Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) said it believed that peace talks with the government of the new Colombian president, the leftist Gustavo Petro, could begin in a matter of “weeks”. In an exclusive interview, ELN negotiator Israel Ramírez Pineda, also known as “Pablo Beltrán”, explained that both sides are preparing to start the dialogue. “I think that weeks”, said one of the main leaders of the largest active guerrilla group in Colombia after the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with the peace agreement of 2016.
“We are in the process of resuming talks,” said Beltrán, adding that, while the Colombian government “is setting up negotiation teams”, the ELN is “in the process of evaluating the period that is ending and also to redo the delegation of dialogue”. “We are in similar moments. Once this is concluded, there will be a first meeting”, he added.
Beltrán also considered it likely that the model of “rotating places” with which these talks began in 2017, so that even if the dialogue starts in Havana, it can later move to another country. The negotiator assured that “the offers of follow-up and assistance” from Chile and Spain are welcome and will be analyzed, and stressed that both the Colombian government and the ELN will study “how to deal with this support”.
The electoral victory of Petro, himself a former guerrilla of the M-, revived the Colombian government’s peace talks with the ELN, suspended in 2019 by his predecessor, Iván Duque, due to the attack by the armed group on the Cadet School in Bogotá, which killed 22 people and wounded 68. In August, the new Colombian government and the ELN announced the resumption of peace negotiations in Cuba, after a meeting in Havana.
Guerrilla criticizes the US for classifying Cuba as a “sponsor of terrorism ”
Beltrán said he considered it a “trample” that the United States included Cuba in the list of countries sponsoring international terrorism for welcoming its representatives in peace negotiations with the government of Colombia . “It’s a double scandal. Because Cuba defended the protocol we signed with the Colombian State with five countries as witnesses,” said the ELN member.
In the negotiator’s opinion, it is a “disastrous precedent” for a nation to be “ persecuted” and suffer reprisals “for upholding an international agreement” and complying with “international law”. “For us, the fact that Cuba maintains its state policy to support peace in Colombia is an example and we are grateful for that,” said Beltrán, who has lived on the Caribbean island for five years.
The guerrilla leader assured that the ELN learned from this decision by the administration of Republican American President Donald Trump, which his successor, Democrat Joe Biden, did not reverse. After Petro took office in Colombia in August, Colombian Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva also repudiated Cuba’s designation as a sponsor of terrorism.