President Gustavo Petro’s government and the National Liberation Army (E.L.N.) – one of the oldest and largest guerrilla groups operating in Colombia til this day –reached a six-month ceasefire agreement at talks in Havana on June 9th, the Associated Press reports. The peace agreement, numerous private negotiations in Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela, marks the latest attempt to resolve a conflict which originated in the 1960s. The ceasefire took full effect on August 3rd and will last six months. If successful, it will be the longest-held ceasefire between the Colombian government and guerilla groups.
“Here, a new world is born,” Petro exclaimed at the ceremony, according to the Bangkok Post. “Here a phase of the armed insurgency in Latin America ends.”
Top rebel negotiator Pablo Beltrán also declared that the ceasefire could herald an “era of peace” for Colombia, the Associated Press says, but top guerilla commander Antonio García was more reserved. García cautioned that the parties “have not yet signed substantial agreements” but rather “procedural agreements.”
Previous negotiations’ failures account for Garcia’s pragmatic outlook. Furthermore, the amount of influence the E.L.N. has remaining in the Colombian countryside and President Petro’s declining popularity may leave the peace talk in a precarious position. Reaching complete peace will require yet more caution from both parties.
The E.L.N. is a Marxist-Leninist group formed in 1964 following the decade of the Columbian civil war (1948-1958). The group began when the Cuban Revolution inspired a movement of students and Catholic priests to defend Colombians, whom they believed were the victims of social, political, and economic injustices fueled by the Colombian state. Although it initially called such actions ideologically wrong, the E.L.N. started kidnapping politicians and wealthy landowners for revenue in the mid-1970s, and by 1976, the group’s main activities were bank robbing, kidnapping, and assassinating military members.
Upon the beginning of its decline in 2000, the E.L.N. initiated peace talks with the Colombian government, but the negotiations soon failed. By 2009, the E.L.N. suffered from internal fragmentation as units started disobeying leaders’ orders and allying with drug trafficking for financial security. The government began to see the E.L.N. as less of a threat – an assessment the E.L.N. responded to by killing police officers and bombing oil pipelines in 2012 after being excluded from peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (F.A.R.C.), then another major guerrilla group. Because of the escalating attacks, the government began formal peace talks with the E.L.N. in 2017. However, the group’s attack on a police academy in January 2019 led the government to suspend the talks.
C.N.N. argues that the recent agreement between E.L.N. and the government differs from the historic agreement Colombia made with the F.A.R.C. just before it disbanded, as the E.L.N., while waning, is still huge. The group had an armed force of more than 5,800 combatants in 2022 and was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, which accused the group of producing and trafficking cocaine. Therefore, the process of resolving the conflict has attracted global attention.
The agreement between the Colombian government and the E.L.N. represents many bodies’ efforts to achieve peace. Norway, the United Nations, and the Colombian Catholic Church all attended the June 9th talk, and their shared interests in achieving peace mean the agreement has a high likelihood of remaining solid. Regardless, as proven by the historical failures – and perhaps due to Petro’s declining support and the E.L.N.’s remaining influence – stability is still not guaranteed.
- Colombian Government And E.L.N. Reach Six-Month Ceasefire Agreement - September 3, 2023