An End In Sight: Colombia And The E.L.N. Talk Peace After 60 Years Of Conflict

Peace talks between the Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group began in Venezuela last month after 60 years of conflict. The National Liberation Army (E.L.N.) is a Marxist group which supports land redistribution for farmers and which has planned a number of attacks in Colombia. On December 4th, the Colombian government and the E.L.N. agreed to allow the Embera, an Indigenous group which was displaced due to conflicts caused by the E.L.N., to return to their land. Prospects seem hopeful for further agreements in the name of peace.

Both the E.L.N. and the Colombian government support peace talks. According to the B.B.C., Pablo Beltran, head of the E.L.N. delegation, said that neither the government nor the rebel group can afford to keep treating the other as a threat. “The task we have is reconciliation,” Beltran said. President Gustavo Petro similarly supports a peace agreement, hopeful that diplomacy can put an end to the 60 years of violence. After the agreement to return the Embera people to their land, France24 reported that both sides called the talks “a beacon of hope in a world mired in war and destructive tension.”

The Embera agreement was only the first made between the E.L.N. and the Colombian government. Another round of negotiations will start next month in Mexico, where Foreign Policy reports that the delegations will discuss issues including drug trafficking, land ownership, illegal mining, and environmental degradation.

It would be difficult to solve all of these problems in one round of negotiations. However, the International Crisis Group reported the Colombian government supports creating partial agreements with the E.L.N., and discussing different issues in each round of negotiations. This is how the parties were able to agree to allow the Embera to return to their land, even though the E.L.N. has not supported other agreements.

Some issues will likely be easier to negotiate than others. For example, both the E.L.N. and President Petro support land reforms. According to Colombia Reports, these reforms could occur through the government buying land from large landowners and redistributing it to farmers who own less land. Because this issue is important to the E.L.N., it may be more willing to support other agreements, and eventually an end to the Colombian conflict, if such land redistribution occurs.

Venezuela is another party in the talks. Members of the E.L.N. moved to this country to escape conflicts with the Colombian government. The group has supported Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, and its illegal mining operations have provided income for the Venezuelan government.

So far, Venezuela has supported the peace talks. However, the two countries were tense before Petro re-established relations upon becoming president of Colombia, and there are concerns that Venezuela will not support negotiations with E.L.N. members in the country. If only Colombian E.L.N. members support a peace agreement, divisions in Venezuela, who have supported attacks on the Colombian government and military, will continue to propagate violence. For this reason, Colombia should make sure both Venezuela and the E.L.N. members in that country are in agreement before declaring peace.

Petro’s plan also includes negotiations with other violent Marxist groups: the E.L.N is not Colombia’s only armed revolutionary force. In 2016, the Colombian government made a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (F.A.R.C.), which quickly proved ineffective when F.A.R.C. dissidents joined the E.L.N. and other, similar groups rather than give up their weapons. If every revolutionary band agrees to peace, E.L.N. members in opposition to the agreement will not have any support if they attempt to continue the conflict.

The E.L.N. has not supported a peace agreement yet, but the negotiations may still be successful. Addressing issues in partial agreements is more likely to receive E.L.N. support than forcing the group to take or leave a compromise on every issue at once, and the talks as a whole are likely to be more effective than those with the F.A.R.C. The Colombian government has done a lot to make peace likely, but it will still need to work with Venezuela and the other parties in the talks if it hopes to end the violence. Conflicts will continue if the peace agreement is not supported on all sides.