There are hundreds of other leaders who have killed. So it is not an environment of peace that has come with this government but that atmosphere of war. Within that atmosphere of war, of course, Duke, and Uribe, above all, has said that he is not interested in giving continuity to the peace process with the FARC, or to a peace process with us. At that point we are. ”

– There is a possibility that the Duque government will say; Well, the peace agreement is no longer useful. What situation will then be those who are defending that agreement with everything?

“There was an important pulse for example around things of Special Justice for Peace (JEP). The government has tried to bury several things about truth commissions and justice. But there are sectors of society that have strongly defended that and have folded the arm of the government. Also the government has not had it easy to bury the entire agreement and what it has not been able to do is because there has been a very strong bid with sectors of society. This is very important. Because all that peace process that Santos started with all the imperfections he has and the breaches that this government has done now, but has generated hope. Especially there we say hope to turn the page to war. That is something historical in Colombia. It is a great result. There are many sectors in Colombia, there are political and social forces that are fighting so that this hope does not die and pressure the government to respect the agreements and also to reopen this negotiating table. ”

– It's like between a couple, if there is no love from the other party, the relationship no longer works.

“We have a very clear thing from the state, or rather from the regime there is no will to change. Because what Colombia asks for is changes. No willingness to respond to the hope of peace. That is not the regime we have. What is left? May society resume the peace process and press it and move it forward. There have already been samples of that. Sectors where the government has obsessively insisted on sinking things of peace, society has faced it and won. He is already showing a path that, just as he won the pulse on the Special Jurisdiction of Peace, the pulse on the fulfillment of some agreements also the society as that force grows will be able to tell the ruling elites; "No gentlemen here if there is an internal conflict and you have to find some political way out and you have to build a peace." That is the plan, to build national majorities for peace. There are many sectors in Colombia and we are convinced that this will go in that direction. Of course, that effort goes beyond what we can do as an ELN. But we join that effort. ”

– Could the last municipal and regional elections also be a blow to justly isolate the warriors? Uribismo lost its stronghold in Medellín, lost Bogotá or other municipalities and very important departmental capitals.

“What you say, Dick, is true. The elections of October 27 were lost by the government. Or it is lost is the sector that is ruling that is unconditional of the USA, that is enemy of the peace, that heads all the aggressions against Venezuela that heads all that warlike atmosphere that the United States wants in the continent. You have seen that the international position of the Colombian government is totally warlike. It is not friendly with its neighbors. It is the US plan. That was what he lost on October 27. Because broad sectors of Colombian society want a political solution to the conflict, but they do not want to be in a state of belligerence with neighboring countries. They also consider that there is an overflowing corruption. That there is also an army that is attacking society. Also that there are supremely harmful economic measures with the middle layers with the population as a whole. All this has generated a rejection and is considered to be the bad government and the vote of punishment for that bad government was the regional elections of last October 27.

– A month ago we interviewed Benedict Gonzalez, former head of the 41st Farc Front who replaced Jesus Santrich in the chamber of deputies. He said, to counteract the statement of the lawyer and legal advisor of the FARC delegation in the negotiations, Enrique Santiago, who told us that the Duque government has to change its attitude. González argues that above is the US that is issuing orders to the government in Bogotá.

"Totally! The misfortune of these countries that have neoliberal governments is that internal politics, the economic model, public policy measures are in favor of banks and multinationals that extract resources, that is, natural goods. Foreign policy is that of the US Department of State. What the Colombian Foreign Minister says is what they say about Washington. That is why he is attacking Venezuela, warming things in Ecuador, he lives being more friends with Piñera and Vizcarra, he is the head of the Lima Group. But see what is happening to the Lima Group. That is called divine punishment. The US policy that was to recolonize, that was to bury the progressive wave that is cracking. What the Washington Consensus has called wants to impose neoliberalism across the continent is cracking. There is the fight in Chile, in Argentina, in Bolivia (interview conducted before the coup), in Brazil, in Ecuador, in Colombia. The dictates of the United States in terms of neoliberalism and in other words, that these countries have an anti-sovereign and warmongering policy, all that is cracking. ”

– Several investigators in the department of Antioquia that we interviewed in the month of May 2017 (six months after the peace signing) told us, that where the Farc had left, the paramilitaries, hand in hand with the miners, entered. As in Bajo Cauca and in other areas where megaprojects are found.

“It was a disgrace. Three years of signing the agreements with the FARC are being completed. What has happened in the three years? As the FARC concentrated them in places like reserves, do you remember the indigenous reserves? They took the territory and left them in a corner. So they did to the Farc. While the Farc placed them in the corner, the spaces they left began to take over the paramilitaries. The communities that began to oppose began to kill the leaders, frighten them to displace them and behind them came the great projects. What they took advantage of was that emptiness and completed territorial control. A few words in the Catatumbo of a Brigadier General Villegas were very famous, who in January asked him: `General, what should be done against the ELN? We must finish them! But what do we have to do? Well, ally them with 'Los Pelusos', with whatever bands they are. And if we have to sicariar, we will hit! If there is money for that. ”

“Then he explains how the modus operandi of the military is. In the Catatumbo there are 17,000 soldiers. But the killing of leaders is done through the gangs. It is a is a double power. It is the legal power that appears the Army Vulcan Task Force. But in turn they maintain bands with which they attack social organizations and their leaders. This machinery of war against society has gained thousands of social leaders in these three years. And if you look, it is a perverse purpose, which is the most organized social and political sectors disobeying them and thus the constitution of an alternative force that opposes neo-liberalism and war is killing it in the cradle. This is a political genocide like the one they made of the Patriotic Union, rather than that of the Patriotic Union they focused on it, it is not a leftist party. Now it is reaping the lives of the main leaders, the most aware of the most organized sectors and the most opposed to these projects of extraction of natural goods, the most opposed to illicit crops, the most opposed to Colombia staying at war . They signed some agreements by word but in fact they started another stage of war already directed against the more, say, more politically enlightened sectors and the more organized social sectors and more opposed to those neoliberal plans. ”

– Talking about the different focuses of the conflict. To the department of Cauca the army sent another 1100 units of the Special Forces after several massacres to civilians. Senator Iván Cepeda says that the 'Black Eagles' are nothing other than military intelligence, they are not paramilitaries. What is really the role of the army in the department of Cauca where there are also large megaprojects in gold and mineral construction?

“Cauca is a very rich department because the main rivers of Colombia are born there. In other words, the Colombian massif that is called this is a very large mountainous mass. It is called the main water factory in Colombia. Large mining companies and forestry companies are very interested in entering the territory. What happens is that in Cauca there are between 200 and 300 thousand indigenous people organized in guards and these communities have been struggling for decades. They have their own authority. They have their own rules, they have their territory and by the 1991 constitution they have levels of autonomy. But they also have an indigenous guard. Then the mafias and transnationals covet in that territory. And the way is the same; Kill the main leaders. What is exploding at the moment in Cauca they try to show as a mafia war. But no. Although in Cauca it has a corridor to the Pacific that the mafias use to export cocaine. But everyone in Cauca knows that all those mafia movement brokers pay taxes to the police army. And that the same army of the Marine Corps police that is associated with those mafias and those mafias then use them to kill the leaders. They win by point and point. The officers of the Armed Forces are enriched and the dirty task of bleeding the most organized movement, which is the indigenous and black movement, is awarded to their partners who are those gangster gangs. ”

“I give you an example; In the northwest of Cauca there is a municipality called Suárez. Two months ago they killed a candidate who was the most option to win the elections. They immediately said; "those of dissent are not so and so." A band called Los Mercaderes de la Muerte was arrested in Cali a month ago. The boss was a police officer. There are eight police officers (detainees) and they were found with evidence that they had come from Cali to kill the candidate and her entourage, who killed five people in northern Cauca. There it is clear behind. There are corrupt Armed Forces, have bands or are associated with the bands. They profit from all illegal and traffic businesses but in turn do the work of counterinsurgency. That is the x-ray of what happens in Cauca. Of course, where these types of illicit crops are grown and where there are those narcotics traffic corridors, the entire social fabric is breaking down. The best strategy to end the strong indigenous and black organizational fabric that exists in Cauca but penetrate them with the growth of all those mafias. Because in all those mafias they destroy the organizational fabric built in years and they corrupt the leaders. And the leaders who oppose this coupling are killing them. It is a dispute of the territory by all means. What appears in the mainstream media reads like this: 'they killed a leader'! But the same mayor of Toribio, who is an indigenous mayor has said `no, here the drug dealers, the places where they plant cripy marijuana and the gangs where each one is known by the army and the police. That is not a secret. Send two thousand new soldiers because there will be another two thousand that will be corrupted. ”

– And to watch the corridor?

“And watch the corridor and dispute the territory of the natives. Because they cannot by law enter the homeless's territory. Take advantage of this exceptional situation to say; Now we are going to take our territories. And among them they create, riot, dirty the water of the river to be able to fish. Then they create this situation of war in Cauca for them to take over the territories that have not been able to because the indigenous people have been controlling the territory, because they have autonomy. Notice that they win everywhere. ”

– Returning a little to the topic of peace negotiations. which was about two years ago at the beginning of 2017 when it started to get worse, or rather, the State did not fulfill its responsibility in the peace agreement. I interviewed Jesus Santrich and at the end of the interview I asked him what would he recommend to the negotiators of the National Liberation Army that he had already begun to start the discussion with the previous government? He said "you don't have to be naive before a treacherous state." But what are the main approaches of the ELN negotiators in relation, if the negotiation with the Colombian state will begin again?

“” What we managed to sign with Santos was a six-point agenda that has the purpose of ending the armed conflict but at the same time agreeing to transformations. They ask us which ones? The agenda in Point 1 says you have to put society to say, what is the peace that Colombia needs? We are going to build a common vision of peace those who have to decide the path of peace is not a government and a guerrilla. No, let's give the word to society. Now we are going to a national dialogue. Let's look at what the urgent basic changes are. The ELN is not saying that we want contract socialism, no, no, no! We say Colombia needs some changes. Democratization is needed. Sovereignty is needed. It is necessary to put an end to this wild neoliberalism. It is being said well, you tell it in Chile that they are saying that the social contract must be changed, the neoliberal social contract is ending these peoples. Not only does it end in general with the population but it is a generalized impoverishment, that generalized political exclusion. But in turn it is corruption of dominant elites. They are the only ones that profit from the neoliberal model. That must be finished and that is done with the strength of a society. That is not done with the strength of one of the parties. The same happens in Colombia. While you need to remove that model and put another and that requires a national majority for peace. And it is the bet of the ELN. If it is said that this would have the form of a constituent, well, the form should be seen. But the essence is that, as it is needed, it is a complete peace, a peace that has transformations that start the paths of social justice of democratization of sovereignty, that requires the strength of the majorities of society to be able to corner those most warlike sectors , more unconditional of the USA and more neoliberal. That is a struggle that requires forging that great alliance and convergence for peace and for changes. In that way all the forces have to add and that would be a way of political solution ”.

– Many delegations from the so-called 'civil society' arrived in Cuba but it is not enough either but the Colombian government of Santos was afraid that the Colombian masses would participate more actively, something that happened in San Vicente de Caguan (1999- February 2002) where every Sunday there was an open forum where anyone who wanted to participate in the discussions could do so (even televised). Is it something similar to how ELN wants to involve the people in the debates?

“At the end of 2017 in the surroundings of Bogotá in Tocancipá we did some audiences. What were people told? They were hundreds of people. The ELN delegation was there and there was the Santos government delegation. The question is; How do you think we should participate, organize the participation of society in this process of dialogue? Compendiums of very important proposals came out that were collected by the United Nations office. It began a process of organizing the participation that was to give the voice to society. The government told us; `No! but they were going to ask for the gold and the moro´! No. Wait to see. Let's go down the short line, therefore, what are the urgent basic changes that Colombia needs, identified by society? Let's make them! That clashes with the idea they have of peace. Because they say, when the Farc sat down with them they told them; "We are not going to touch neither the economic model, nor the political regime, nor international relations, nor the Armed Forces." Red lines were delayed, Colombia does not need only cosmetic changes, nor that the ELN be given seats in the congress. The ELN does not want, is not asking for that. The ELN is trying to say that we must turn the page to war, that we must make a path of political solution. But if you are asked to change the ELN, let it be a guerrilla and become a political movement, the least the ELN has to say is that the ruling classes also change! What will change Colombia as soon as the ELN changes? Disappear!

– Has the ruling class changed during these three years?

“It's worse, it's worse. Because there is a greater enrichment in a greater concentration of property. There is more impoverishment, more political exclusion, more delivery of natural goods. An increasingly extra-interview model. The only ones who win is Sarmiento Ángulo who owns all the banks in Colombia. This is that country where you have to change. ”

– With the signing of the peace agreement of the Farc dome in November three years ago, many of the Uribistas said “now we have to physically end ELN. These three years what meaning have they had in the war between the state and the ELN?

“We have resisted several attack fronts. First; bombings, attacks on our camps in our areas. But the main objective is to kill the main ELN leaders. They continue in that plan. So far they have not achieved it but they have not left that goal. If they could kill me here, they would.

Second; they are in a dirty war campaign by the media, discrediting us, isolating us, cornering or stigmatizing. It is Trump's policy that is lies, threats and insults. It is the media war that has us.

And a third that is the whole social and political base and all the people who have some closeness in the social and political movement with the ELN are judicializing it, they are imprisoning it, they are mounting false judicial positives. Others are being killed, others are being stripped of their lands, they are being displaced, they are being exiled. It is an attack in all directions.

What do we say? Well that is war. But it seems to us that the turn that the war has taken in these three years is to concentrate on a war against organized communities. Not only those of influence of the ELN. All! There are environmentalists, human rights, defense lawyers for political prisoners, leftist politicians or black communities, Afro-descendant indigenous people, the Lgtbi. No one is saved. Anyone who has some level of organization, the goal is to disorganize and decapitate them so that there is no organized popular movement that challenges them. That has been the war in these three years. That is not only against ELN. ”

– The youth who did not live the 'dirty war' of the extermination of the 80s and at the beginning of the 90s, that youth does not have the fear that our generation has, which is expressed in the street, in universities, in neighborhoods. . .

“Former President Uribe has a theory that cohesion is needed to maintain a society. It turns out that the cement he uses for cohesion is fear and rage. But today both elements of cohesion, which he has used with a lot of art and a lot of perversity, are falling apart. People say: fear? Each time the new generations have less fear. You see the manifestations the posters that say: 'We are not afraid'! That they scare us, that they kill them, that they terrify us, that they will imprison us, that they raise our slander, 'we are not afraid'. That is a feature that is allowing new generations to go to the streets, to have massive protests. Of course they have a very cruel and very barbaric protest to war. But even so, people don't let themselves be intimidated that is very important. ”

– Is it a qualitative leap?

“A qualitative leap and is on the rise. Because ultimately this in Colombia is not solved by an enlightened vanguard. That is more and more sectors that are indignant lose their fear, mobilize and protest to the government and began to make a wedge of very large social pressure. For example last year there was a plebiscite against corruption that had 12 million votes. These people are telling you, this system only serves the corrupt. That cannot be so, this must be changed. At this moment that fight against corruption, against the war against neoliberalism, all that is growing. Because people take to the streets and students say 'budget for education', doctors leave or farmers leave. All that, also that increasingly massive claim, is also putting pressure on the government. These elections were a thermometer of that; there is a bad government and there is a punishment vote against that bad government. ”

– It is Wednesday, November 6 and at the moment they are discussing the blockade against Cuba at the United Nations in the General Assembly. Last year, the US only had support from the Zionist state, that is, Israel. This year it is estimated that Trump will have some other votes, including the vote of Colombia from the government of Iván Duque, perhaps also Macri. The correlation of force in Latin America begins to be interesting. Again the right is on the defensive, defending everything it represents desperately while the people are moving forward. It is extremely interesting and the international event here in Havana from November 1 to 3 on solidarity, blockade, anti-imperialism and the fight against neoliberalism with 1500 representatives from 95 countries from all continents also showed that there is optimism in this sense. Now on the Colombian issue sometimes one does not want to be pessimistic but one must be realistic about the perspective. What will be the message to the opinion of the international community, to the thousands of Colombians living abroad that place their hopes that there is really peace one day in Colombia, what will be the message of the National Liberation Army to all its compatriots there and to the international community in general?

“This Duque government, which is the third Uribe government has really made a very strong attack against peace. But despite that, we must not abandon the path of the political solution of the conflict, nor the search and struggle for peace. No matter how hard the attacks are, you have to persist in that. It is not necessary to drop the hope that Colombia can change and can turn the page of the war. For many decades since the 1970s, a wild neoliberal model has been built in Colombia. This model only benefits a few rich, 1%. All the wealth and common goods that we Colombians have, are increasingly fewer hands. That has to end. That ends with the struggle and society. The same thing about having a position of our own as a nation, that we do not depend on what the US government wants is also a very important struggle. ”

“All these things have begun to emerge. When I say that there are more and more people in Colombia who say; "We are not interested in getting into war with the neighbors." It means Trump's war plans aside. ”

"When people say 'so Duke and Uribe want to bury the peace accords', but we are going to fight to defend them and so that there is complete peace, they begin to open, as I was saying (Salvador) beyond some Alamedas, some avenues, it begins to see a horizon, something else. But that only opens the struggle of the peoples. ”

“If in Colombia the new generations are losing their fear for that fight, that fight will move forward. What the regime wants is cohesion by hate and fear. Those of us who want Colombia to change and have social justice and independence and sovereignty cannot act from resentment or hatred, but instead seek to have politics done differently. Están dados unos pasos en la dirección correcta, hay un entorno continental muy importante que también aquí sentimos ese calor y hay que avanzar en esa dirección”.


Sobre el neoliberalismo y el asesinato de líderes sociales:

“Es un es un propósito perverso que es los sectores sociales y políticos más organizados los descabezan y así la constitución de una fuerza alternativa que se oponga al neoliberalismo y a la guerra la van matando en la cuna”


Colomia, conflicto armado, ELN, Farc, Pablo Beltrán, negociaciones de paz, presidente Iván Duque, Álvaro Uribe, el gobierno cubano, deportación a Colombia, gobierno de Juan Manuel Sanos, facilitador, bloqueo estadounidense contra Cuba, agenda de seis puntos, Implementación, países garantes, Brasil, Chile, Noruega, Venezuela, Cuba,Alemania, Italia, Holanda, Suecia y Suiza configuran el Grupo de Países de Apoyo, Acompañamiento y Cooperación -GPAAC



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