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How the negotiation with the FARC would change if the ELN come in

By: Juanita Len, Wed, 07/03/2013

Translated for La Silla Vaca by Matilda Villarraga

photo NegotiationswiththeFARCinHavanahavecontemplatedfromthebeginning,thepossibilitythat soonerratherthanlatertheElnjointhetalks. PhotocourtesyofthePresidency. On 4 July, the guerrillas of the ELN reach 49 years of existence. And ahead of time of that date several episodes have come together: the protests in Catatumbo, the announcement of a strategic union with the FARC and a letter from civil society which will be published on Thursday asking the ELN and the Government to initiate conversations that lead to the end of the conflict. These steps seem coldly calculated for that day to be the last year that the guerrillas celebrate their birthday. On July 1, the ELN and the FARC released two press releases dated in June in the "Mountains of Colombia" and signed by Timochenko, head of the FARC, and 'Gabino', head of the ELN. In this release, the commanders express that they have come together to iron out the 'roughness' that led to the two guerrilla groups to confront one another in the past and to work together for the "unity of all the political and social forces committed to the realization of profound changes in society" and for a peace that spans the whole insurgency. The second statement, which was not as emphasized by the media as the first, is perhaps more significant because both guerrillas recognize that "a political solution to the social and armed conflict" is part of their "strategic horizon". And because they reiterate the importance of convening a Constituent Assembly for "facilitating the transition to a society at peace" .What's interesting about this release is that the ELN spoke of a Constituent Assembly as the FARChave suggested and not of their idea of a National

Convention, their battle horse for decades. Thus, it would demonstrate that the ELN finally yield to the leadership of the FARC in the negotiation. At the end, they end up invoking the spirit of Chvez, highlighting once again the importance that Venezuela has for both, perhaps even more for the ELN. This 'Commanders Summit' is given in the context of the revolts of the Catatumbo, which already have lasted more than 20 days. "The Catatumbo creates the conditions for the meeting", a source that knows firsthand the ELN said to La Silla. "It marked the meeting between the commanders".
TheprotestsinCatatumbooriginateinunfulfilledagreementsbytheGovernment,inarejectiontothe eradicationofcocaandtherequirementtodeclareinthezoneapeasantreserve.Althoughitisa peasantprotest,theFARC,theELNandtheEPL,withpresenceinthearea,havenotbeenimmuneto themobilization. Photo:Efe

In Catatumbo come together the FARC, the ELN and a bastion of the EPL, as explained by La Silla. The guerrilla of the EPL, which is the smallest of the three with 60 members, is the group that dominates the finances in this region of Norte de Santander, and operates under the command of Megateo. Megateo is a drug trafficker asdepicted by the authorities, but he is also a guerrilla head with a social and political leadership in the middle area of the Catatumbo. He buys coca from the farmers, and has established a firm grip on sustainable prices and, as told to La Silla by a source whose information we could not corroborate, he has political influence in the region. The ELN is the second strongest group with 291 members, according to official sources, especially in the south of the Catatumbo, and the FARC, with more intense presence in the North, has 303 members, according to official data. Some people believe that Timochenko, the head of the FARC, holds more jungle area of this region as a home front and that possibly the meeting took place there, information that was impossible for us to verify. In any case, three experts consulted by La Silla believe it is no coincidence that the commanders release had coincided with the social uprising in Catatumbo because interests of the two guerrillas come together there and by the time it occurs.

Parallel to these two episodes, the so-called "civil society", composed of former Eln members, academics, members of NGOS, experts on peace and one or another international organization,has been moving for several months so that the Eln joins the ride of negotiations with the FARC. On the one hand, several of these people have travelled several times in the past few months to the Bellavista prison where is detained Juan Carlos Cuellar, the military command of the Western warfront of the ELN, which trashed over the years Valle and Cauca. To this prison have been arriving almost all military commanders prisoners of the ELN so it has become an epicenter of important encounter with this guerrilla. In a meeting of civil society with the Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo some of these people raised the importance of involving this guerrilla in the peace negotiations. However, a few days later, president Santos in the War College, on police promotion day, said that as long this guerrilla group had kidnapped the Canadian Jernoc Wobert there would be no rapprochement. The ELN has not yet released the Canadian. However, last Wednesday in the Vice presidency of the Universidad Javeriana several of the same members of civil society met with Jesuits of the university and wrote a letter that will be announced on Wednesday. It asks both, the ELN to release the Canadian and to put an end to the kidnappings, and the Government to integrate this guerrilla in the peace talks, as stated in this letter. This group is convinced that there will be peace only if incorporates all guerrillas, and that it is urgent for the ELN to be involved in the Havana negotiations either in a parallel process or at the same table. Most probably, the ELN will respond to that letter releasing the Canadian, announcing the end of the policy of kidnapping and accepting the invitation to begin negotiations.
TheELNleadershiphasinitiatedpeaceprocesseswithallrecentgovernments.Butalwaysattheendit torpedoedthepossibilityofadvancing.


The ELN eventual entry to the peace negotiations could have several effects

both at the table in Havana, and in different parts of the country as well as on the Colombian leftwing. As the analyst Leon Valencia said, who campaigned with the ELN for years, the entry of this guerrilla would strengthen the demand for the FARC to convene a Constituent Assembly. On the other hand, it would be a way to force the Government to 'open' the negotiating agenda. Until now, the government has insisted on continuing on the roadmap defined in the Framework Agreement agreed between the High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo and guerrilla leader "The Doctor" who gave start to the peace talks. Any attempt by the FARC to broaden the agenda and to include topics of the economic model, for example, has been rejected with the argument that this is not referred to in the Framework Agreement. The same is with the theme of the Constituent Assembly. The greater argument of the FARC is that this would be referred to implicitly in the preamble of the Agreement, which is a somewhat weak argument. But if the ELN enters the talks they could force the expansion of the agenda in two ways: on the one hand, the historical theme of the ELN has been to combat the mining and oil drilling by the multinationals with the sovereignty argument on non-renewable natural resources and security, the ELN will ask that this be included in the bargaining agenda. On the other, take the path of the National Convention, which would be a meeting between the guerrillas and sectors of society to diagnose the problems of the country and propose joint solutions, which will serve as a benchmark for subsequent dialog with the Government. The National Convention -that the ELN has outlined as a pre-constituent scenario - could eventually become a plan B for both the government and the FARC, because it could comply with the purpose of talking about subjects that are not defined in the Framework Agenda but without the binding nature of the Constituent Assembly, which has become a point of honor for the Government. The new alliance between FARC and ELN are also likely to be reflected in new and more frequent social mobilizations as the Catatumbo (where the Government claims to have evidence that the FARC and the ELN discussed together part of the agenda of the demands of the peasants) and those that

have already occurred in the Cauca, Arauca and the Pacific in the last six months. By the way of enhancing the social mobilization, they seek to press gains at the negotiating table. Official figures estimate that the ELN has approximately 1270 combatants and about two thousand militiamen. However the strength of this guerrilla does not lie - as happens to the FARC - in their military might. It lies in their penetration of the social structures which has been achieved during their nearly half a century of existence. Although the criminal actions that have been committed such as the Machuca, coupled with the activities of paramilitary groups in many regions that ended with his "broad front", weakened the social and political structure within the legality, the ELN retains a good capacity for social mobilization and coordination with social organizations. Much more than even the Farc, whose main social base are the coca growers. By joining these two guerrillas, they will be easier to adhere and enhance social protest in places like the hills of San Lucas, Arauca, the north of Boyac, regions of Cauca and Nario Antioquia and Choc. These mobilizations, as seen in the case of the Cauca and now with the Catatumbo, have a large political impact on the government. On the other hand, the ELN has more contacts than the FARC with different sectors of civil society: from the Church to international NGOS, but especially in several sectors of the left. If the Eln finally plays a role in a peace negotiation, the Marcha Patritica will lose the monopoly on the discussions of civil society facing toward Havana and other groups such as the Congress of the peoples and the Minga will have more presence in the scenario. To date, the Government has not responded to the releases of the ELN and it remains to be seen if it refers to the letter of July 4 of the civil society, assuming that the guerrillas finally release the kidnapped Canadian. The Government is aware that putting an end to the armed conflict happens to integrate all the guerrillas in the negotiation and that if the ELN enters, it will bring also the EPL. In fact, in the exploratory phase in the beginning the Farc seemed to be speaking also on behalf of the Eln but then they took them out of the 'key holder'. In any case, it explicitly left the door open for them to enter.

Now, and especially with the uncertainty created by the transition and the polarization in Venezuela after the death of Chvez, time is running even faster against the ELN. This guerrilla is famous for always starting negotiations and never be able to take the final step. What will they do now? Editor's Note: after this story was published, we added the official data on the number of guerrillas by group in Catatumbo.