Peace talks in Colombia: difficult, but worth the try

Colombia’s government is negotiating with the ELN guerrillas. That’s good – but with Venezuela at the table, this has a taste.

President Gustavo Petro.

Difficult negotiations: Gustavo Petro in his presidential palace in Bogota Photo: Ivan Valencia/ap

Gustavo Petro is the eighth president of Colombia who in peace negotiations with the ELN guerrillas attempted since the “National Liberation Army” took up armed struggle in the early 1960s. All seven before him have failed. However, unlike his predecessors, Petro is a leftist, comes from the left and was once a guerrilla himself. Colombia’s right-wing voices are already sounding that what is about to begin in Venezuela are not peace negotiations between representatives of opposing interests, but nice conversations between like-minded people.

With the ELN Reaching agreements has always been difficult. Different to the larger Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) the ELN had reorganized in a decentralized manner since a severe military defeat in 1973. The various fronts enjoy extensive autonomy, and their strategies are not the same everywhere. That makes negotiations difficult.

In addition, the ELN is now a binational organisation. Venezuela’s border regions have long ceased to be just safe havens: the ELN structures there are largely made up of Venezuelans, and strategies of military control coupled with social commitment that have been successful in Colombia also work in Venezuela – with the difference that the state there looks the other way or supports them .

So if Cuba and Venezuela are now sitting at the table as guarantor powers alongside Norway, then that is definitely a taste – Venezuela is not a mediator, but a party. However, that might be useful.

It is hard to imagine that the ELN commanders would simply give up their economically and politically quite comfortable position and let their arms be negotiated away. And yet: there is no real alternative to resuming negotiations. Yes, talks in the past have failed. The attempt at a military solution, however, even more so. And with even more fatal consequences.

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