Gustavo Petro has asked Nicolás Maduro to be a guarantor of the negotiation with the ELN that he hopes to start shortly, in a matter of days. The presidents of Colombia and Venezuela spoke by phone recently and agreed to hold a meeting in Caracas as soon as possible to plan the roadmap for the talks, as confirmed by this newspaper with sources from the Casa de Nariño, the presidential residence. Maduro has received this Tuesday the official proposal, through a letter signed by Petro.
The Colombian guerrilla has a presence on the border, especially on the Venezuelan side, and its commanders maintain a fluid relationship with the Chavista leadership. Colombia initially did not want to involve Venezuela in the peace talks, but upon reestablishing diplomatic relations it concluded that without Maduro’s approval it would be impossible to move forward. The new ambassador in Caracas, Armando Benedetti, spoke of his desire not to elenize talks between countries. That is not going to be possible.
Petro has reminded Maduro in the letter that Venezuela committed in 2016 to carry out an agenda of dialogues with the THE N. Later, the countries structured a protocol that contemplated the return to Colombia of a guerrilla delegation through Venezuelan territory. On that journey they could not be arrested or extradited. The idea is reactivate what is already signed, travel along the indicated path, which will make the negotiation faster. The guerrilla has given signs that it will be.
Those in charge of negotiating peace with the FARC, the largest disarmament process that Colombia has carried out in its history, often lament that they have wasted a lot of time on technicalities. The guerrillas wanted to put everything in writing, leaving nothing to interpretation. It was not a gratuitous obsession, in the past the armed groups have signed agreements with the Government that have not been fulfilled, which has led them to feel betrayed and return to arms. Petro does not want to take false steps and intends to take advantage of the available legal literature to speed up the process.
Confirmed the role of Venezuela, more than sure the role of Cuba, where the main leaders of the ELN live, it remains to be seen what the role of Spain will be. President Pedro Sanchez was made available from Petro, who received the offer enthusiastically. It would be a way of involving the European Union in a negotiation that could be exhausting. The ELN, unlike the FARC, does not have as its ultimate goal to seize power by force, but rather to implement social and political changes. Some of their demands to lay down their arms will go in that direction.
The ELN was born on the initiative of a group of young enthusiasts of the Cuban revolution. Colombian students remained in Havana during the US-Russian missile crisis, despite the fact that Fidel Castro expelled all foreigners from the island. Upon returning to their country they embraced the armed struggle. Almost all the Colombian presidents of the last 40 years have entered into dialogue with them, with little success. The last to try was President Iván Duque, who canceled the talks after a guerrilla cell perpetrated an attack in a cadet school in Bogotá, which left 23 dead.
Achieving the disarmament of the ELN is the first step to achieve what Petro calls total peace. The president wants a country without violent armed organizations, an evil that has affected Colombia for decades. His intention is to get the last active guerrilla to lay down their arms and for the drug cartels and criminal groups to submit to justice with some type of prison benefit that has not yet materialized. On campaign, Petro conceptualized the task as social peace, an invention of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida.
In recent days, criticism has arisen around this totalizing idea, such as that of Sergio Jaramillo, former Peace Commissioner in the negotiation with the FARC during the Government of Juan Manuel Santos. In his view, the same treatment should not be given to all the armed actors in Colombia: “I would call it a category error by giving a peace treatment to what is a problem of criminal policy.” The judicial engineering has yet to be finalized, but Jaramillo believes that this could lead to criminal organizations rearming themselves right now and trying to gain social support in remote towns in order to present themselves at talks with the government with greater weight than they actually have.
ELN leaders have also been critical. “Total peace is a false peace, since it is reduced to the mere absence of armed confrontation. Giving the wrong treatment to social conflicts will continue to lead us to an armed uprising,” the ELN chief, alias Antonio García, wrote in August, a few days after Petro’s inauguration. García is considered the representative of the toughest and most intransigent wing of the organization. Some commanders are dissatisfied with being included in the same process as criminal groups dedicated to drug trafficking and extortion.
The Government considers these criticisms rash. The process is not yet underway, it is barely in the study phase. The intention is to initiate negotiations and provoke the surrender to justice of all the armed groups at the same time, not just one as has been done in the past. It really is a challenge ambitious in a nation accustomed to war. Many consider that it is not possible to orchestrate a policy of this magnitude at this time in the country that exports the most cocaine in the world, with all the violence that this entails around it. Petro believes it possible, and that is why he is taking the first steps. For the moment he has already put Venezuela to work on it.
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